Urban Poles vs Other Nordic Walking Poles
Mandy Shintani, the founder and co-owner of North Vancouver's Urban Poling Inc. is an occupational therapist who spent a year researching different types of Nordic walking poles before deciding to go with the strapless poles that are Canada's leading brand of Nordic walking pole. What she discovered is that walking with poles is a very safe activity. Indeed, it is one of, if not the safest outdoor activity you can participate in! The research indicated the most likely injury to occur from Nordic walking is a sprain, strain or dislocation of the thumb joint that results from being strapped into a pole and falling on it. It is a common skiing injury and as such, is referred to as skier's thumb by the medical profession. If the strain or sprain is severe, the treatment is surgery. If not properly treated, skier's thumb can lead to a debilitating loss of use of the thumb and the inability to grip items with that hand.
As a downhill skiier, I have injured my thumb thus twice. As a result, today I have severe arthritis in my hand at the base of my thumb that makes it painful to grip things. I have learned the hard way to never use my straps when I ski. In fact, I have switched to using my Urban Poles for downhill skiing also. When explaining the reasoning for Urban Poling's strapless Nordic walking pole, I had a client relate to me that she incurred a skier's thumb injury while skiing that went misdiagnosed. When she finally had it looked at by a doctor, she was scheduled for emergency surgery that repaired the damage just in time to avoid an irreversable loss of hand function. Here are a few links to information on skier's thumb:
I had another client who related a story about a friend who fell while strapped into poles and because she was not able to drop the poles quickly, her head impacted the pole handle, resulting in a fractured eye socket injury. The most serious injury, although not a common injury, that can result from being strapped in to poles is a shoulder injury. Having a pole attached to your arm creates a long extension on your arm and the "law of levers" means this results in a greater force that can be applied at the shoulder joint. Coming back to skiing for a moment, this is the very important reason for the sign at the bottom of every ski chair lift in the world warning people to take the straps off their poles before getting on a chair lift. If the pole where to get caught in the chair lift equipment, the resulting injury to the shoulder joint would be catastrophic!
In addition to being strapless to avoid the most common type of injury, the pure magic of Urban Poles is the ergonmic design of the handle, which features a significant contoured ledge. This keeps your hand in a natural and neutral position. It is pressing down with force on this ledge that causes the core muscles (back, stomach, chest) and the shoulders and arms to contract powerfully with every stride that is taken, without being attached to a glove-like strap common in all other Nordic walking poles. The material of the ledge also wonderfully absorbs the shock of impact on hard, paved surfaces and along with the rubber boot tips makes for an oh-so smooth pole placement.
Critics of Urban Poles (usually Europeans who have yet to experience the sheer pleasure of using Urban Poles) will comment that the straps are beneficial because they allow the walker to extend the arms well behind the body, to release the pole, using the strap to bring the pole back to its starting position. This is how Nordic skiiers use their poles. But in Nordic skiing, the long glide phase of the stride allows you the time to extend your arm well behind your body, keeping your arm and leg movements synchronized. When progressing from walking to Nordic walking, beginners need to lengthen their stride considerably so that the stride length is matched by the arm swing length. The arms and legs have to be perfectly synchronized. To enable the arms and legs to remain synchronized while extending the arms well behind the body far enough to release the poles on the forward swing, the stride length has to be lengthened so far as to make it difficult if not impossible for more than the most serious Nordic walking athlete to attain. If you look at photographs and videos of European Nordic walkers, only the smallest percentage actually perform the technique to the extent that they release the poles behind them.
The same critics will also mention the straps prevent forearm fatigue by allowing for a rhythmic contraction and relaxation of the hand and thus the forearm muscles. This contraction and relaxation can also be achieved using Urban Poles as the ledge at the bottom and the lip at the top of the pole prevent dropping the pole with a loose grip. Personally, I keep a loose grip on the poles all the time. While this may lead to blisters on a long day of Nordic walking, I have recently begun wearing very comfortable and stylish cycling gloves.
The Urban Poling technique of Nordic walking has recently been introduced to the United Kingdom and initial reports from Nordic Walking UK are very favourable: "Molded-handle walking poles & why we love them!" Perhaps acceptance by the European continent is next!
One final reason I love my Urban Poles..... my husband and I love to snowshoe here in the Rocky Mountains and we enjoy this sport even when it is below -30 C! We keep toasty warm, but for the first 20 minutes or so, waiting for my internal furnace to operate at max, my hands are freezing cold so I always start out wearing my big, bulky ski mitts that would not come anywhere near fitting into the glove-like attachment of European Nordic walking poles - see photo above.
Nordic Walking Poles vs. Hiking or Trekking Poles
Hiking poles have a simple loop strap, made for attaching your poles to your hands so you do not drop them and perhaps lose them. A pair of hikers once tested Urban Poling's Adventure Poles and their one critique was they missed having a strap and were concerned about losing a pole over the edge of a steep trail. My response to that is, in 12 years of hiking with my trusty Urban Poles, I have never lost one. I have used them thousands of times and still have the original pair so they are down to a fraction of a penny per use. I would much rather lose a pole than suffer another thumb injury.
To exert the strong downward planting and pushing action of Nordic walking technique, you need either the ergonomic ledge of Urban Poles or the glove like attachment of the European style of pole. You can loop the strap of a hiking pole around your wrist in such a way to obtain more downward pressure, but this puts your wrist in an awkward, unnatural, hyper-flexed positon. Hiking poles do not usually come with any shock absorbing features or the shock-absorbing boot shaped tips that Urban Poles have. Hiking poles are terribly uncomfortable to use on paved surfaces, like recreational multi-use trails or sidewalks or the uneven cobblestone of European streets. The vibration and lack of shock absorption renders hiking poles virtually useless in an urban environment. Some high end poles will be spring loaded, but then you lose the resistance of pressing against a firm but comfortable ledge to get the core muscle engagement that is such an amazing benefit of Nordic walking technique.
Urban Poles are ideally suited paved, hard surfaces and indoor surfaces, thus the name.... URBAN poles. I took a group to Italy's Amalfi Coast in 2018. The trail was a mixture of hiking trail, pavement, cobblestone and stairs, stairs and more...stairs. Everyone agreed that their Urban Poles were essential to the enjoyment of their trip. Read the blog post here.
So there you have it. In my opinion, hiking poles are okay for hiking, but unless you are an ultra-marathon trail runner, Urban Poling brand Nordic walking poles are the very best and will take you every where you need to go.... from city streets to mountain peaks and everywhere in between.
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