The peak of my gym attendance occurred some years ago now, I managed to go 3-4 times a week for nearly 3 years straight, since then a lot less frequently. That favourite Gym was the North Devon Leisure Centre - and was situated on the top level with large windows overlooking a lovely, constantly changing river scene. I showered at home, and as such did not have to face up to my usual changing room hygiene phobia. In Iceland - they make you take your shoes off before entering such an area, so you don’t get wet muddy footprints on the floor - they also use more drainage matting, and have all floors cleaned / mopped more regularly.
I have to be honest, going regularly to a gym, and exercising up close and personal to people of often suspect personal hygiene (foul odours!) - profusely sweating and grunting away, has always been somewhat of a challenge for me. Yet I endured for the sake of my personal health and fitness. On occasion I would spice things up by switching to swimming, but after one too many encounters with floating debris - plasters and the like, my hygiene phobia kicked in again and so I tend to avoid swimming pools at the moment.
My last gym was not a bad place - the Nuffield at Sheldon Square, albeit it was sub-terranian and neon-lit, with relatively low ceilings, and little by way of inspiring scenery. Also, they did not have many of the pull-up devices that I liked in my previous gyms. My all-time favourite piece of gym equipment is the VersaClimber, although you don’t see it around too many gyms these days. That reminds me of the other dislike - waiting to get on a particular piece of equipment. Anyway, I have had enough of artifically-lit confined spaces, it is the outdoors for me now - fresh air and all of nature’s weather elements in eternal flux.
Yes indeed - that’s right, I have taken up Nordic Walking!
For those who don’t know, Nordic Walking as such has not been around in its official form for very long, although its roots go back decades, as this sport was sort of introduced by Finnish cross-country skiers so that they could practice their essential movements in the snowless off-season. A special type of walking pole was developed by Finnish ski pole manufacturer Exel as recently as 1997, it was trademarked as the ’Nordic Walker Pole’; in essence a walking pole with fixed hand strap / gauntlet - making for minimal effort to exert any kind of force using said poles.
Nordic Walking in essence therefore is simulating the action of cross-country skiing, minus the skis and the snow. You push the poles slightly behind you, propelling you onwards and slightly upwards.
Benefits of Nordic Walking
Compared to regular walking, Nordic Walking involves applying force to the poles with each stride. Nordic walkers use more of their entire body (with greater intensity) and receive fitness building stimulation not as present in normal walking for the chest, lats, triceps, biceps, shoulder, abdominals, spinal and other core muscles.
This extra muscle involvement leads to enhancements over ordinary walking at equal paces such as:
Nordic Walking Equipment
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am particular almost to the point of obsession in researching and sourcing the very best possible products and equipment for any given task (best in terms of suitability, functionality, style, quality and value). I had been deciding for some months that I would take up Nordic Walking in the new year, and the starting point had to be the poles; several weeks went into the research and sourcing of the various following items, some items were initially out of stock, and I had to wait for re-delivery, needless to say, I have been to every single outward bounds shop in Central London, including of course Covent Garden, Kensington and Westfield - the poles, gloves, socks and accessories were bought online, everything else was bought in-store. After nearly 20 Nordic Walking outings to-date, I am quite confident that I have indeed managed to track down the very best of what is currently available, as depicted in the above montage, and explained below.
The big find for me really was the Paramo outdoor activity clothing which I cannot rate highly enough - their peerless combination of primary all-weather function with ultimate mobility, modern styling and lovely detail touches means that on casual days I would not want to wear anything else - you can simply get up and go regardless of the weather. You can wash and re-proof Paramo clothing in your domestic washing-machine using the relevant Nikwax detergent or treatment. Paramo works best for people on the move, providing protection from the elements, as well as efficient temperature management / preventing over-heating; you might get cool if you stop and do nothing after arduous exercise, but then Paramo have solutions for this too...
Nordic Walking Poles - Leki Traveller Carbon (super-light, super-strong with ultimate portability, comfortable gauntlet strap and ingenious shark grip for engaging and releasing the strap, and excellent cork inlay on handle) other top pole manufacturers include of course Exel, Gabel, Kompardell and Swix [make sure you have spare pole tips to cover wear and different surface conditions]
Trail Running Shoes - Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra GTX (Waterproof, sleek, highly shock-absorbent and supremely stable with ingenious quick-lacing system) other top rated Nordic Walking shoes can be procured from Adidas, ASICS, Inov-8 and New Balance
Winter Trail Running Socks - X-Socks Winter Run (Very slightly padded, warm, moisture-controlling, superbly comfortable, stay-in-place - Left and Right socks; I also have and rate SmartWool PhD Trail Running socks - slightly more padded than Winter Run, and only 1/2 crew on the cuff) Lots of choice for technical sock manufacturers, including Accapi, Bridgedale, Rohner and Teko as well as the 2 aforementioned.
