What is Exerstriding?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 January 2020
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Exerstriding is a form of fitness walking in which participants use poles to push themselves along as they walk, thereby working the upper body in addition to the lower body. When practiced on a regular basis, Exerstriding can help to increase upper body strength and general stamina, and it also burns more calories than regular walking. Because this form of fitness walking is very easy and gentle, people of all level of ability can do it, including the elderly.

Fitness walking which includes poles is known as Nordic walking. Nordic walking has very old roots. Many members of competitive ski teams have been training in the off season with poles since the 1960s and 1970s, and over time, casual athletes began picking up the concept as well. In 1985, Tom Rutlin coined the term “Exerstriding” and began promoting Nordic walking to the world. His efforts proved successful, and numerous companies produce specially designed poles for Nordic walking which are available at sporting supply stores.

Essentially, Exerstriding is like skiing, without the skis. It does not require the coordination and skills of skiing, and it is very easy to learn. Nordic walkers typically wear specially designed wrist straps, holding the poles lightly in their hands, and as they walk, they push off with the arm which is opposite to the leading leg. Over the course of the walk, thousands of gentle repetitions will work the upper body.


The best way to illustrate Exerstriding is to involve you in a brief physical exercise. Assuming that you are sitting at a desk, make your hands into fists and place them on the desk straight out in front of you with your thumbs facing up. Then, gently bear down on the desk, one fist at a time, alternating fists in a steady rhythm. As you do so, you should notice a number of muscle groups in your upper body working, and these same groups will be worked during an Exerstriding session.

The walking poles used in Exerstriding are important. Most people recommend that the poles be around 70% of the Exterstrider's body height, and it is best to use solid poles, rather than telescoping ones, because solid poles will provide more support. Many companies also make poles with tips which are specifically designed for trails, off-road use, and streets.

To Exerstride, grab your walking poles and go outside. Use the wrist strap to attach the poles to your hands at a comfortable angle, and start out with the poles behind you. Lead with whatever foot is comfortable, bringing the pole in the opposite hand forward as you step forward. Do not bring the pole in front of your feet: simply bring it alongside. Then, rock forward, pushing off with the pole so that it ends up behind you. Repeat the process with your other foot, and get a consistent rhythm going, just like a skier. You may want to limit your walks the first few times out, as you will be working unfamiliar muscle groups.


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