From personal experience I have difficulty with the 20% quoted. It seems high to me. That being said I found this link with the relevent excerpts below:
Research on the benefits of Nordic walking
The first research results on responses to pole walking training were published in 1992 by
Stoughton, Larkin and Karavan from the University of Oregon. They studied psychological profiles
(mood states) as well as muscular and aerobic fitness responses before and after 12 weeks of pole
walking or walking training in sedentary women.
The study group consisted of eighty-six 20-50 year old women whose fitness was at moderate level.
Maximal aerobic power (Vo2Max) varied between 34-37
ml/kg/min. The study group was divided into three sub-groups. The control group did not change their
Walking with poles groups walked 30-45 minutes four times a week at an intensity corresponding to
70-85% maximum heart rate for 12 weeks. In the poles group both the walking speed and the distance
walked were slightly less than in the walking group.
In both intervention groups the maximal aerobic power and maximal treadmill time increased
significantly. These increases were eight and 19% on an average. A slight increase in maximal
ventilation occured in the poles group. Muscular strength assessed using triceps pushdown and a
modified lateral pull-down did not improve in either group.
Pole walkers showed significant improvements in depression, anger, vigor, fatigue, total mood
disturbances and total body cathexis scores. It was speculated that the pole walking group may
have felt more unique and special because of their opportunity to do a new and more enjoyable
method of walking.
Nordic walking poles were also compared to the weighted vests, ankle weights, hand and wrist
weights, weighted gloves and Powerbelts(TM) by Porcari (1999) with similar results as above. Nordic
walking increases energy expenditure when compared to regular walking
The physiological responses to walking with and without poles were studied by Hendrickson (1993) and
by Porcari et al. (1997). Hendrickson's study group consisted of 16 fit women (VO2Max 50 ml/kg/min)
and men (59 ml/ia/kg). They walked with and without poles on a treadmill at speeds of 6-7.5 km/hr.
There were no differences in the responses between males and females.
It was found that the use of poles significantly increased oxygen uptake, heart rate and energy
expenditure by approximately 20% compared to walking without poles in fit subjects. In Porcari's
study of 32 healthy men and women walking with poles, results were an average 23% higher oxygen
uptake, 22% higher caloric expenditure and 16% higher heart rate responses compared to walking
without poles on a treadmill. Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) values averaged 1.5 units higher with
the use of poles and the pattern of responses were similar for men and women.
Rogers et al. (1995) compared energy expenditure during submaximal walking with poles in ten 24 year
old fit women. Mean maximal aerobic power (21 vs. 18 ml/kg/min) and heart rate (133 vs. 122 bpm)
were significantly greater during walking with poles compared to walking without. Also the total
caloric expenditure in a 30 minute session was significantly greater during pole walking (74 vs. 141
kcal). In contrast, RPE did not differ significantly between the two conditions.
Laukkanen (1998, unpublished) compared heart rate during normal and fast walking speeds with an
without Exel Walker poles. Ten middle-aged men and women were studied on an indoor hall track. The
heart rate increase, measured with telemetric Polar heart rate (HR) monitors was between 5-12 bpm
and 5-17 bpm higher in men and women.
A dual-motion treadmill Cross Walk has been studied by Knox (1993), Foley(1994) and by
Butts et al. (1995). The Cross Walk Dual Motion Cross Trainer is a motorised treadmill
designed to increase the energy cost of walking by incorporating arm activity during walking,
thus increasing the muscle mass used during exercise. Knox studied thirty-seven 17-35 year
old women and they all performed six 5 minute steady-state exercises with and without arm
activity. Walking with arm activity significantly increased heart rate, ventilation, oxygen
uptake and energy expenditure compared to walking without arm activity. For example, heart
rate increased 17-31 bpm. Rating of perceived exertion as well as energy expenditure
increased by an average of 14%. In Butt's study both the 24-year-old women and men were
studied with a similar design. In this study arm work increased energy expenditure by 55% on
an average compared to the regular walking, but only increased RPE slightly. This was
consistent with the results from Foley, who did Cross Walking in 24-year-old men. Nordic
walking helps strengthen and tone upper body muscles A Finnish study (Anettila et al. 1999)
compared pole walking with regular walking training for 12 weeks in 55 female office workers.
