Nordic walking hitting its stride

Exerstride pioneer to present class in Vancouver

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter


Updated: April 26, 2010, 4:19 PM


Tom Rutlin, who has worked to popularize Nordic walking in the United States over the past two decades, will teach his technique Tuesday at Waterford Health & Fitness Club in Vancouver.

Rutlin started promoting Exerstriding, or fitness walking with specially designed poles, in 1988. At the time, he recognized that so-called Nordic walking would be great for the elderly, but he focused his evangelism on younger people.

If you go

What: Tom Rutlin, father of Nordic walking in the United States.

When: 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Waterford Health & Fitness Club, 2927 S.E. Village Loop, Vancouver.

Cost: Free, but space is limited.

Info: 360-433-6400 to register.

“I didn’t want (Nordic walking) to become pigeonholed as exercise for the aging population,” said Rutlin, who lives in Madison, Wis.

Now Rutlin himself is older — 62 — and he’s spending much of his time teaching retirement communities around North America how to walk with poles, although he still offers classes to younger segments of the population.

Rutlin’s technique and poles differ slightly from those used in Europe.

Both involve walkers holding poles and swinging them in a way that mimics cross-country skiing. The European style uses poles with looped straps for the wrists; walkers release the poles when reaching back. Exerstrider poles don’t have straps, and walkers maintain their grip. Rutlin outlines the differences on his website,

“The exercise is for people of any age, but as you get older and your feet start to bother you and your joints start to bother you and you worry about losing your independence, you become the most willing candidate to try something new,” Rutlin said.

Walking with poles can help counteract the loss of muscle tone and stooped posture that tends to develop as people age.

“Long before they lose their ability to walk and remain independent, they lose their confidence,” Rutlin said. When people use poles to walk, “their upper body becomes more erect, they resume a normal gait pattern and a longer more confident stride.”

Even using the poles to walk to and from the dining room in an assisted-living facility “becomes a de facto exercise program,” Rutlin said.

Rutlin is gratified by the increasing interest in Nordic walking, which amps up a walking workout by engaging all the major muscle groups, increasing calorie burn and improving posture.

“If I can put the poles in someone’s hand — no matter how old they are — when they experience it, they say, ‘Oh, wow.’”