By Bethany Lye
September 03, 2001

Ive heard only good things about walking with Nordic poles—the most important being that it burns more calories and targets more muscles than regular walking, all while making your workout feel easier.

But now, in Central Park, just minutes into my first workout, theres a boy riding his bike and staring at me. Not that I can blame him. I look sort of like a cross-country skier without the skis or the snow. The boy pedals faster and flies by me only to brake for a second take. While trying to decide whether Im indeed a confused skier or maybe an arthritic modern dancer, he nearly collides with an older couple who seem equally perplexed by my presence. I cant help but wonder: Is all this attention really worth a sweet calorie burn?

My Nordic-walking lesson began with my instructor, exercise physiologist and nutritionist Martica Heaner, setting me straight on a couple of points. Walking, she assures me, can be much more than the leisurely stroll through the park Id always thought it was. Whats more, the poles arent just pricey “walking sticks” (as Id labeled them). Using them not only builds upper-body endurance but also increases your calorie burn 20 to 45 percent over regular walking. And they offer support that can put less stress on your knees.

It takes a little practice before Im able to see for myself what she means. First, I fully extend one arm ahead as I take a step with my opposite foot. My core twists as I plant my pole and push back, my back foot coming forward. Meanwhile, my other arm pushes the opposite pole past my hip and out behind my body, then sweeps it forward to keep pace with my feet.

“Lean forward from your ankles,” Heaner instructs. “Dont bend at your waist.” I lean forward and, of course, bend at my waist. Im trying to keep the poles angled like Im supposed to and cant seem to move my arms fast enough. It takes all my concentration to get my stride even semismooth.

After 10 minutes of practicing while Heaner tinkers with my posture (“head up,” “dont grip the handles too tightly,” “really engage your core”), my pace falls somewhere between a fast walk and a run—then, suddenly, everything clicks. Im having a blast as I stride along, the poles adding powerful pep to my step. Im burning calories like mad, but the weird thing is I dont feel like Im working hard at all.

When the lesson ends, Im sweaty and breathless, convinced that Ive had a thorough workout. An old man on a nearby bench cranes his neck in my direction; he wants a closer look at my poles. I smile, unconcerned. Its hard to turn heads in New York—and I just cant wait to do it again.

Freelance writer Bethany Lye gets a kick out of drawing attention while Nordic walking through the streets of New York.