The art of Pole Walking = a mix of Fitness & Fashion
That's my mom. She's a trooper...the sweetest guinea pig that ever lived. I bribed her with new workout gear and surprised her with a new way to exercise: pole walking! I recently discovered that pole walking is an art, with the potential for great fashion and plenty of health benefits. Yes, really, with regard to fashion.
I'm going to tell you everything that I think you should know about pole-walking but first, a bit more about my amazing mother. On top of agreeing to let me dress her up like Kim Kardashian and pose with me for a mother-daughter fashion spread, she is the cutest and sweetest mom I could ever ask for. Since I'm not allowed to say her age, I'll just say that she's at a point in her life where it's important to maintain good health. But she's not really the high-intensity fitness type. She likes to keep things simple and enjoyable. And that's where pole walking comes into the picture.
So what's Pole Walking all about?
It wasn't until I attended the IDEA World Fitness Convention last year in Los Angeles that I began to respect pole walking as a legitimate workout. And let's get this straight (because I know there are doubters and haters out there), pole walking is a REAL workout. It's not a bunch of fluff or an activity limited to old people. When I tried it out at the IDEA Expo, it wasn't even easy!! It takes a lot of concentration and skill to learn how to properly "nordic walk", as they call it. But once you pick up the movement and find a comfortable stepping pace, it becomes smooth sailing. The beauty of pole walking is that it's low impact and time-friendly. You get to see and enjoy everything you would on a casual walk except faster and with a greater calorie burn (46% more calories burned than regular walking).
Reasons why pole walking is SO GOOD for your body...
- Pole walking engages your upper body, legs, arms and core, turning plain old walking into a total body workout with a resistance factor that makes you sweat.
- It helps your posture and makes you less of a sloucher because to do it properly, you have to straighten your stance and really activate your entire upper body.
- It's great for moving both sides of your body symmetrically and for building better bone density.
- It helps strengthen your balance (which can weaken with age).
- It's seasonal, which means you can pole walk pretty much wherever you want! On the beach, in the snow with snow shoes, on flat paved or gravel paths in natural areas or on the street. Some experts even say you can pole walk in water with the right kind of aquatic shoes.
- It's restorative for women over 50 and especially for people transitioning off a walker or cane post-operation.
The right way to pole walk
I'm not an expert, but from what I've learned you grip lightly and plant your poles firmly at a 45-degree angle behind you and then push back forcefully against the ground to propel yourself forward. You want to both swing your arms and push off the rubber bottom tips of the poles. This is how I coached my mom but we also kind of free-styled, which was actually a lot of fun.
For expert advice, just ask Nordic Walking diva Lindy Smith.
I met her at last year's IDEA convention and she actually gave me my first lesson. Lindy teaches classes to all age groups, from grade school kiddies to 70+ adults in Fort Myers, Florida where she lives. She's committed to spreading the word and love for pole walking globally and she makes video tutorials to help you excel at walking comfortably and correctly with your poles.
When I asked her how she got into pole walking, she said this: "I adopted pole walking as my personal method of fitness for the last 6 years. I Nordic Walked 15lbs off and have kept it off! At 58 years old, my doctor is happy I am getting resistance training in and my bone density test shows good results."
I love how even though Lindy is her own success story, she brags more about the confidence that pole walking brings into the lives of the people she instructs. To reach out to Lindy Smith, go to any of the following links and she'll happily answer any of your questions about nordic walking!
The fashion of pole walking: what to wear & where to get it!
- First things first, coat yourself in sunscreen (unless it's the dead of winter, you live in London or you pole walk at night). My favorite active sunscreen is Neova's DNA Damage Control ($46). It's broad spectrum with SPF 43 and whenever I wear it, I'm unscathed by the sun. It's not gonna get you a light tan but frankly, I'm more interested in keeping my skin youthful and I know that's important to my mom too.
- A great pair of sunglasses, preferably ones that feel light on your face...as if they're not even there. In the pics you see, my mom is wearing a fun, cheap pair of bright orange aviators but I really must recommend Warm Ups by Oakley (available soon). They're feather light, polarized and made to deflect light without distorting your view. I was wearing mine to run and for all kinds of water sports until I lost them stand up paddle boarding 2 weeks ago (I fell and the river stole them from me). For land exercise, like pole walking, the no-slip grip on these glasses keeps them from sliding around.
