Walking to a better health
In Australia, pole walking has become an in-thing to do. We find out more this activity and why it has gotten so popular.
BY: Tan Boon Leng
Pole walking has grown in popularity in Australia particularly with the seniors. At the Seniors Recreation Council of Western Australia (SRCWA), there are some 500 members who partake in this activity regularly.
What is pole walking?
Scandinavians have been pole walking since the 1930s, but the exercise has caught on in recent years. It is an easy, efficient and low-stress activity that involves the use of walking poles to engage the body in a total workout. Pole walking engages all parts of the body in a cardio workout, more than what you can achieve with normal walking.
Anyone can pole walk. All you need is a good pair of walking poles, comfortable clothing and covered shoes. You can do the activity alone, as a couple or in a group. Pole walking is suitable on all sorts of terrain, whether you are going down a slope or up an incline – the activity taxes you to the max!
Using these specially-designed poles which involve the arms and upper body give a normal walk in the park a total body workout! Health benefits of pole walking include:
• Oxygen intake of 20 to 45 percent more.
• Strengthening and toning of muscles.
• Twenty percent more calories burned compared to normal walking.
• Improvement of orthopaedic problems including the back, neck and shoulders.
• Assisting in balance, stability and mobility.
• Reduction of stress and improvement of one’s mood.
According to Dawn Yates (right, with SRCWA’s president Hugh Rogers), an administrator in SRCWA and a pole walker since 2006, pole walking has helped her lose weight and improve her stamina. She does not get tired that easily with pole walking as opposed to normal walking.
“I like to tell my seniors at SCRWA to do their pole walking for 10 minutes every two days for a couple of weeks to get used to the different muscles being exercised, especially the shoulders. Once they become more comfortable with the exercise, they can pole walk more often. Everyone is different – some feel the benefit within a couple of weeks while others take longer. The benefits depend on how often the seniors go pole walking,” said Yates.
She added that pole walking, under the guidance of medical staff, can be also a good form of activity for rehabilitation in daycare centres.
So what is the technique?
Firstly, warming up and cooling down is recommended for exercise in general. Next, pole walking has a special technique or rhythm that improves with practice:
• Shoulders relaxed and down.
• Upper torso and hips slightly rotate naturally.
• Hand opens slightly to allow pole to swing forward opposite arm, opposite leg.
• Pole strikes the ground level with the heel of the opposite foot.
• Pull back on the pole and at the hip, apply pressure to the pole strap with the heel of the hand and push the pole past your hip.
• Throughout the motion, the poles remain diagonally backwards.
• Always lead with the handle and never lead with the foot of the pole.
Choosing the right poles
There is a difference between walking and trekking poles. Dawn said the main difference lies in the glove at the top of the poles. Pole walking poles are designed for use with the glove to enhance the exercise of pole walking while reducing the risk of increasing the blood pressure. As you do not have to grip the poles, you use the glove for downward pressure and guide the poles with a loose hand.
Having said that, the poles are telescopic and suitable for all heights, save for the glove at the top which can be a bit small for people with large hands.
What should the pole length be?
Stand with your shoulders relaxed and arms hanging at your sides. Bend your lower arm at a 90-degree angle and take the pole’s handle. The pole should be in this position and stand straight down towards the base.
If you have slight problems in your neck or shoulder area, you can shorten the pole by 5 cm to gain a better technique in motion. If you want to workout with higher intensity and exercise for more strength, you can lengthen the pole by 5 to 10 cm.
What are some common mistakes beginners often make?
• Planting the poles too far from the body. Having the poles too wide lowers the effectiveness of your pole walking.
• Walking with closed hands. Keeping your hands closed at all times does not allow for proper blood circulation.
• Improper leg and pole placement. If the pole and leg are placed on the same side, you are not able to perform the proper diagonal stride with the hips involved in a counter-swinging motion.
Before you start pole walking …
SRCWA’s Yates advised that seniors who wish to take up pole walking should consult their doctor first for the green light. “Done correctly, pole walking should not aggravate heart conditions but should improve physical well-being due to the increase in oxygen to the bloodstream that pole walking will give. However, before starting any exercise, we always encourage our seniors at SRCWA to consult their doctors first.”
(** Some of the information above has been taken from the brochure on pole walking by the Seniors Recreation Council of Western Australia.)
According to Nordic Academy Australia representative, pole walking mentioned above is not different to Nordic Walking. The term “pole walking” was coined for ease of understanding. There are slight differences in the techniques around the world. A good pair of poles start around A$120 (around S$158) and they can be obtained through Nordic Academy Singapore at 6451 1422.
He added: “One of the benefits of Nordic Walking is that it can be performed anywhere, on the flat and on hills. People have been using walking sticks for trekking a bit more frequent lately; the difference is that they don’t use Nordic Walking poles and they use the poles not for exercise but merely for assistance. The best option is to use Nordic Walking poles for exercise during the year and use the same poles when going for a hike or trekking.”