This is sort of an interesting review: what's a ski racer doing reviewing Nordic Walking Poles from Swix? To be sure, I was a little apprehensive about my approach. As I used the poles, read a little more about them, and got feedback from others, I gradually came to understand their benefit from multiple viewpoints. I also understand the the term "ski walking" can encompass more than walking.
Pete Edwards from http://skiwalking.com sent a pair of Swix Nordic Walking "VIP" poles to evaluate. The Swix Nordic Walking VIP's are made exclusively for Pete and his Michigan-based company.
According to Nick Mahood, Swix Nordic Walking Director, "Pete Edwards has single handedly introduced thousands of Americans to Nordic Walking through his free clinics! I have no doubt that Edwards is the #1 retailer of Nordic Walking Poles in the USA!." What this means to me is that Pete is dedicated and motivated to promote the sport.
Let's examine the poles first, then talk about sizing, a discussion about the benefits of using Nordic Walking Poles, and finally talk about using the poles themselves.
The grip is very similar to a racing pole grip, i.e., they're comfortable, easily adjustable, and provide excellent control over the pole. In the photo below, notice the strap is highly quality, with a strong adjustment buckle. Although you can't tell from the photos, they are well-marked for left and right for newbies who might not be used to modern ski poles.
Quality, strong, and adjustable straps
The grip's strap has plenty of adjustment capability. Not only can you make the strap longer (notice the big loop of extra strap sticking out from the top of the pole in the photo below), but there is plenty of adjustment in the wrist strap. Adjusting the straps is easy for different size hands or for switching between bare hands and gloves.
Plenty of extra strap for adjustment
The shaft is sturdy aluminum. The shafts feel very strong and have less flex than I would have expected.
The tip is durable carbide steel (for snow, ice, beach, and trail). Unlike the pointy tips on snow ski poles or rollerski ferrules, the tip on the Nordic Walking Pole is circular. The poles also come with removable natural rubber "Nordic Walking fitness tips" that allows you to use the poles on pavement and indoors. Indoors, you ask? Think of all the people who walking in malls in the early morning before the stores are open.
The tip with cover, the cover, the carbide tip
Finally, each set of poles comes with a DVD showing how you can use the poles. The DVD addresses a wide group of people, from younger adults to retired couples, from the relatively non-athletic to the very athletic. A strength of the DVD is that it a progression of exercises, from easy walking to World Cup hard. A non-athlete can start using the poles for very basic fitness - walking with poles - then add increasing difficultly as desire requires.
From basic walking, the exercises progress to walking with a longer gait, with a longer pole push, to walking up hills, to running up hills, to skipping, to bounding up hills - things a ski racer might do.
There are examples of stretching with the poles, and even an example of attaching the poles to a couple overhead stretch bands and using the pole to do lat pulldowns!
Sizing the Poles
Swix recommends poles that are shorter than normal classic ski poles for ski walking. While gripping the poles, the correct length pole should allow the lower arm to be parallel to the ground while the upper arm is vertical.
If you're very athletic and using the poles for traditional ski walking or ski bounding, you might want them a touch longer.
Benefits of Using Nordic Walking Poles
There are a lot of claims about using these Nordic Walking Poles:
To be honest, I have no idea is these claims are true. My guess is that the big numbers are valid for non-athletic people, and that more athletic individuals will see smaller improvements.
I firmly believe that combining upper body and lower body exercise together, however, promotes a higher level of fitness - muscular and cardiovascular - than doing just lower body or just upper body exercises. The high VO2 max numbers shown by elite cross country ski racers is certainly due to whole body workouts that consists of simultaneous leg and poling motions.
To get a non-athlete's take on the poles, I talked to my neighbor - a former fireman who now does fire inspections - who has been using Nordic Walking Poles for a couple years now. He says that using the poles easily increases his heart rate by 12 beats a minute over straight walking when he's out Nordic Walking the neighborhood sidewalks.
Clearly, using poles is better than just walking. And the benefits for non-athletes are huge!
Using the Poles
I first took the poles out on pavement. The rubber tip never slipped on concrete sidewalks or on asphalt. The tips also provided much-needed cushioning from the hard surface. I did notice some vibration in the pole shaft, not bad, but there. Lightly gripping the handle - possible because of the great control provided by the adjustable strap - helped.
I then pulled off the rubber tips and headed off road. I always prefer trails to sidewalks if for no other reason than softer terrain is easier on my legs.
The poles excelled at ski walking and bounding. The grips were comfortable and the tips held well.
A Second Opinion
NordicSkiRacer.com teammate Julie Pritchard borrowed the Swix Nordic Walking Poles for a couple weeks. Julie provides a racer's viewpoint on the poles. Here's what Julie has to say:
For some of us Nordic skiers, the introduction of walking poles seemed a bit silly, and, frankly, unnecessary, as most of us make due with an ancient pair of poles in the corner of our wax room with cheap handles, mismatched straps, and whatever basket was popular in the early 80's (or 70's). In fact, my bounding/walking poles were found in a clearance bin at some sports shop (I'm new to xc skiing so I don't have an arsenal of old gear). They have been fine, until now.
The most notable and immediate difference in the poles is the strap. The Walking Poles have a new strap design that keeps the pole close at hand, which is much nicer than the ancient strap on my clearance bin pair, which is constantly loosening up at the worst time, and that never offers the feeling of a racing pole. The racing style strap not only feels better, and does not loosen up while out walking, but it also resembles a racing pole strap which somehow lends itself to a different mindset when out walking or bounding, like putting on a good pair of running shoes and tights rather than walking in the woods in old hiking boots and jeans. High performance is nice, even when out enjoying fall leaves, deer in the woods, and swans on the water.
In addition, my bargain bin poles have weakened with repeated use and recently needed some straightening. The walking poles appear solid. They offer a rubber tip for walking on pavement (sad possibility, I know, but it happens from time to time), and the tips are easy to change. I also see merit in a collapsible pair for travel. So, in conclusion, if a friend offers you a pair of walking poles, and though you've scoffed at them in the past, give them a try! I find I look forward to walking in the woods more than I did before. At the very least, put better straps on your bargain bin poles, it's worth it!
[Thanks for the opportunity to try them Mike. And, yes, of course, you can have them back if you must.]
These are nice poles. You can even get nicer carbon composite or adjustable length poles from http://www.skiwalking.com.
Overall, you will get a better workout, whether you're a retired women who wants to walk the malls with friends in the early morning to an Olympic athlete, if you use Nordic Walking Poles while walking.
If you're a ski racer - a typical person who visits NordicSkiRacer.com, do you need Nordic Walking Poles? Maybe. If you're looking for a more comfortable ski walking or bounding pole than some old set of ancient poles you have laying around, go for a nice new pair ("Hey Honey, I know what I want for Christmas...").