Learning to walk the Nordic way

Esti Grinpas teaches people how to walk.

“People laugh when I tell them,” she said. “What? You have to teach people to walk?”

This Switzerland native and 30 year Kaua‘i resident teaches Nordic walking; an exercise that utilizes walking poles — a technique that was first developed as summer training for cross-country skiers.

“It was invented by the Finnish people,” Grinpas said.

Where regular walking uses only the lower body, Nordic walking engages the upper body as well.

“When you add poles you get a whole-body workout,” she said.

Grinpas teaches the technique through the Adult Education program through the Kaua‘i Community School for Adults. Her next four-week series begins Sept. 9. See information box for details.

The basic premise of Nordic walking is a coordinated stride using the poles alternately to propel the body forward.

According to the Nordic walking Web site, not only do practitioners burn more calories walking with poles, but there is also substantial release of tension in the neck and shoulder regions. Health benefits aside, Grinpas has loftier intentions for teaching Nordic walking to Kaua‘i residents.

“I want to teach people how to walk again — to rekindle their love of walking,” said the Kapahi resident.

Grinpas observes how dependent society is on automobiles and suspects most people have just forgotten how to use their legs.

“We’ve gotten used to other forms of moving. We look at walking as though it’s an inferior way of transportation,” she said. “Walking — we’re born to do it. I look at birds and they have wings to fly — they don’t use machines.”

Her class will cover technique, fitness-walking at each participant’s own pace and most importantly, how to fall back in love with walking.

“As long as you can walk, you can join the class,” she said. “It’s easy on the body — you can walk longer distances with poles. It’s an extra set of legs. If you have problems with ankles, knee or hip — it relieves tension on those joints.”

Nordic walking not only engages the whole body, it involves the brain.

“You haven’t had to think about walking since you were a child learning to walk for the first time,” she said. “Because you have to focus on coordinating feet and arms you need to walk with attention.”

This attention is what adds a contemplative quality to Nordic walking.

“Focus is just another word for meditation,” she said. “Now you have no room for any other thought — you are concentrating.”

Another by-product of Nordic walking is the setting. For Grinpas it’s not about how many miles covered.

“Distance doesn’t matter, it’s about being there in nature, reconnecting,” she said.

The class will be held at Kapa‘a Middle School.

“It’s a safe and shady environment, with wide sidewalks,” she said.

Ultimately Grinpas dreams of walking clubs populating every neighborhood on the island.

“We’ve got to get people out of their houses and walking together; it’s not fitness racing, it’s leisure walking,” she said. “With or without poles, so people know there’s someone to walk with them.”

Nordic walking is not to be confused with Nordic trekking.

“Nordic trekking is where you hike with poles,” Grinpas said. “With Nordic walking the poles are to propel you forward.”

Nordic walking does feel as though it uses less energy to walk the same distance, but according to the Nordic walking Web site, it actually burns 13 percent more calories.

“It just feels like less (because of the low impact),” said Grinpas. “I get not wanting to do aerobics; I am not pushing strenuous exercise. It has to be fun. That’s the main thing … fun.”

See box for information on upcoming classes and a future walking club. A senior citizen class will begin in November at the Kapa‘a Neighborhood Center.

Want to get moving>

What: Nordic walking class

When: 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays,

Sept. 9 to Oct. 2

Where: Kapa‘a Middle School

Cost: $36

To register: Call the Adult Education office at 274-3390

To learn more about a Nordic walking club, call 822-0117.

A senior citizen class will begin in November at Kapa‘a Neighborhood Center.

Health facts

• Heart rate is 5 to 17 beats per minute higher (for example, in normal walking heart rate is 130 beats/minute and in Nordic walking, 147 beats per minute, i.e., increase is 13 percent).

• Energy consumption increases when using poles by an average of 20 percent compared with ordinary walking without poles.

• Up to a 46 percent increase in energy consumption (Cooper Institute research, “Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sports,” 2002 publication).

• Releases pain and muscle tension in the neck and shoulder region — the lateral mobility of the neck and spine increases significantly.

• Muscles most actively involved are the forearm extensor and flexor muscles, the rear part of the shoulder muscles, the large pectoral muscles and the broad back muscles.

• Does not aggravate joints and knees.

• Reduces the load on knees and other joints.

• Consumes approximately 400 calories per hour (compared with 280 calories per hour for normal walking).

• Poles are a safety factor on slippery surfaces.

(Health facts excerpted from nordicwalking.com)

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