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If you’ve started to notice people walking with poles, you’ve probably also noticed how they seem to use different techniques. Sometimes, this is due to insufficient training; often, it is because they are using poles for different reasons.

Two primary reasons for their use are to increase the fitness demand of walking and improve the quality of walking.

Nordic walking is typically used to increase the fitness demand associated with your walk. The Activator technique is typically used to improve the quality of your walk by encouraging good patterning and reducing pain/unsteadiness. Below are the different aspects and benefits of each technique.

Nordic walking

Nordic walking poles have a wrist and thumb strap that allows for a loose grip and ensures proper alignment as you plant each pole. The involvement of the arms and trunk turns walking into a full-body, low-impact workout and can increase the number of calories burned by anywhere from 20 to 40 per cent.

Using the Nordic walking technique is a great option if you are looking to challenge your body more during your walk.

The arms swing in a slightly exaggerated fashion at your sides with relatively straight elbows. The poles plant behind your body, allowing you to push down and propel yourself forward a bit more with each step. Each pole plants at the same time as the opposite foot steps down.

The Activator technique

The Activator poles and technique were developed by an occupational therapist in British Columbia. These poles do not have a wrist and thumb strap, but they do have a ledge to allow more downward pressure through the pole.

The ability to push down with more force into the pole can decrease joint pain in the lower body and increase stability. The upper body and trunk involvement can result in extra calories burned during each walk, as with the Nordic walking technique.

The elbows stay in a bent position (approximately 90 degrees) in this technique. Each pole plants in front of the body, in line with the opposite, forward-stepping foot. It is this forward-planting pole position that allows better offloading of painful joints and can increase confidence with steadiness throughout the walk.

If walking poles are new to you, it’s a good idea to get some formal training on their use. The techniques aren’t particularly difficult, but they do take some practice. And because of the volume of movements you make during a walk (e.g. 500 pole plants per side in a 10-minute walk), it’s important to make sure you’re set up for success.

As beneficial as I think walking poles are, I have seen a number of people with either neck or shoulder pain as a result of their improper use, whether it’s related to technique, frequency or volume. Before you get started, get a little training to make sure they give you the boost you’re looking for in your walking program.

Read this article on The Chronicle Herald website.

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