“Hey, you forgot your skis!” I get this line directed my way about a zillion times a year. Every person who delivers the “joke” is convinced they’re the first person who has ever thought up the quip. I always chuckle to be polite, but the truth is that I ski walk with fitness poles every day and that smile on my face is because I’m enjoying my exercise like never before.
I was a runner for many years (and even a co-owner of Michigan Runner Magazine) so I know all about the benefits of running. Many years ago an injury unrelated to the sport forced me to give up running. I continued to ski, golf, and bike but until a few years ago something was missing in my overall fitness program. Nothing could quite replace running.
Then I discovered ski walking. Pete Edwards and I had been friends for a long time. I was the editor of Michigan Skier Magazine and Pete was involved in the ski industry as one of Michigan ‘s top ski coaches. He clued me in to a new company he had formed, SkiWalking.com, and a new product he was promoting – fitness poles.
We connected at a ski walking clinic Pete held and I was hooked after the first hundred feet. Upon getting a few minutes of coaching from Pete, I could already see how my approach to walking had changed in terms of posture and tempo. I could only imagine, at that point, what the cardio-vascular and strength training benefits would be.
You can find all the factual information about the benefits of ski walking at skiwalking.com, but let me tell you what I’ve found.
First of all, the stats tell you that you burn 40% more calories walking with fitness poles than you do walking without them. I’ve found this to be absolutely true, maybe even a low estimate. The fact is that when you use the poles you generate a walking tempo that is just naturally faster than usual. I think this is because a properly-fitted pole forces you to stand more upright and that leads to a lengthened stride. Add in the fact that moving your arms in a rhythmical conjunction with your stride leads to a more uniform gait and you naturally have better form.
I coached football for many years at Cadillac High School . We had our players practice what we called “form running” every day. Basically, we’d have them pay attention to stride, arm movement, and consistency in their forward path. They say you can’t teach speed, but we actually did. Players who ran with the correct form just naturally moved faster.
The same is true when you walk with fitness poles. A consistent tempo in a straight line means you go faster and hence have a better workout.
The second point of emphasis, that works hand-in-hand with tempo, is posture. Walking with poles of the proper length makes you stand upright with your shoulders back. Your balance is enhanced because you’re centered as you walk.
I’ve attended clinics where Pete has had elderly seniors and even Parkinson’s patients “see the light” after a few minutes using poles. People who have been walking bent over canes and walkers are suddenly upright with four points of balance and the result is amazing. Seeing this makes you realize how important proper posture can be.
While my tempo and posture improved dramatically with fitness poles, I wasn’t expecting a third benefit – upper body strength. Now, no one will accuse me of having a weight lifter’s body, but my overall body tone has been affected by the use of my poles.
Think about it. If you walk an hour using fitness walking poles your arms/shoulders/abs get a tremendous repetitive workout. This does not happen when you’re biking or when you walk without poles. Of course, the assumption is that there will be an obvious training correlation to cross country skiing and there is. When winter comes around poling on an XC trail is easier.
However, I was amazed at the impact using fitness poles had on my golf game. Imagine how many times you “swing” poles during a one-hour walk. For me, the upshot has been that I’m no longer tired on the back nine because I’m used to the repetition of “swinging.” I’m also convinced that the better upper body toning has increased my hitting distances by 10-15 yards for every club.
With all of this said, it’s pretty obvious that I’m a fan of ski walking and fitness poles. In our little town of Cadillac , I’m happy to report that dozens of people have taken the hint and we now have a dedicated crew of ski walkers. It’s great fun to see groups of people walking with poles.
Now, here are some suggestions if you want to experience ski walking. The number one thing you want to do is get a top quality pole that is properly fitted. Do not (I repeat – do not) get snookered into buying some cheapo pole at a big box store. If you want to enjoy ski walking then you need poles that are properly balanced and are the right length. If you walk any distance at all, good poles make a huge difference.
I’ve encountered people trying to get collapsible poles to stay locked; I’ve seen people struggle with poles that are so unbalanced they actually shudder when planted; I’ve even seen a guy who stuck tennis balls on the ends of downhill ski poles in an attempt to save a few bucks. Take my advice and get good poles.
I have two pairs of ski walking poles from SkiWalking.com. I have a set of the SWIX Nordic Walking VIP poles which are the best selling poles in the U.S. I also have a set of the EXEL Urban Skier Nordic Walking poles. Both are the specific length suited to me, have specially designed hand straps, and come with rubber tips for walking on pavement or hard surfaces. They are light, perfectly balanced, and a joy to use.
Now, my wife and I walk with our poles year-round. We find fitness walking is a good option when we’re not skiing. If you do this my advice is to augment your walking gear with a pair of ice spikes. You can find these online at places like campmor.com and at outdoors stores (look in the ice fishing department). These stretch along the bottom of your running shoes. Get the kind with tungsten spikes, not the ones with springs on the bottom. Take the rubber tips off your poles and you have a rock solid combination – poles that bite into ice and snow and spikes that prevent slipping. (We just put the spikes on an older set of running shoes and leave them on all winter.)
Ski Walking with fitness poles has become a way of life for me. I never head out on a walk without them. Support a Michigan business by visiting www.skiwalking.com or calling 877-SKIWALKING (754-9255) for more information, testimonials, lessons, and a selection of the finest ski walking poles.