Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald


For the Baker City Herald

All it takes is a few twists of adjustment, a light grip on the poles, and you're off Nordic walking.

In theory, anyway.

Robert Sweetgall, who has walked across the United States seven times, covered the basics of Nordic walking during an hour-long workshop Saturday morning.

The night before, he gave a presentation during Literary Night, along with his wife, Darcy Williamson, who talked about medicinal plants that grow along the Powder River.

Due to the rain, he led Saturday's session inside First Presbyterian Church's fellowship hall - which took some organizing for the 50 participants.

The basic concept of Nordic walking is that you use poles with your stride, mimicking the movements of Nordic skiing on dry land. It was developed by Tom Rutlin, whose name graces the Exerstrider poles.

Before Sweetgall explained the technique, he talked about the importance of physical activity.

"You don't have to exercise every day. Just every day you eat," he said, then smiled to let everyone know he wasn't totally serious.

Sweetgall discovered Nordic walking 21 years ago.

He was hooked after just a short walk.

"Mr. Walk-Across-America just learned something about walking," he said of that introduction.

Nordic walking provides a total body workout, takes pressure off joints and burns 40 percent more calories that walking alone.

He lives the lifestyle he recommends, and keeps a fitness log.

"I take a few seconds at night and write down my physical activity," he said.

He averages 4,000 calories worth of activity each week.

"About half of that is Nordic walking."

He provided "Exerstrider" poles for everyone to practice, and created lines to make use of the small space.

Then he strode across the room, making it look so simple.

The motion feels awkward at first, keeping your arms straight and the poles angled back at a 30-degree angle. (Your arm is extending like you're shaking the hand of someone with a cold - you don't want to get too close.)

Step forward with your left foot and bring your right arm forward, then plant the tip of the pole and press back as you take another step.

Think about it too hard and you get the rhythm all messed up - the secret, he said again and again, is to walk like you always have.

To simplify it, Sweetgall demonstrated the "drag" technique - basically, you walk with a normal arm swing and drag your poles along.

You can also try "double pole" - move both arms forward and back together. This expends a bit more effort, but doesn't take quite as much coordination.

As everyone took turns walking across the room, Sweetgall offered comments and suggestions - between the giggles of the participants trying to maneuver the poles without tripping their neighbor.

Although using the poles takes a bit of practice, you quickly realize the difference from regular walking - you can feel your core muscles, upper body and arms working as you walk.

At the end of the workshop, Sweetgall encouraged everyone to start up a Nordic walking group in town - from the list of people interested in joining, don't be surprised if you see more and more people using Exerstrider poles on their walks.

For more information, check in at Betty's Books, which sponsored Sweetgall's visit to Baker City.