Urban Poling is Canada's leading provider of Nordic walking equipment and instruction. I have been a certified instructor since I took Urban Poling's Instructor Course with Director of Education, Barb Gormley, in Ottawa in 2008 and I have been passionate about poling ever since. I have taught hundreds of people this revolutionary form of walking, that turns a simple walk into a turbo-charged, full-body workout. I employ this technique on urban walks, mountainous hikes and snowshoe outings. While I encourage everyone to take a lesson in order to successfully learn good Nordic walking technique, the purpose of this article is to: (a) give you a sense of what it is all about or (b) for those of you fortunate enough to have been introduced to Urban Poling, to serve as a reminder of the proper techniques.
Before You Start
Adjust your poles to the correct height. If you are very new to this technique, set the poles at 2 inches or 5 centimetres lower than your actual height. If you are comfortable with the technique, then use the markings (feet and inches or centimetres on the opposite side) on the lower section (or sections if you have the three part poles) of your poles to match your height. There is a right and a left pole. You will find a raised "R" and and "L" lettering marked on the top of the handle. Make sure you have the poles in the correct hand, such that the R & L are not upside down, putting the ledge of the poles on the outside, providing a base for you to comfortably push down on, with your hand in a neutral position. The boot tips are to point backwards. This ensures that with the pole planted on about a 45 degree angle behind you, there is maximum contact and grip with the ground for that all important pushing down action to propel you forward. This can be done by turning the pole so that the boot tip points, backwards, grabbing it with your foot, then twisting the handle around so that it is in the correct position.
1. Walk the Way You Normally Walk (see photo #1 below)
We have been walking on automatic pilot since we were toddlers. It is not something we usually give a second of notice to. But as we learn a whole new way to walk, I need you to pay conscious attention to how you usually walk. So, slide your hands down off the pole handles and hold them halfway down the shaft. Start walking the way you usually do. Pay attention to the fact that your arms do not stay glued to your side. They swing loosely from the shoulders, with very little bending of the elbows and the swing is in perfect timing with your opposite leg. Walk this way for a few minutes. Then you are ready to move on to step #2.
2. This Step Is a Drag!
Slide your hands back to the handles of the poles, ensuring the ledge is on the outside, so that your hand on the side of your baby finger is in contact with that ledge (the R & L are not upside down when you look down at your pole handles. Stand at attention..... nice and tall with your arms straight down at your sides. This means the poles will be on an angle with the pole tips way behind you. Keep a nice loose grip on the poles so that when you begin to walk, the boots are dragging along the ground, way behind you. The most important teaching tip here is I now want you to completely forget that you have poles in your hand and walk as you would normally walk.
Once again, your arms are swinging from the shoulder. Avoid the temptation to bend your elbows as that is NOT how you would walk if you didn't have poles in hand. Walk this way for several minutes.
3. Walk Like You Are on Parade!
Once you are comfortable at step #2, with dragging the poles along behind you, then it is time to walk like you are on parade. To do this, lengthen you stride a little bit and swing your arms a little higher in front of you. What is so crucial here is that you maintain the rhythm of perfectly matching your stride with your arm swing. The best way to ensure you maintain the perfect synchronization of arms and legs is to count in your head, or out loud..... one, two, one, two, one, two. Everytime you say one you take a step and swing your opposite arm, planting your pole at exactly the same time as you plant your foot. Everytime you say two, you step with your other leg and your opposite arm, again, planting your foot and your pole at exactly the same time. Some people have difficulty at this stage, usually because their arms are moving slower than their legs and they get out of synch. That perfect timing is key. Take as long as you need at this step so that it feels natural and comfortable. If you get bored of counting, try singing a song and keep your arms and legs in time with your singing. For example: "The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah....." If it doesn't feel right, go back a step. Go back to a simple walk, pretending the poles aren't there. Get your rhythm working at that stage, then just increase your stride length and your arm swing gradually. Double check that you haven't started bending your arms. The poles should be at about a 45 degree angle behind you. If you can look down and see those boot tips..... you need to go back to step #2.
