Nordic walking makes debut to fitness world at instructor show

Nordic walking made its official debut to the North American fitness scene this weekend before a small but definitely intrigued group of exercise instructors at the IDEA show for fitness professionals.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Nordic walking made its official debut to the North American fitness scene this weekend before a small but definitely intrigued group of exercise instructors at the IDEA show for fitness professionals.

Only seven fitness teachers poled their way around a grassy spit of land down the way from the San Diego Convention Center, site of the IDEA World Fitness Convention, where 3,200 professionals were meeting to take classes, workshops, lectures and generally to network with other teachers and trainers to find out what's new. With the launch of the class decided a bit late to make it onto the regular program for classes on-site, Nordic walking promoter and pole manufacturer Exel tapped into the show as an official "special session," albeit held off-site. In this case the off-site was far enough away to deter attendees who either didn't want to take the time to get there and back or who couldn't even find the session.

But the ones who did make the effort had positive comments about the experience.

"I learned that it's a good workout for my population and for myself as well," said Cynthia Gibford, 59, who works as both exercise instructor and nurse at St. Mary's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colo. "We older ones are doing more gentle things. We used to jump around, but now I have bad knees."

Exel, the Finnish pole-maker, sponsored the walking clinic in hopes that Gibford and others like her would join the company's instructor program and help it spread the word to the public about the activity. Exel and a couple of other companies hope that interest can fan the flames in fitness and ignite higher participation like has been growing all over Europe in the last two years. Exel and its primary competitors Leki and Swix see the U.S. fitness walking market as their brightest region for growth, it seems.

Nordic walking's appeal as a low-impact form of full-body exercise wasn't such a reach for IDEA workshop participants, many of whom had already used poles cross-country skiing or hiking. One was a former physical education instructor hoping to work with the physically impaired, while another planned to lead what walking clinics with an emphasis on weight loss.

While walking with poles is par for the course in Scandinavia and other central European countries, it is barely even a fringe activity in North America. However, during the technique session by Exel Master Trainer Malin Svensson, none of the participants seemed shy, and they drew hardly a glance from dozens of picnickers on the lawn by San Diego Bay. So much for the skepticism and worry of being stared it for doing something so off-beat in public as to be considered dorky.

Logistics and luck worked against attracting an overflow crowd at this event. Despite having signups of 30-40, a lack of signs made it next to impossible for participants to find Exel's little yellow tent, erected several football field lengths from the convention center and hidden behind Joe's Crab Shack. Even without a large number of attendees, the company will likely gain some exposure for its program. Exel took out a full-page ad in the event catalog and had exhibit space on the show floor, although traffic at the booth was light. Two or three people signed up for Exel's trainer program, said Tracy Ferland, the sales and marketing manager.

At next year's IDEA conference in Las Vegas, Exel hopes to gain legitimacy by hosting a seminar for which participants could receive continuing education credits. Ferland said she was "a little disappointed," but not necessarily surprised.

"The people we had here were psyched," she said. "It's brand new and nobody knows about it. It's something that's going to take time."

Exel now has nearly 30 instructors in the United States and 15 master trainers-in-training, Svensson said. The company offers seminars every month in Los Angeles and, after San Diego, Exel was headed to a half-day session with 15 or so Reebok master trainers. Reebok is a huge player in the European Nordic walking scene, even promoting poles branded as Reebok and Nordic walking shoes and clothes.

Exel has high hopes for clinic participants like Shelley Chryst, a former volleyball coach whose personal back problems have moved her to work with less fit populations.

"I'm looking for new things that people with some impairments might be not be able to do, like the running, the swimming, the boot camps," said Chryst, 38, looking down at the Exel Trainer pole strapped to her hand. "You can reach pretty much anyone with this."

SNEWS® View: We're not surprised about the low turnout. Having been involved in out-of-the-box activities introduced at IDEA shows, it can take either a few years and a lot of persistence to get a new concept rolling OR the backing of a powerhouse company (such as a Nike or Reebok) which also has the money to have an event closer to the halls and perhaps offer significant freebies to attract always-freebie-hungry instructors. All the cards seemed to be playing against Exel in this case, not only with an off-site … waaaaay off-site … location, but also being hidden, making it hard to find. Instructors are quick to sign up for events at these shows, then just as quick to jettison them when they realize their schedule is overloaded. But persistence will win the game here.

Related

Nordic Walking for fitness coming to clubs near you

No, no, this isn't some odd variant of snowshoeing or skiing, but actually fitness walking with poles. Or, said the other way around, a bit like cross-country skiing without skis. Already booming across Europe since its birth in Finland in 1997, several pole manufacturers are ...read more

Nordic walking: Turning a corner around the globe

Now that Nordic walking is nearing its 10th anniversary in Europe -- and is still seeking to get more firmly on its feet after only three years in North America -- it's looking for a new identity, new consumers, and more advanced issues are arising. For example, we wrote after ...read more

Lindsey Vonn Nordic Walking Video to Debut at IDEA Fitness Convention

BUFFALO, NY – Professional skier and LEKI sponsored athlete Lindsey Vonn is helping to promote Nordic Walking, or fitness walking with lightweight poles, with a fun yet informative five minute video that details the benefits of Nordic Walking, especially for athletes in the ...read more

Nordic walking Update: Europe hot, Portland Marathon adds NW division

Love it or hate it, it's clear that Nordic walking is here to stay. In Europe, it's made such inroads to sporting goods and outdoor stores as well as urban workouts and resort outings that manufacturers right and left have product and marketing geared toward the activity. In the ...read more

LindseyVonn.jpg

Pole manufacturer Leki hopes Olympic champ Lindsey Vonn will help attract more fitness enthusiasts to Nordic walking

If Lance Armstrong can be good for indoor cycles, then could Olympic ski racing champion Lindsey Vonn be good for Nordic fitness walking? Her pole sponsor, Leki, has laid its hopes of enticing more to the fitness activity with a five-minute Nordic walking promotional video ...read more

IDEA instructors' conference showcases fitness-outdoor mix

Acknowledging the growing crossover between traditional gym exercise and outdoor fitness and recreation activities, the IDEA association for fitness instructors for the first time has developed a package of outdoor activity sessions. The "Club Without Walls" track at its annual ...read more

ispo preps summer show with strong Nordic fitness theme

Considered the centrally located gateway to the international sports market, Munich will host its ispo summer '04 trade show July 4-6, showcasing the latest market trends in sport equipment and apparel. After dabbling in Nordic walking at the last couple of shows, this show's ...read more

Exel Joins Reebok to Promote Nordic Walking

In 1997, Exel Oyj of Finland created Nordic Walking by developing Nordic Walking technique and designing specifically engineered poles for the activity. Often described as “cross-country skiing without snow or skis” or “power walking with poles,” Nordic Walking has grown ...read more

Nordic walking report: European growth stunning, U.S. still a bit puzzled

Although the U.S. market is still trying to figure out what Nordic walking is, how and where to sell and promote it, and who its potential participants are, growth of the activity in Europe is booming, leaving a lot of retailers and suppliers stunned at spiraling sales and ...read more