Nordic walking gaining followers

Published 9:00 am Monday, August 17, 2009

Those people walking around Fountain Lake with poles aren’t as crazy as they look, they’re taking part in Nordic walking.

The sport takes evolved from cross country skiing and provided skiers dry land training during the summer and spring months decades ago, but only got its name in 1997 when Marko Kantaneva trademarked the poles.

Nordic walking remains popular in Europe where an estimated 8 million people participate in the sport. In the U.S. the sport has caught on slowly and an estimated 150,000 people have taken it up.

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Catherine Buboltz started Nordic walking two years ago after she took a class at Hoigaard’s. Buboltz thought it was a silly sport because of the poles, but soon learned the function they serve.

Now she spends her time explaining why walking with the poles isn’t as silly as it looks as the instructor of Nordic walking through Albert Lea Community Education.

“Every morning I normally walk around the lake by myself and I almost always run into a few people who say, ‘Hold on a second, what’s the story on this?’ and ‘Did you know they’re teaching classes on that through community ed? Yeah, I’m the head instructor,’” Bubholtz said. “I think two years ago when I started walking around the lake people probably thought I was a little goofy, but now people are starting to see more people doing it.”

The poles serve a specific purpose and engage more muscles than regular walking and can increase a walker’s speed without them even realizing it.

“Walking alone they say you use 60 percent of your muscles,” said Buboltz, who now teaches Nordic walking through Albert Lea Community Education. “When you’re Nordic walking you’re using 90 percent of your muscles. You’re getting a much better, full body work out.”

Her classes meet on Thursday evenings at the Area Learning Center for four sessions where participants learn the finer points of Nordic walking.

The poles have a rubber tip which can act as a means of propulsion. A walker swings the poles in an elliptical motion as the bottom of the pole touches the ground. As the right foot moves, the left pole moves.

“You don’t notice it, but you’re actually walking faster than if you were just walking alone,” Bubholtz said. “When I first started using them I cut my time around the lake by about 15 minutes.”

The workout is more taxing than walking alone as well. Cheryl Mischke enrolled in the class and noticed the difference level between the two workouts quickly.

“I went out walking a couple of times with these poles and I noticed I’m really exhausted after a half hour and I’ve walked 45 minutes without them and not been exhausted,” she said.

Bubholtz first offered the class in the spring and it was well-received. The first class started its own walking group that meets every Monday because they wanted to continue to walk together following the four-week class.

It’s an accommodating activity that can involve people of all ages, Bubholtz said.

“I had one lady in my first class, who I think told me she was 87-years-old, and she was amazing,” Bubholtz said. “Once we put her in the poles she took off like a shot.”

Bubholtz has classes planned for the fall as well beginning in September and running through November.