4. Press on the Ledge of the Pole
Once you are comfortable at step #3 and you have established a good rhthym, pay attention to the fact that those boots tips stick as you begin to swing your arms backwards. Now at that point, press firmly down on the ledge of the handle. Make sure you press back far enough that your thumb brushes your thigh. You will immediately feel yourself being propelled powerfully forward. You should lengthen your stride just a bit more. NOW, you are Nordic walking! Vroom! Vroom! You have turbo-charged your walk! The more vigorous you want to make your walk, the more you lengthen your stride and the further back you press your arms behind you.
5. Find That Sweet Spot
After you have mastered these steps and have spent a few sessions moving through steps 1 - 4, it is time to stop dragging your poles, as this will prematurely wear out your boot tips. Apply just enough grip on your poles that you do not drag them across the ground. Plant them where you have been starting your backwards arm swing. This is the sweet spot and you will have no trouble finding it if you have practised Nordic walking a few times. Here is a one minute video where Urban Poling director of education, Barb Gormley and friend, demonstrate perfect Nordic walking technique: VIDEO
6. Varying The Technique For Different Terrain
When you are walking on paved surfaces, you use your poles with the rubber boot tips on. If you are on unpaved surfaces like hiking trails, grass, snow and ice or sand, you remove the boot tips and use the carbide tip. Gravel surfaces are a bit tricky, as the boot tips will slip if you use the forementioned technique and if you remove them, the metal tip will be noisy and you will lose a lot of the shock absorbency that the boot tips provide. Sometimes, I raise my arms in front higher and do not press as far back, sometimes I will remove the boot tip and continue with the technique described above and sometimes I will switch to the ACTIVATOR technique I will describe next.
Urban Poling has developed specialized ACTIVATOR poles for use by people who have various mobility issues. Here is a link to information on ACTIVATOR poles and their often life-changing applications: ACTIVATOR. These poles employ a slightly different technique that you can use with all other Nordic walking poles. Not only do I sometimes employ this technique on gravel surfaces, but always when walking up and down steep trails or pathways and when I need more stability, such as snowshoeing on unpacked trails or walking on slippery or icy surfaces. The ACTIVATOR technique is also ideal for use indoors, such as mall walking, as the boot tips, which must remain on when using the poles indoors, will slip on those shiny mall floors. However, on rubberized indoor surfaces, like fitness centre walking tracks, leave the boot tips on and use the regular technique. Rubberized indoor tracks are perfect for Nordic walking!
For the ACTIVATOR technique, first of all, you will need to adjust the poles so that with your elbow bent at 90 degrees and your elbow touching or in line with your hip bone, the pole fits nicely in to your hand. This usually means you have to shorten the poles a bit from the length you usually have them. If you are walking up a steep trail, you will need to shorten them to maintain that 90 degree angle. If you are walking downhill, you will need to lengthen them. The steeper the trail, the more considerable will be the adjustment. Maintaining a 90 degree angle ensures that when you are pressing down on the ledge, all the force is directed straight down to maximize the off-loading of weight from your lower limbs and the more you engage your upper body to assist your movement.
Once again, the technique involves standing tall and coordinating the planting of your pole simultaneously as you plant your foot. Only this time, the poles are planted straight up and down.... completely vertical. Your elbows remain bent. Make sure your arm action begins with moving your shoulders. They should not remain fixed by your side. Think of it as a punching action with your right and then your left arms. If you are going up a steep trail, lean forward slightly. This will increase the amount of weight that is supported by your poles and your upper body. It makes it SO much easier to go uphill!
If you are going downhill, remain upright, make sure those poles are lengthened enough that you maintain that 90 degree bend at the elbows and ensure you press down hard on the ledge. Once again, you will be off-loading a significant amount of your body weight from your legs, your knees, your hips and your lower back and making your core, arms and shoulders pitch in and do the work. This makes it SO much easier to go downhill!
Using the ACTIVATOR technique going up and down steep terrain is not only easier at the time, but it will ensure you can hike longer distances. Usually, what limits hiking distance is leg fatigue. But employing good Nordic walking technique and using the poles effectively and efficiently will engage the upper body and decrease the work the lower body has to do, allowing you to go further before leg fatigue sets in.
Now then, grab your poles and GO! Enjoy all the benefits that Nordic walking has to offer.
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Parking is available on-street or in public lots throughout Canmore. It is a good idea to arrive early on busy days to locate suitable parking.
Restrooms are available at the Malcolm hotel in the lobby.
Public restrooms are available within a short walk:
Public pit toilets are available at all trailheads.
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