Prime Time: Nordic walkers use poles to keep balance, get full-body workout

Nordic walking is a total body workout that involves striding with specially designed poles.

There’s not a flake of snow to be found inside the Glens Falls Civic Center, but nonetheless, Marcia Stout walks around the arena with what looks like a ski pole in each hand.

“Most people don’t know what they’re for and they think I’m making believe I’m getting ready for skiing or something,” said the 82-year-old Queensbury resident.

Stout’s not getting ready for skiing. She’s doing exactly what she came to do: she’s Nordic walking.

Nordic walking is a total body workout that involves striding with specially designed poles.

The poles can be incorporated into a high-impact workout or used to add stability during a leisurely walk.

Trekking poles, which are very similar, provide hikers with support when climbing mountains or rock-hopping across streams.

Popular exercise

Both types of poles are popular with area exercisers.

“I see more people out and about using [Nordic walking poles],” noted Jeanne Lippman, a purchasing agent for Reliable Racing Supply, the parent company for Inside Edge Ski and Bike Shop in Queensbury.

Lippman, a Nordic walking instructor, said all you need to start Nordic walking is a good pair of walking shoes and the right poles.

Nordic walking poles look a lot like Nordic ski poles but are often lighter in weight; their length is adjustable and they have a different grip system. The poles are sold with tips that can be changed depending on the walking surface.

There’s a built-in metal tip, which can be covered with a rubber tip for use on hard surfaces. A spiky tip can be attached to the pole to provide better traction in icy areas. Poles range in price from around $50 to $200, Lippman estimated.

There’s a technique that should be used when walking with the poles, Lippman said.

“When you’re walking, you want to bring your pole up not higher than your waist level. You plant it and then you take your step and you swing your arm back and the pole goes back,” she explained. She recommended taking a class or watching a video on YouTube to learn how to use the poles properly.

Benefits of Nordic walking range from weight loss to decreased joint strain.

“You burn almost two times the calories per hour than just normal walking,” Lippman said.

Aiding stability

Stout, who had hip surgery last year, said the poles help her to walk more efficiently. “I can keep a fairly decent pace. I do feel like I’ve gotten a pretty good workout,” she said.

The poles also make her more steady on her feet.

“I highly recommend them for anyone that’s had surgery because it will give them stability,” she said. “They gave me a cane after my surgery. If that doesn’t trip you up, nothing will. I wouldn’t have any part of it. [Walking with two poles] is a more balanced approach, if you know what I mean.”

Sales of trekking poles are steady year ’round at Goldstock’s Sporting Goods in Glenville, said manager Geoff Searl. The store sells Atlas poles for $39.95 per pair.

“It’s an all-lightweight aluminum frame with a nice hand grip on it and a strap to go around your wrist,” he said. The adjustable poles, which can also be used for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, come with interchangeable baskets that secure near the bottom of the pole. There’s a small basket for hard, packed surfaces and a larger one for use in deep, powdery snow.

Searl, 56, finds the poles very helpful when he’s hiking in the Adirondacks.

“With my old back and legs, it helps take some of the pressure off when you’re coming downhill,” he said.

Neil Woodworth, 58, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) and member of the club’s Albany chapter, always uses poles when he hikes. He recently used them while climbing Hunter Mountain with his wife, Holly.

“We ascended by the Becker Hollow Trail, which is the shortest, steepest route up Hunter Mountain from the east and when we got up on hard, packed snow and ice, they were invaluable,” he said.

Most of the people in the Albany ADK chapter use poles when they hike, he noted.

Easing pressure

“Properly used, particularly ascending or descending a mountain, they take an awful lot of pressure off your knees and they make you a lot more stable,” he said. “And the older you get, the more risk there is of a hip fracture. Poles are one thing that help you protect the knee joints and stave off hip replacements as long as possible.”

Poles should be adjusted differently for an ascent versus a descent, Woodworth said. He recommended purchasing rugged, telescoping poles with a locking mechanism.

“LEKI makes a very good pole,” he said.

Hiking and walking clubs are great places to find others who hike or walk with poles. Often, there are knowledgeable members who can help you learn how to use the poles properly, Woodworth noted.

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