We see people walking, running, jogging and walking with poles. Why the poles? I have always felt, as a coach, that there is more than one way to feel healthy, get fit, and enjoy being active. The best way to do this is the way that works for you! In order to understand a bit more about pole walking, I have invited our resident expert, Linda Shaumleffel, to weigh in on what is Nordic Pole Walking (NPW). She has generously donated this blog post so we can all learn a little more about all the folks that show up at the TC10K. Read on.....
Poles have been used for many years, for climbing Mt Everest, for rehab, during ultra long cross-country foot races, for balance and stability, and hiking in our local forests. What makes NORDIC STYLE pole walking different? Like running, NPW is used for FITNESS and racing. NPW is derived from cross-country skiing and the poles are used to gently propel the pole walker forward.
TWO BIG BENEFITS!
There are TWO BIG BENEFITS: 1) using poles turns the athlete into a 4-wheel drive machine using 90% of the body’s muscles all in one fluid motion, and 2) the downward pressure on the poles creates an upward lift on the lower body so that pressure is relieved from sore feet, knees and hips. Runners who have developed sore knees over the years LOVE NPW because they can still train hard and compete…and get even fitter than before!
Another feature of NPW: Beside improving posture, the oblique muscles and abdominal floor get exceptionally strong as they counteract the rotational forces created through shoulders stabilization while pushing the poles back.
It doesn’t seem fair! NPW feels relatively effortless, BUT IT BURNS TWICE THE CALORIES of walking and jogging. AND the 10% of muscles that get to de-stress in NPW? The neck and shoulders! Sign me up! Desk workers are now just starting to discover the beauty of NPW. Anything to relieve stressed neck and shoulders.
SURPRISINGLY HUGE WORKLOAD!
To watch well trained Nordic pole walkers is a picture of flow and elegance. NPWers use straighter arms, and push the poles behind their body, while maintaining great posture. It looks effortless, and relative to many sports, it is. But when we calculate the WORKLOAD (repetitions x weight over time) the workload is surprisingly large and explains why published science reports so many health benefits occurring relatively quickly with NPW. For example, if I pole walked 1000 steps in 10 minutes and pushed on the pole strap with only 3 pounds of pressure, the workload on each side of the body would be 1500 pounds, the weight of a cow. The scientific prescription for health with NPW starts at 30 minutes of pole walking three times a week. In 30 minutes, the workload with the same three pounds pressure would add up to 4500 pounds, the weight of a car, on each side of the body. You would get fit if you lifted a car three times a week! How is it possible? One push of the pole at a time.
Like learning to play the piano, there is a skill to be learned in NPW and muscles to be strengthened to do NPW “effectively”. It takes patience and focused training to learn any new skill, including the skill of NPW, but once learned you’ve got it for life: the strength and fitness benefits just keep piling up.
HISTORY OF NORDIC POLE WALKING
NPW was created to be summer training for Finish cross-country skiers in 1930’s. It came into the mainstream in the mid 1990’s when citizens in Europe wondered why only athletes got to do this great exercise. Now, NPW is the fastest growing adult exercise/sport in Europe. In Europe they NPW race every weekend to boot. The Medical Service Plans of Germany and France endorse NPW by refunding every adult annually the cost of NPW lessons, because they know how effective NPW is at improving health. They have read the published research.
Poles are not all the same! Different poles for different jobs. NPW poles have a comfy “glove strap” and a “barely there” handle. See videos at www.nordicpolewalkingvictoria.ca
NORDIC POLE WALKING MESHES WITH TC10K TRAINING CLINICS
I am pioneering a NPW PROGRAM at the Shawnigan Lake TC10K Clinic. On Clinic Day we focus on NPW technique and strength drills. On Day 2 of training participants focus on two specific drills and technique variations as they flow from flat to up and down hills. On Day 3 of training participants start building endurance by increasing time spent pole walking. Compared to pole walking, plain walking feels hard. The Shawnigan Lake participants LOVE NPW.
