Interview with Lilian Sullivan from Leki

What do you need to go Nordic Walking, what sort of poles are available and do you need any other special gear?

For answers to these questions - and more - we spoke with Lilian Sullivan from Arblair Sports about the equipment and clothing you need to go Nordic Walking in the UK.

Nordic Walking in the UKImage courtesy of Leki

Q. How would you define Nordic walking? I've seen definitions as broad as 'walking with 2 poles', 'cross-country skiing without snow' - is there a succinct, more specific definition?

LS (Lilian Sullivan). There's not really a specific definition as such. I think of Nordic Walking as fitness walking with poles. You don't need snow or hills. In fact, one of the great strengths of Nordic Walking is its accessibility. People with a vast range of fitness or skill levels can do it in a variety of terrains. So it's an activity that most people can enjoy and benefit from - kids, people who have previously been relatively inactive or the very fit.

Leki in the US have instructors who work regularly with both the morbidly obese and with elite athletes.

In some Scandinavian countries Nordic Walking is even offered 'on prescription' as a way of keeping people fit and active.

Q. What is the take-up in the UK? Are people buying product to use here or in more established Nordic Walking areas eg Scandinavia, Dolomites, Italian Lakes etc? Where in the UK are people walking and on what type of terrain?

LS. We are seeing people buying our products to use here in the UK: in Keswick around the lakes or on the more gentle hills, on beaches in Aberdeen or in more urban settings such as Virginia Water in Surrey.

You need to be on flat or rolling hills where you can get and keep a rhythm going. A location such as the South Downs is excellent.

Q. How would you characterise a Nordic Walking devotee?

LS. As we said earlier, Nordic Walking is very accessible and so has a wide appeal. At the moment, I would estimate that 80% of those who do Nordic Walking regularly are women. They're doing it as an athletic activity or as a means of keeping fit but - as it's often a group activity – they also enjoy the social dimension. Nordic walking is a weight-bearing exercise and this too is part of the attraction for women. Also I think that women tend to be less self-conscious than men so may be more comfortable with the distinctive style of Nordic Walking.

Men pursuing Nordic Walking are generally interested in it as an athletic activity.

One of our retailers runs Nordic Walking events for ex-runners - who find it appealing as a low impact way of maintaining their fitness levels once they've stopped running regularly.

With a little practise you can easily vary your overall work-rate. Wearing a heart-rate monitor allows those interested in Nordic Walking as a fitness activity to even more precisely tailor their walking to meet specific training goals. This means it's possible to walk in a group of mixed ability and still exercise at the level best for you.

Q.There's clearly a technique to learn - is it hard to get started?

LS. No, it's easy to get started. We find that after 1-1.5 hours people are walking quite happily with poles. Co-ordination is important but we find that most of a first session is focused on teaching how to walk properly! and then incorporating the poles.

A further couple of days training are useful to perfect the technique so that you can really exploit the 'calorie-burn' features of Nordic Walking.

More and more clubs are starting up around the UK - some by Primary Care Trusts - and that's the preferred route for many. There is a scheme already in place to accredit individuals to lead and/or to train instructors. A number of Leki retailers have staff who are accredited to lead walks - so it's worthwhile checking there too.

An alternative is to work with a fitness trainer on a one-to-one basis.

Q. As hill-walkers in the UK, we're very familiar with Leki as a manufacturer of walking poles. But I sense that outside the UK, Leki is equally well recognised as a manufacturer of Nordic Walking poles. What is the history of Leki's involvement in Nordic Walking poles?

LS. Leki has always been involved in the manufacture of poles for cross-country ski-ing - which is where Nordic Walking has its origins. Leki has been making Nordic Walking poles since early in 2000.

Q. How does a Nordic Walking pole differ from a walking pole? What are the particular challenges in designing a pole for Nordic Walking.

LS. The main difference is the grip. Unlike a pole for hill walking, a Nordic Walking pole spends a lot of time behind you. To accomplish this, your hands roll-up the pole and then let go of it. So the pole needs a strap to keep the pole in the correct place. This strap is usually attached to the pole using a click-and-go mechanism for easy removal.

A Nordic Walking pole is also slimmer, can be fixed length or adjustable and made from aluminium (most durable and retailing at about £45 per pair), a carbon composite or full carbon (lightest and retailing at about £100 per pair). In choosing a pole, you're looking for a comfortable 'swing-weight'.

Incidentally - Leki are the only manufacturer currently who have a locking pole adjustment (essential on an adjustable pole) that's strong enough for 'elite' use.

The grip can be plastic, soft rubber, cork or - on more expensive models - an 'ergo-foam'. The soft rubber grips are very comfortable, the cork grip is better in sweaty hands and the erg-foam is designed to be comfortable in extremes of hot or cold.

You should buy the best (lightest) that you can afford. Beginners are best advised to use an adjustable pole so you can alter the length as you progress. Adjusting the length of the pole is one of the ways in which you can modify the ‘intensity' of your exercise.

Q. Are Nordic Walking poles readily available on the high street?

LS. Yes - you can find them in many of the multiples (eg Blacks, Cotswolds) as well as many specialist, independent stores.

Q. What else do I need to get started?

LS. A comfortable pair of shoes that offers rock-on-heel construction and provides good lateral stability across the front. Typically you will find these features in an athletic shoe, a trail running shoe or a shoe/boot suitable for low level walking.

Aside from that, you should wear loose fitting, comfortable clothing.

Lilian Sullivan is the Sales Director for Ardblair Sports Importers Limited who are responsible for the Leki brand in the UK.

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