Nordic walking: Walking with sticks

The heavy snow that has fallen overnight is not enough to deter participants in the Nordic walking course. Like every other Saturday, they meet at the Beyreuth Eremitage, a Rococo castle with a large park that provides an ideal location for training. After a quick greeting, Rudolf Ziegler launches into some warm-up exercises, incorporating the high-tech Nordic walking sticks of course. Although no disability is apparent at first glance, all those taking part have had leg amputations.

Rudolf Ziegler is a licensed Nordic walking trainer who, together with his wife Karin, organizes a wide selection of courses in his free time, from taster sessions to competitive sport. This business man used to be a successful marathon runner. "Back then I used to laugh at those early pioneers who used ski poles to walk over level ground, today I laugh at the runners," confessed Ziegler. Because Nordic walking, which first appeared in Germany in 1998, is no short-lived fad, it is rapidly becoming a mainstream sport. "Nordic walking works 90% of your muscles," explained Rudolf Ziegler. Only swimming or cross-country skiing brings such high percentages, running or walking fast without sticks just doesn't have the same effect. A friend whose upper leg has been amputated gave him the idea of developing a training program designed especially for people with artificial limbs. The Bayreuth-based company medipro Prothetik supported the project, helped to recruit the first participants and sponsored the sticks.

Training and compensation

Heike, whose lower leg has been amputated, took up the sport two months and is now walking with the group through the Eremitage park. The snow on the paths has already been walked flat and the rather unusual weather conditions do not pose any problem. Nordic walking has made me far more energetic and I've also noticed that my coordination has improved when walking normally with my prosthesis, stated the 32-year-old. "Most importantly, it's a sport that gets you out into the fresh air." Claudia's legs have been amputated at the upper and lower leg. A wheelchair basketball player, she is a member of German national team. "I just wanted to do something with my legs again," explained the 28-year-old. The fact that Nordic walking uses sticks was a particular benefit for her disability since it takes the pressure off her prostheses. "I can walk for up to one and a half hours at a time, which would be unimaginable without sticks." She also needs the motivation from the group. "I wouldn't get out and do it on my own." 53-year-old Paul is also pleased to have discovered Nordic walking. "It's the right sport for me," explained Paul, whose upper leg is amputated. "Propelling yourself forward with the sticks works your whole body." Georg Speckner has almost become a professional at Nordic walking. Fitted with a lower prosthesis, he likes to go hiking in the mountains. He finds the sticks particularly useful when going downhill. He walks up to 20 kilometers on level ground and feels that the sport keeps him fit and compensates for his office job. He recommends Clever Bone, produced by medipro, a shock-absorbing and energy-saving carbon component inserted in a lower leg prosthesis to cushion impact and boost power.

All-round fitness

"Nordic walking is suitable for anyone who can walk with a prosthesis," said Rudolf Ziegler. Of course, this includes all people with other disabilities who can walk. There is no age restriction since the pace can be amended to suit each individual's ability. "However, you should walk for at least half an hour to improve your stamina," advised Ziegler. The high energy demand for wearers of artificial limbs must also be considered. For people whose lower leg has been amputated, this lies at between 25 and 50 percent and for people whose upper leg has been amputated it increases to as much as 50 to 100%. Nordic walking is a great sport for anyone who wants to lose weight and gently maintain their all-round fitness. However, if you wish to try it out, you should visit your doctor first to clarify any risk factors. Nordic walking is an exceptionally cheap sport that can be practiced almost anywhere. In addition to firm running shoes and functional clothing, you simply need special carbon or fiberglass sticks fitted with ergonomic hand loops and rubber caps on the tips. The best place to buy good sticks is from a specialist sports shop.

Everyone using sticks

Nordic walking offers another particular benefit for people with disabilities. Using a normal walking stick or crutches immediately marks you out as "disabled", however with Nordic walking, using sticks simply makes people think of you as sporty and active. The disability is no longer an issue if everyone is using sticks.

Author: Gunther Belitz