I’m a retired Olympic rower who competed in the “four boat”. I have envisioned and tested competing in NPW in teams of four people called QUADS, where 4 pole walkers strategize together, snaking their way through the course, to get their entire team across the finish line the fastest. It is an amazing team experience! We’ve done it. It’s FUN! And those pole walkers can go fast. The fastest single pole walker recorded at the TC 10km is 71 minutes. The quad teams have the potential to go even faster!
HISTORY OF NPW IN TC1OKM EVENT
Speaking of the TC10km, Nordic Pole Walking has been an official category since 2015. There are two divisions: recreational group who are happy to start in the last gate, and the competitive group including quads who start at the 1:20 -1:29 gate. The massive imagined liability issue of poles flailing about did not materialize; the pole walkers have some of the best “road etiquette” in events.
NORDIC POLE WALKING CHANGING PEOPLE’S HEALTH
It is my business to teach people the classic form of NPW. Since 2012 I have introduced over 2500 participants. For the most part, everyone can do it; most people love the feel of it in their bodies even after the first experience. I have heard some amazing health turn-arounds because of a regular practice of NPW!. Doctors, physios, chiros, and surgeons exclaim, “I don’t know what you are doing, but keep it up.” NPW is easy to keep up! It feels good, is EFFECTIVE, affordable, convenient, and has fun elements. It is also a great cross-training for cyclists and runners. When you get the opportunity to try Nordic Pole Walking, give it a shot to see how your body feels about it.
NORDIC POLE WALKING…HOW ARE YOU GOING TO KNOW?
Try it. See if you like it!
B.Ed (UBC 1972)
Retired Olympian (1976 rowing)
Nordixx Canada Master Pole Walk Instructor
-speaking, instruction, & poles-
"Health is a habit; make fitness yours."
During my life, I have run the streets of Paris and the forest of Noosa National Park in Australia’s Gold Coast. I have run around the walled city in China, through the Park Guell in Barcelona and along the most stunning trail high up in the Laveda on the island of Madeira. Often finding places I wouldn’t have seen if I had been walking around town, sometimes running with a new local friend, and many times, finding the most amazing forests and trails, running while travelling is both rewarding and soulful. Being outside, being active, and experiencing my environment while taking a break from pulling out my wallet and consuming is truly peaceful for me.
More recently, I have found out that Airbnb hosts can be great resources for running trails, and have found places to run both in Tofino and Mahone Bay NS, that I hadn’t travelled before. While I have had help from countless Concierges at hotels around the world, the locals who run can be very helpful at pointing you to places you may never find on your own.
Vacations are a treat and a much needed break for most people, and time to spend alone, with friends or with family. They can also present athletes with restricted training times and an interruption in an otherwise predictable routine. Vacations can be a challenge to training if you are travelling around a lot, visiting friends or relatives, or staying in a snowy or really hot climate. They can also be challenging if you are compulsive about exercise (let’s just be honest!) and getting your training in is your physical and emotional regulator, so it’s worth thinking about and planning ahead.
Here are a few tips about how to train while on vacation, with some advice about time management, but also some suggestions on how you can train your brain to relax as well, and set your expectations before you leave town, so it works for you.
Unless you are travelling solo, with a running group, or with a partner who is as enthusiastic about fitting in training as you, you basically have 2 choices. Choice A: is to be flexible, and work as hard as you can to fit some training in. Choice B is to decide you are on holiday; you may train or you may not, but either way is OK. (Option B + recovery week is a good way to give yourself a break from having to fit in your training around the schedules of others or other disruptions due to travel.)
How to Train away from Home
Take Active Recovery
Vacations are an obvious time to take a week or two of active rest, or to take an easy recovery week. If you can, plan to have a down week for the week that you travel, and preferably the first week on a multi-week vacation. That way, the jet lag, and acclimation comes during your easy week. Plan your training ahead as much as possible taking into account that you will have to be flexible. Even if you can do little else, it is realistic to plan a week of only run or walk training. Cross training activities like cycling and swimming may be restricted.
