The Poles Are In: Stepping Into a Great Workout

You've thought about it. I know you have.

You've thought about getting older and your activity level. Perhaps regular physical activity used to be a big part of your life. For some of you, perhaps it wasn't. Yet you are looking (or should be looking!) for activities that you enjoy -- activities that help you burn more calories compared to your regular exercise regimen -- that save time and don't leave you in pain afterward.

Europe has been a front-runner into looking for solutions to this issue. Hence, it was not a surprise that poles -- similar to those used in Nordic skiing -- have been used in a walking program. This is how Nordic walking was born.

Not to say that this pastime necessarily had a healthy start. Early adherents to this type of exercise often experienced the perils of injury and incorrect form.

Why? Because the technology was not yet developed to take a pole from the ski slope onto a hard surface area. In particular, the impact transferred through the poles and into the wrists and shoulders caused injuries.

Poles Have Many Benefits for Workouts

Fast-forward to today, and we can see that walking with poles has evolved. Straps and rubber shoes have been developed and applied to the poles to decrease the impact. Various exercise techniques have been explored that maximize gains while minimizing the risks of injury.

Walking with poles has come into its own as an exercise method, and now some have even tagged these techniques with names like Nordic walking, Ski walking, exerstriding or Stefing.

The fitness benefits are now outstanding when it comes to using poles. For the generation that enjoys activity yet experiences pain, this might be the right solution; adding poles to a walking routine decreases impact to the ankles, knee and hips. This is especially fortunate for those who have had hip replacement surgery or knee problems due to wear and tear. Sound familiar? Then this may be something you need to look into.

Even if you haven't had such problems, adding the poles is a great way to ramp up your gains from your workout. You can burn up to 30 to 50 percent more calories by using the poles, as using them can lead to 90 percent involvement of your muscular system.

The numbers speak for themselves. For example, let's compare walking alone versus walking with poles, for a duration of 30 minutes for a woman, age 40, who weighs 132 pounds. While she will burn 150 calories while walking, this figure jumps to 300 calories when walking with poles.

For runners, this tool should not be neglected either. You can increase your cardiovascular capacity by simply implementing the poles and various stride patterns such as the arm stride, back stride, lunge stride, heel stride, skip stride, large skip stride and so forth. Those strides, which I teach in clinics in New York City, are referred to as Stefing techniques. Using such techniques, runners benefit from a higher-intensity workout, change of stride pattern and increased VO2 output, changing from aerobic to anaerobic training, and most important, a break from the same repetitive motion or running.

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