June 21, 2011

These Poles are Made for Walking!

As you may (or may not) know, Real Life Health tries to offer a more critical approach to some of the common practices in health promotion and fitness. I firmly believe that critical thinking is a major part of personal health because it allows for the person to make decisions for themselves based upon sound and current information. So after driving by many pole walkers lately, I decided to do a bit of research to find out if this trend is more fluff than fact...and the results did surprise me.

Nordic Walking originated in Finland in the 1930s so I can't really call it a "trend" can I?
Nordic Walking, or pole walking (not to be confused with pole dancing) is one of the many current trends that promise more calories burned per session leading to greater fitness results (in a nutshell). After reviewing some of the literature (note: for best results go to "scholar" google located under "more" above "google" - here you get the research without the garbage) it appears that the addition of poles does enhance your cardiovascular fitness along with burning more calories. The only problem this fitness trend fails to address (if it is even possible to address it or control for it) is the ease at which one can cheat, relax, and otherwise do nothing but hang on tight (while wearing really cute gloves).

Here are the gloves!
The great news is, if performed properly, Nordic Walking engages more upper body and core muscles providing the walker with full body workout.  It is because of this that you burn more calories and work harder; more muscle engagement equals more calories burned. Unfortunately, more often than not, I see people propelling their poles forward (like a hiker in the woods) and allowing the poles to lead their arms vs. the other way around. To get the benefits from pole walking one must focus on recruiting the upper body throughout the range of motion. It is very easy to let those poles get the best of you.

Nordic Walking has been popular with Europeans since the 70's and is now gaining in popularity in North America. Where I get a little nervous is when the manufacturers start creating instructor certifications that only allow those with the course to teach the skill. Like everything else, the industry of exercise takes over and now you have Nordic Walking shoes, shirts, waterbottles, tights, and bumper stickers that say "Nordic Walkers do it with sticks" (I just made that up...in case you were wondering where my brilliant thoughts originate).  You don't need a special instructor to coach you through this exercise. Grab some poles (I don't believe the cost is crazy).....and start walking. It may take some time to get used to the coordination of your gate and the stride of your arms, but you will. Be aware of your muscles and your posture and be sure your poles are the appropriate size for your height. Of course, after saying that, if there is a pole fitness class near you it is always a great idea to join a group (research shows that social support is one of the leading causes of exercise success).

...and here is the T-Shirt!
From what I can see, this is a great way to enhance your cardiovascular fitness without having to pound the pavement or do something you may not enjoy (for the sake of burning more calories).  Walking is something most of us can do without much trouble and can do anywhere without paying a membership fee or travelling great distances. Better still, if you can find a friend willing to buy some poles and join you you may be more apt to....stick....with it (get it.....stick)! 

Below is a link to a website I came across. It offers a few references and some great tips on warm up and stretching technique in addition to the proper way to Nordic Walk.


Now...about that pole dancing...pole dance fitness has been around for about 8 years or so but hasn't really caught on in the mainstream fitness industry (I guess it must be uncomfy to workout in pasties and a thong). But that's another post for another time.....


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