Gather support by Communicating
Let everybody know that you will be training a few times, and will try to work around family and group activities.
Get it in before the day starts, as later in the day it is more likely you will be tired from body surfing, hiking, and sitting in the sun or playing mini golf with the whole family. Not to mention happy hour hijacking the best of intentions. Before the sun comes up is a perfect time while in hot areas, and in the gym on a treadmill before you hit the slopes for the day. More than likely, everybody will still be sleeping when you return, so you haven’t missed anything and you’ve gained a Zen like start to your day. Another good time can be before dinner, when everybody is having their downtime after the day, or the aforementioned happy hour.
Do advance research on the location you will be visiting. Is there a gym for strength or treadmill options? What are the trails like? Is there a local store that holds free drop in runs? Even if you can’t get in your usual sessions, 20 minutes easy training and doing drills and maintaining feel is better than none.
Or read this article in Runner’s World about why you should run while travelling.
Including this awesome tip I hadn’t thought of. “Look up Races to Steal Their Routes”.
Of course you’re not actually stealing anything, but following a race course can give you some peak views: “It’s handy to look up races in the area, because those are usually on some beautiful trails or scenic spots in a city, and they have the course maps on the race website you can use to help guide you,” says Boris.”
Take advantage of free ME time!
If you are a parent of young ones who relies on childminding or pre-schools for time to fit in your training, vacation training can be a challenge, but again, gather support and plan. Also be prepared to head out the door at the last minute, when plans change and the kids are at the pool with Uncle Fred and Aunt Iris and suddenly you have 30 minutes on your own!
Be flexible and adventurous
You might have to get up earlier, train at odd hours, or drop a training session. You might have to choose between that soon to close breakfast buffet and that 45 minute run. Chances are, if you are an active parent, you have already mastered the skills of “creative time management, training and childcare”; here’s the chance to test out what you have learned. Drop your expectations of the perfect training - just enjoy wherever you are and whatever you can do.
Have Snacks at the Ready
Bring or buy snacks to keep on hand in the hotel room. Some energy bars for calories in a pinch are always a good idea. I generally hit a store right away when I travel, and get a few days’ worth of food snacks: almonds, trail mix, bananas, apples, salty snacks like pretzels and bagels. (I also buy a good bar of chocolate, and bring those Starbucks instant coffee packets so I am not hunting for a coffee shop on my first morning).
Most of all just be prepared to be flexible and easy going, possibly missing training for the chance to go zip lining or simply taking a great hike along the beach with your kids.
Stay in the moment, your regular training can resume at any time, and don’t spend time fretting about missed miles.
With some advance planning and creative time management, it is possible to have a fit holiday!
Run for Joy (wherever you find yourself!)
As a coach, I love to support and learn from observing how other people have their own experience in sport, while giving them the foundational skills to find that experience and the opportunity to touch on their potential. It’s the same kind of philosophy I have in parenting.
For instance, when my children wanted to climb trees, I sometimes helped them find trees that were within their ability and size (I would find trees that had lots of good branches and branches low enough for them to get up on their own.) I would ensure they had the right footwear to climb trees, then give them some skills – staying close to the trunk, making sure you can have 3 points touching at all times, test your footing – and then I would let them have their own experience climbing the tree. I tried very hard not to colour their experience with my own fears (of them falling), or how high they should go. Most children, when given the chance to take reasonable risks, have a good sense of their own limitations and the only way for them to learn is to learn free of judgement.
In running and most of sport, the moments of truth come when we ask ourselves to go faster, longer, acquire a new skill and move out of comfort. I can’t make anyone do any of these things. I can provide the knowledge around skills and can choose the environment that supports them, and then I stand and watch the magic happen.
