First research results on responses to pole walking training were published in 1992 by Stoughton, Larkin and Karavan from the University of Oregon. They studied psychological profiles (mood states) as well as muscular and aerobic fitness responses before and after 12 weeks of exerstriding or walking training in sedentary women. Exertriding is a modified form of walking that incorporates the use of specially designed walking stick (Exertriders®) in a standard walking workout. This study group consisted of 86 20-50 year old women whose fitness was at moderate level. Maximal aerobic power (VO2max) varied between 34-37 ml/kg/min. A study group was divided into three sub-groups. Control group did remain all their exercise habits. Walking and Exertrider groups did walk 30-45 minutes four times a week at the intensity corresponding to the 70-85 % maximum heart rate for twelve weeks. In Exertrider group both the walking speed and the distance walked were slightly less than in the walking group.
The physiological responses to walking with and without Power Poles™ were studied by Hendrickson (1993) and by Porcari et al. (1997). Power Poles are specially constructed, rubber-tipped ski poles designed for use during walking. Hendrickson's study group consisted of sixteen fit women (VO2max 50 ml/kg/min) and men (59). They did walk with and without poles on a treadmill with the speeds of 6-7,5 km/h. There were no differences in the responses between males and females. It was found that the use of poles significantly increased oxygen uptake, heart rate and energy expenditure by approximately 20% compared to the walking without poles in fit subjects. In Porcari's study on 32 healthy men and women walking with poles resulted in an average of 23% higher oxygen uptake, 22% higher caloric expenditure and 16% higher heart rate responses compared to walking without poles an a treadmill. RPE values averaged 1,5 units higher with the use of poles and the pattern of responses was similar for men and women.
In a Norwegian study by Haugan and Sollesnes (2003) 16 sports students (22 yrs) were measured in a laboratory walking at the speeds of 5.5, 6.0 and 6.5 km/h with or without poles on an elevated treadmill (17%). Half of the subjects were cross-country skiers. Oxygen uptake increased significantly at all speeds when using poles in walking in others, but not in c-c skiers.
Nordic Walking has also been under study in The Netherlands. Lande et al. did publish in 2003 a systematic review of the physiological effects of pole walking.
Parkkari et al. (2004) did evaluate injury risk in various commuting and lifestyle activities in a cohort of 3657 15-74-year old Finns. The individual injury risk per exposure time was overall relatively low, ranging from 0.19 to 1.5 per 1000 hours of participation. Highest risk in all recreational and competitive sports was in squash (18.3) , judo (16.3) and orienteering (13.6). In Nordic Walking (pole walking) the risk was 1.7. In the cohort 11 % participated actively this sports.
In a questionnaire study by Schmidt et al. (2004) 226 German adults (66% women) who practiced NW regularly were interviewed during winter 2003-2004. The average age was 52 yrs and BMI 25 kg/m2. The main motivation for NW was health, 12% wanted to test something new, 6% did it as an option for c-c skiing in summer. 71% worked out for arm and trunk muscles, 23% in order to reduce joint load. 54% would prefer to have a similar net of trails like those for hiking.
Nordic Walking has also been studied from the consumer perspective (Shove and Pantzar 2004). Authors conclude that popularity of the NW has arisen through the active and ongoing interaction of images, artifacts and forms of competence; a process in which both consumers and producers are both involved.
To summarize the acute physiological effects of Nordic walking, it increases the energy consumption of the body compared to regular walking with the same speed without poles both in women and men and in fit and less fit individuals. The increase is due to larger working muscle mass in the upper body. The increase varies individually according to walking speed and technique. If the speed is very fast, there is less time for efficient pushing off with poles and thus decreased upper body muscular involvement. Similarly to energy consumption the increase in heart rate is variable. Because perceived exertion in pole walking is often less than true physiological strain, controlling heart rate may beneficial for those tending to overreach. The resulting increases in energy consumption and heart rate in Nordic walking mean that the cardiovascular strain induced by Nordic walking is greater compared to walking without poles at the same speed. This is desirable for those people who have difficulty reaching their training heart rate by walking - instead of having to start running they can start using walking poles and continue walking. Walking involves less harmful impacts to the lower extremities compared to running, and therefore may prevent from injuries.
Aigner A, Ledl-Kurkowski E, Hörl S,Salzmann K. Effecte von Nordic Walking bzw. Normalen Gehen auf Herzfrequenz und atrerielle Laktatkonzentration. Österreichisches Journal fur Sportmedizin 34, H.3, 32-36, 2004.
Anttila, Holopainen, Jokinen. Polewalking and the effect of regular 12-week polewalking exercise on neck and shoulder symptoms, the mobility of the cervical and thoracic spine and aerobic capacity. Final project work for the Helsinki IV College for health care professionals, 1999.