As big fans of HeavyHands know, one of Dr. Schwartz’ early inspirations (besides a torn hamstring from running) was CROSS COUNTRY SKIING. The “Panaerobic” action of all limbs moving simultaneously against resistance gave cross country skiiers HUGE abilities to process oxygen … far more than other athletes.
Nordic Walking is the “cousin” of cross country skiing and uses similar poles to approximate the action of skiing when it’s not winter. It too is “Panaerobic”.
That raises the question… Wouldn’t then Nordic WALKING be as useful as HeavyHands?
First, it’s not necessarily an “either/or”, “all or nothing” decision. I use and like them both. But how to decide?
Nordic walking sticks are light… much lighter than even one “heavyhand” weight usually. Mine had a TOTAL SHIPPING WEIGHT of 1.7 pounds including the packaging! That’s lighter than two of the lightest hand weights! Lifting the sticks between steps may tire you out after hundreds or thousands of steps, that’s not where the aerobic benefit of Nordic Walking comes from.
The ability of Nordic Walking to increase aerobic workloads by 20 to 40% or more while activating so much upper and lower body muscle comes from the downward/backward stroke that – with the legs – thrusts the body forward. Though the poles are very light, the energy used to push the body forward can be quite extensive.
While the trapezius, pectorals, biceps, and frontal deltoids work to pull the pole into proper position for the next step, the real muscle exertion in the upper body comes from the backward/downward push. In that case the triceps, rear deltoids and upper back and latissimus muscle groups get the bulk of the work.
With the basic HeavyHands “Walk and Pump” movement, the exertion pattern is almost exactly OPPOSITE… the muscles lifting the weight forward get most of the exercise, though a strong backswing emphasis of the HeavyHands can indeed work the upper back and triceps quite well.
Part of the “Panaerobic Equation” that determines the effectiveness of the HeavyHands movement is the RANGE OF MOTION. Raising the arms and weights above the shoulder to overhead (“Level III”) significantly enhances the workload during exercise.
When it comes to Nordic Walking there are limitations in the range of motion because the sticks are fitted to one’s height and their benefit is derived from gripping the ground and pushing off, not being raised over head. While experienced walkers will learn ways to adjust the range of motion slightly as walking speed is increased or decreased, users may not be able to get as much aerobic benefit as they might from Level III work. Trying to artificially lift the sticks higher to mimic it or go too fast can cause the user to trip themselves over the sticks with disastrous consequences!
One of Dr. Schwartz’ interests as a psychiatrist was exercise variety. He himself wanted exercise to be constantly challenging, new and sustainable. As any reader of the HeavyHands books will notice his curiosity prompted him to invent and promote numerous variations in exercise movement to not only work as much muscle as possible, but to avoid boredom!
As the body and mind tire from the basic “pump and walk movement”, the weights, for example, can be used in some completely different way like swings across the chest to work “fresh” muscle groups while continuing to walk.
Nordic Walking definitely DOES NOT offer this variety of exercise. The same predominant exercise pathway is used throughout the effort without variation for the most part. Boredom may be avoided by the scenic nature of the walking path, but not by exercise variation for the most part!
With both Nordic Walking and HeavyHands, some “quadriceps” and “lower back” activation can be done by walking in a “duck walk “or “Groucho Marx walk” though more variety may be obtained with HeavyHands probably. It’s worth testing, but this author hasn’t done much.
There are VERY REAL practical issues related to one’s choice of sticks or weights. Yesterday we were going to a state park we’d never visited before…
Would the trail be hilly? Would the path be flat? In other words, would I benefit from ADDITIONAL SUPPORT to keep my balance on a rough trail?
In the case of unknown terrain, it’s best to use Nordic walking sticks if there’s any concern about unsure footing.
As it turned out the trails were hardly flat except for brief stretches. The trails were up and down and twisting… at times the Nordic Sticks seemed a bit more like “Trekking Poles” but they did their job of not only providing upper body exercise, but also making the hike safer. In the event of a poisonous snake nearby, I’d rather have a Nordic stick handy if needed than a hand weight! Sorry Dr. Schwartz!
That’s what I ended up doing….
Not sure about the terrain, both sticks and weights went in the car. The ranger said one trail was “level” and the other was “rugged”.
We took the “rugged” trail first using Nordic Walking sticks.
Later we took the “level” trail using HeavyHands.
(We found out they were both equally rugged and probably would have done best with the Nordic sticks on both of them, but “oh well”! )
For the ULTIMATE VARIETY, one can’t go wrong doing BOTH Nordic Walking and HeavyHands…
For maximum potential strength and activating as much muscle as possible while operating on safe terrain, HeavyHands with increasing weights and a variety of movements activating as many muscles as possible will likely be superior.
As always the exercise you will actually do provides the best results!