The EMG measurement showed that electrical activities of the muscles of the upper body, neck,
shoulder and upper back were significantly higher when walking with poles. Pole walking
training diminished neck and shoulder symptoms and subjective feelings of pain. Mobility of
the upper body increased as well. The most recent study published on Nordic walking compared
metabolic cost of Nordic walking to normal walking in twenty-two 31-year-old men and women
(Morss et al. 2001). Participants of this study walked on an outdoor 200 metre track with
Cosmed K4b for oxygen analysis and Polar Vantage heart rate monitor for HR measurements. The
study indicated significant increases in oxygen consumption (20% on average), caloric
expenditure and HR in Nordic walking compared to normal walking. The range of increase was
large, ie. oxygen consumption 5-63% indicating differences in poling intensity and technique.
Perceived exertion did not differ between the walks. The same group also compared separately
the metabolic cost of high intensity poling (Jordan et al. 2001). In high intensity poling
Nordic walking increased HR 35 bpm on average compared to regular walking. Summary Based on
research, walking with poles adds physiological strain to regular walking in both women and
men and in fit and less fit individuals. Walking with poles seems to elicit improvements with
slightly less speed. Because perceived exertion in pole walking is often less than true
physiological strain, controlling heart rate may be beneficial for those who tend to
overreach. Walking with poles improves mainly aerobic fitness, muscular endurance, deceases
neck-should area disabilities and pain, and can have positive effects on mood state. In order
to improve muscle power, uphill walking is required. Pole walking affecting body coordination
and motor fitness has not been published. Walking with poles is a safe and fun exercise mode
and fits everybody.
This research summary was written by: Raija Laukkanen Ph.D., Docent Director, Exercise Science Polar
Electro Oy Finland References Anttila, Holopainen, Jokinen. Polewalking and the effect of regular
12-week polewalking exercise on neck and shoulder symptoms, the mobility of the cervical and
thoracic spine and aerobic capacity. Final project work for the Helsinki IV College for health care
Butts, Knox, Foley. Energy cost of walking on dual-action treadmill in men and women. Med Sci Sports
Exerc 27(1), 121-125, 1995.
Foley. The effects of Cross Walk (R)'s resistive arm poles on the metabolic costs of treadmill
walking. Thesis. University of Wisconsin-La Grosse, 1994.
Hendrickson. The physiological responses to walking with an without Power PolesTM on treadmill
exercise. Thesis. University of Wisconsin-La Grosse, 1993.
REVIEW OF THE SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH ON NORDIC WALKING Raija Laukkanen Ph.D., Docent University of
Oulu, Finland Director, Exercise Science Polar Electro Oy Kempele, Finland Board member, INWA Field
testing of physiological responses associated with Nordic Walking Subjects: 11 women and 11 men (31
yrs, VO2max 46 ml/kg/min) Methods: walking with or without Exel Nordic Walker poles 1600 m track
Measurements: HR, RPE, VO2 (Cosmed K4b2) every 200 m Results: Oxygen consumption increased in women
from 15 to 18 ml/kg/min, caloric expenditure from 4.6 to 5.4 kcal/min, HR from 114 to 119 bpm, and
in men from 13 to 16 ml/kg/min, from 5.7 to 6.9 kcal/min, HR from 102 to 110 bpm in NW compared to
regular walking. All increases statistically significant. RPE or RQ did not change. Conclusions: NW
results in significant increases in metabolic demand compared to regular walking without increasing
perceived exertion. Church et al. Res Quart Exerc Sports 73(3),296-300, 2002 Jordan et al. Med Sci
Sports Exerc 33(5), May 2001, suppl.,S86 Morss et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc 33(5), May 2001,
ACUTE RESPONSES TO USING WALKING POLES IN PATIENTS WITH CORONARY ARTERY DISEASE Subjects: Phase
III/IV cardiac rehabilitation patients Methods: Two 8-min walking trials with or without poles on
treadmill Results: Energy cost increased 21% , HR 14 bpm, BB 16/4 mmHg when walking with poles. No
differences in PVCs or ST-segment changes. Conclusions: Light walking poles increase intensity of
walking safely in cardiac rehabilitation patients Walter et al. J Cardiopulm Rehabil 1996