Weather-Proof Jacket - Paramo Halcon (Highly versatile and stylish with 2-way zip, venting, multiple pockets and roll-away, fully adjustable wire-framed hood; off course highly water-resistant, moisture-wicking and various temperature controls, alongside optimal movement ability via articulated shoulders and elbows, adjustable cuffs also, 9 pockets in all) There are other clothing manufacturers, but I will not recommend any alternatives, if it fits you, I cannot see how you could do better than Paramo
Weather-Proof Trousers - Paramo Cascada (Waterproof and wicking of course, with side vent zips, zipped flies, articulated knees for movement, these can be worn as regular trousers; they don’t make you sweat like GoreTex does - you can wear them all-day long, lovely soft dual-layered polyester microfibre with animal fur properties) there are alternatives, but none come close - just check out the many amazing reviews and rewards Cascada has garnered
Weather-Proof Mid-Layers - Paramo Taiga Fleece and Paramo Summit Hoodie (Both feature amazing water-resistant properties, venting options, pockets and adjustments, the usual Paramo cut for movement - articulated shoulders and elbows) For ultimate effect, you really need to be wearing all Paramo layers!
Wicking Base Layer - Paramo Cambia T-shirt (Lovely wicking action; tried the Cambia underpants also, but did not like their fit around the royal under-carriage - usually favour M&S and CK pants - search goes on for ideal pair of wicking pants!) All sports manufacturers produce wicking T-shirts / undergarments - take your pick really, based on fit and comfort
Weather-Proof Gloves - Extremities Guide Gloves (Water-proof, wicking, softshell backs to gloves, leather fronts for grip, cuff adjusters) Decent gloves can also be sourced from Dakine, Endura, Mountain Hardwear and North Face
In-flight Entertainment - iPhone + Sennheiser MM100 Bluetooth Neckband Headset (You need pacey music to give you drive to move at a brisk pace, I favour a variety of house mix compilations, including the below listed. I have small ears, so that these headphones double up as ear-muffs!)
Current Nordic Walking Soundtrack (alphabetical)
Nordic Walking Stefan Style
My chosen stomping ground is of course Hyde Park, the inner perimeter is around 4 miles and it takes circa one hour to complete with brisk walking. Listening to music does not just set the pace, but makes it that much more enjoyable for me too (I ensure that the mix I listen to is at least 60 minutes long).
I love observing the people in the park, particularly the oddly-gaited runners and joggers; several of which have very uneven and lopsided gaits, I hate to think what’s happening to their postures, on top of the serious pounding they are giving to their hips, knees, ankles and heels. Jogging is very much a compression / high impact sport - which pushes vertebrae together, Nordic walking on the other hand compels you to hold a much more upright posture, pushing up from the poles and extending the back.
As I make my way around the park I witness the changes in flora and fauna, weather and seasons, as well as the many modes of idiosyncratic behaviour exhibited by the park’s various inhabitants. It’s quite astonishing how bold some of the squirrels are, they seemingly gang up and near enough mug people of any foodstuffs they might be careless enough to display. In any case, I really have found my niche, this is the exercise for me, I find it consistently invigorating and entertaining. I love observing human behaviour, I love walking, I love the outdoors and I love music - this really combines so many of my loves, and I can do it when I want and how I want. The extent to which I have adopted this new regimen can be seen that I go out almost every singe day, sometimes all days of the week. With the gym I had to force myself to go 3-4 times a week; for Nordic Walking I’m actually quite excited to get up and get going. I usually go during my lunch break, which is any time between 12:00 and 16:00 - so it breaks up the day nicely too. As soon as its gets lighter I can extend my Nordic Walking timetable.
I am perfectly sure that Nordic Waking might very well be the perfect exercise for many of you too. When you stride around the park you feel like a strapping fell walker or alpine mountaineer, you feel imperious, hale and totally in control. Like I said, I really could not imagine any better form of exercise for me ... I’m just glad that it did not take too long to discover it ...