PLoS ONE (Jan 2015)

Exploring Muscle Activation during Nordic Walking: A Comparison between Conventional and Uphill Walking.

  • Barbara Pellegrini,
  • Leonardo Alexandre Peyré-Tartaruga,
  • Chiara Zoppirolli,
  • Lorenzo Bortolan,
  • Elisabetta Bacchi,
  • Hélène Figard-Fabre,
  • Federico Schena

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 10, no. 9
p. e0138906


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Nordic Walking (NW) owes much of its popularity to the benefits of greater energy expenditure and upper body engagement than found in conventional walking (W). Muscle activation during NW is still understudied, however. The aim of the present study was to assess differences in muscle activation and physiological responses between NW and W in level and uphill walking conditions. Nine expert Nordic Walkers (mean age 36.8±11.9 years; BMI 24.2±1.8 kg/m2) performed 5-minute treadmill trials of W and NW at 4 km/h on inclines of 0% and 15%. The electromyographic activity of seven upper body and five leg muscles and oxygen consumption (VO2) were recorded and pole force during NW was measured. VO2 during NW was 22.3% higher at 0% and only 6.9% higher at 15% than during W, while upper body muscle activation was 2- to 15-fold higher under both conditions. Lower body muscle activation was similarly increased during NW and W in the uphill condition, whereas the increase in erector spinae muscle activity was lower during NW than W. The lack of a significant increase in pole force during uphill walking may explain the lower extra energy expenditure of NW, indicating less upper body muscle activation to lift the body against gravity. NW seemed to reduce lower back muscle contraction in the uphill condition, suggesting that walking with poles may reduce effort to control trunk oscillations and could contribute to work production during NW. Although the difference in extra energy expenditure between NW and W was smaller in the uphill walking condition, the increased upper body muscle involvement during exercising with NW may confer additional benefit compared to conventional walking also on uphill terrains. Furthermore, people with low back pain may gain benefit from pole use when walking uphill.