- A super supportive sports bra with a little bling. I don't care what size your boobs are, when you walk fast they're gonna move and that might hurt. BodyRock Sport makes bras that hold it all in but also look nice when they're not completely covered up by your tank top or tee. The BRS Bra on my mom is youthful, colorful and has a teeny pocket for her to stick a $100 bill in...'cause that's how she rolls.
- A damn good shoe for fast walking. I'm a fan of ECCO's BIOM Collection which is why I styled my mom in the BIOM Trainer. They're designed to let your foot move in its natural way but they still have full-length foot support. My foot never feels caged in these sneakers and my mom fell in love with hers because they gave her some height and didn't make her size 9 foot look big! Sorry, mom, at least I didn't say your age!
- Big sticks!!! I wanted trekking poles that would serve as a nice foray into the sport...until my mom decides she's going pro. So, I bought poles at Walmart for $14 each. They're colorful and not too crunchy, if you know what I mean.
As far as poles go, how do you know what to get? Or how much to spend?
According to nordic walking expert Lindy Smith,
the best poles aren't always the priciest ones. She says, "Unless you go straight for the carbon fiber poles, there are many options out there for poles with features that are important for daily use...like comfortable straps and a secure locking system that are made from quality materials." She believes it's worth it to spend more on quality-made European brand poles than the kind made in China. But that doesn't mean inexpensive poles won't do the trick.
This is how Lindy distinguishes between a good and bad set of poles: "When students come to my class with poles from Target, Walmart or purchased online, the first thing I do is request them to tighten up the sections. Then I lean on the pole...after all, you'd want your poles to support your weight, right? 8 times out of 10, the poles slip. At that point my students realize that $40 for poles isn't worth the risk."
Lindy is clearly the expert on poles. I only know a little, but here's what I found for a reasonable price:
- These poles are adjustable and did the trick for me (and my mama). They're affordable, and made for street walking or roughing it. You can buy them at Walmart. Sorry Lindy, I was on a budget!
- REI stores sell really high quality nordic walking poles--the kind Lindy recommends spending your money on.
- LEKI is a trusted brand in poles and you can't go wrong with them but be prepared to drop some dough.
- Blackdiamondequipment.com seems to be where serious trekkers shop. I've read a lot about THESE POLES which are light and fold up for easy packing. They're definitely made for experienced trail blazers.
- Unexpectedly, T.J.Maxx sells poles. I was so shocked by this discovery, I had to take the picture below to prove it to you! I like the fun designs these Cascade Mountain Tech poles come in but have a feeling they may be limited in terms of terrain. Cascade Mountain Tech poles also sell at Costco.
Like famous athletes? Well, they LIKE to pole walk!
Lindsey Vonn reportedly nordic walks during off season to stay in shape and top form for her sport. She was even endorsing LEKI poles for some time as many olympian cross country skiers have before.
Pole walking has yet to become a trend among celebrities but athletes take it very seriously. Lindy tells me that pole walking is most popular in Europe and Scandinavia where it originally started. But she says, "I see growing awareness in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. In the US, there's activity in Minneapolis, Wisconsin and New England."
Perhaps more hot pink poles need to be produced and featured in Style Up 2 Shape Up with MizzFIT videos to get this trend moving!!! Just sayin'...
To pole or not to pole? Tell me what you think! Win this GIVEAWAY!
Whether you're a newbie or an aficionado or you just can't see yourself ever doing it, I want to hear your thoughts! You already know what I think. For those of you considering nordic walking, treat the experience like a blind date (one that you've already seen the Facebook profile for and dig). Get excited. Dress up. Put your best self forward...like my Mom!
To get you amp'd up, I've got a pole walking accessory giveaway of Sweaty Bands and a pair of pink GymGirl gloves that you can use for your own "nordic" jaunts. Just leave a comment below about this article or your experience with pole walking and I will announce the lucky winner on August 10th, 2012.
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