If you are ready to take on the challenge of going a little faster this season, here is a primer on executing a great training session.
Get excited! This means that you come to the session ready to give best effort and having made the decision to have a good day. You are not coming to ‘wait and see what happens’. As a coach, I call this ‘training like you mean it’. It means arriving early, prepared, with positive energy, standing tall and being in an engaged frame of mind.
Warm up well
Do 10-15 minutes of light warm up running or walking. After the warm up do some dynamic stretching such as leg swings and arm circles, and stretch out body areas that feel tight. Before the intervals, do a set of run drills and strides. Drills and strides activate the muscle fibres fully for training and create mental preparedness. Strides are 10 seconds of fast dynamic running or walking, at the pace you will hit in the intervals but not your all out speed. You should be able to be relaxed and hold perfect form for the stride. Walk or jog for 30 seconds between stride efforts.
Attempt to pace the whole workout evenly; that means maintaining the same speed throughout the intervals and being mindful of energy to be able to complete the whole set. Your effort will need to increase and you should have to focus with concentration as the set goes on: this is to be expected. Begin each interval with a burst of dynamic running or walking, pumping arms and legs to get up to pace, but not sprinting. After a few seconds relax into pace and check that you are breathing well and staying relaxed in the upper body. Allow your mind to focus only on moving well. Be aware of your goal effort and tune into this pace. You can keep this as a sense of internal or perceived effort, and/or use a device that will show heart rate, speed and distance covered. Over time you will learn more about your own effort and pace.
Once you have gained expertise in pacing and effort, commit to the pace and discomfort of the interval, not relenting at the first sign of fatigue. This sense of discipline to ‘hold strong through discomfort’ is best honed in practice and creates emotional fortitude for the stress of race day. The more you practice this, the better you get.
Learn where the half way section of every interval is and focus on that second half, maintaining rhythm and attention to the body. As you fatigue, put emphasis on your biomechanics, keeping tall posture, being graceful, relaxed in shoulders, face and torso. Think intently about forward momentum and doing a good job.
Finish it off
Be strong right through the finish of every interval, resisting the urge to give up even a second early. This is another example of small ways you can be constantly mentally tweaking your game. Keep moving. Shake out the arms, exhale deeply, walk or jog lightly for 10-15 seconds to facilitate lactic acid dispersal. Walk and jog between intervals. Keeping the legs moving helps your blood move through the body for the recovery and prepares you for the next interval. Resist the urge to rush impatiently into the next interval.
Sports Psych 101
Mentally prepare for the next interval by letting go of the one you just did and only focussing on breathing, relaxing and the one coming up. Notice if you have thoughts or habits of negative self-talk (`That was not fast enough`), or a ‘fail to succeed’ (`I can’t hold this pace for the set`) mentality very common in athletes.
During my career as a high performance athlete I must have repeated “C’mon Lucy, be tough!” about a million times to myself. It never got old.
Focus on one goal at a time
As you approach the next interval, decide to do the next one well, at least as good as the one you just did, and even find a way to make it better. Find one goal for each interval.
Right before the start of the interval, shake out your legs and arms, take several deep breaths and focus your mind. Practice taking a quiet mind into each interval.
If you can achieve this, you will have fleeting moments of being in the ‘zone’, a space where direct judging thoughts cease and your concentration is like a light beam only on the act of moving.
At the end of a set of high effort work, jog and walk for another 5 minutes, take some water if needed, and then do a very gentle and easy jog for at least 10 minutes. Stretch now or make time to stretch later, as this may greatly reduce your chance of injury.
Using these guidelines, come up with your own smooth successful training routine. Soon your speedy sessions will translate into superior fitness, mental fortitude and great races.
Training with integrity: the opportunity to practice mindfulness, create better health for ourselves, be compassionate to others, and reach a little higher in our lives.
Run For Joy!
Lucy Smith, March 2019