1966 – “Helsinki phys ed instructor Leena Jääskeläinen introduced ‘walking with ski poles’ to her School of Viherlaakso students.” (1)
1988 – “American fitness advocate, Tom Rutlin introduced a slightly different version of Finnish pole-walking with his Exerstrider™ walking poles.” (1)
1989 – My YWCA Santa Monica/Westside student Marie Wike introduced me to Nordic Walking. I rushed right out to get my own poles. It was a hard sell to my private clients who despite feeling the benefits, couldn’t seem to get over feeling conspicuous. Fearless in a fitness setting urban or otherwise, I continued to trek regardless of strange looks from passersby.
Mid-1990s – “Finland’s national Nordic ski team began using the poles to train during off-season (INWA 2013). (1)
2011 – AARP Bulletin published Maureen MacDonald’s article: “Not Your Father’s Cane, Boomers Increasingly Opt for Trekking Poles & Walking Sticks” featuring the benefits and trainer Jayah Faye Paley’s pole walking classes.
2017 – Now more mainstream, you’ll see pole walkers of all ages, not only solo traversing cement but groups conquering asphalt and grassy knolls in public parks or a sandy beach.
Rehabbing from bilateral total hip replacement (left October 2016, right February 2017), encouraged to walk 30-minutes per day, I ditched the walker when I realized even though it was adjusted properly, I was leaning into it with round shoulders, forward head and my low back hurt. Grabbed my trusty poles and immediately felt the difference(s):
- It’s one helluva core workout. Think crunchless crunch. A pole in each hand immediately creates spinal extension – you’re standing more upright forcing abdominal and back muscles to work together.
- Balance problems. What balance problems? With a pole in each hand, core muscles, balance central, are working to keep you on your feet.
- Arthritic hips and knees. Joint pressure is reduced allowing you to walk with more ease to strengthen muscles that help stabilize those joints. Think calves, upper thighs and butt.
- Trekking is also an upper body strengthener – back, shoulders, triceps and biceps, even forearms.
- And then there’s cardio conditioning! With better balance and joint pressure reduced, getting your heart rate up is easier too.
- Nordic Walking, although it can be done inside, is best in the great outdoors.
Select poles that can range in price from approximately $70 – $100. I purchased telescopic poles that require a screwdriver to adjust/lock them to the proper length, about a 90-degree angle at your elbows. My Adventure 16 salesman did this for me. Some manufacturers sell non-adjustable poles based on your height as well as collapsible ones, great for travel but I’m unsure of their stability in use.
Tell your retailer the type of terrain you’ll be walking as the pole tips are different for carpet/cement /asphalt V.S. grass/dirt/sand trails. Metal tips for natural terrain are easily converted with sturdy rubber caps. “Baskets”, snowflake discs that fit around pole tips, usually not included with poles, create additional traction and worth the few extra dollars if mud, sand or snow is where you’ll be trekking.
Ready to take your poles for a spin? Remember the rhythm is just like walking, opposite arm swing/opposite leg strike, heel/toe rolling through the balls of your feet.
Plant poles close to the outside of your body, near the ball of each foot.
Start slow and get the feel of moving through space.
Use the wrist straps and firmly hang on to the poles. Avoid a choking grip that can translate to soreness in hands, wrists, elbows even shoulders.
After a few treks you’ll be ready to work on technique like tightening butt muscles and more targeted poling to increase cardio and upper body conditioning.
(1) Why Older Exercisers Should Try Nordic Walking by Lorne Opler, Med (www.ideafit.com/fitness-expert/lorne-opler-med), February 15, 2017