Pole Walking: A Total Body Workout

Tips from Maggie Spilner, a fitness expert and the author of three books on walking

Women Walking Poles Image

Have you heard about pole walking? Some 10 million people around the world are doing it—and for good reason: Walking with poles burns up 20 to 46 percent more calories than regular fitness walking, yet studies show most pole walkers don't feel as though they're exerting much more effort than they do during a regular fitness walk. It also tones back, ab and shoulder muscles.

Walking Poles and Safety

Because the specially-designed poles are very light, you have a lower risk of injuring joints and tendons while walking with them than than you do with hand weights. If you have achy joints, the poles can relieve some of the pressure on them as well as aid stability for people with balance issues.

Plus, you can pole walk almost anywhere: on sidewalks, hiking trails, mountains or, in bad weather, indoor tracks. And you can do it at any pace—a stroll, brisk walk or even run.

5 Tips for Using Walking Poles

Pole walking is simple, but you have to do it properly in order to experience all the benefits. The fitness walking poles should be used to propel you forward and engage as many muscles as possible, not to support your weight. Here's the basic technique:

Walking Pole Image - Masterfile

  1. Grip your poles firmly with your arms relaxed and elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, pole tips on the ground. As you begin to walk (start with your left leg and right arm), let arms swing naturally. Gradually begin lifting your arms higher as though reaching forward to shake someone's hand. As a pole lands in front of you, press it firmly into the ground.
  2. Push down and back, letting your right arm swing back toward your hip while bringing the left arm and rightleg forward. Reach a bit farther to plant the pole and press it down firmly. Maintain an upright posture on level surfaces;lean slightly forward while going uphill.
  3. Don't overdo it on your first day out! Concentrate on getting the rhythm right. Then start with 5–10 minutes of applying pressure to the poles. Build endurance by gradually increasing the distance you can go while applying pressure.
  4. Give yourself a chance to develop a rhythm before you increase your pole walking time.
  5. After your walk, stretch calf, hip and hamstring muscles as well as those in your shoulders and arms.

How to Choose the Right Walking Poles for Your

The most popular walking poles are lightweight with ergonomic grips that protect wrists. Some are height adjustable. To get a feel for pole walking before you invest in a pair, experiment with ski poles or wooden sticks measuring the equivalent of about 70 percent of your height (think broom handles).

Poles for walking on pavement should have durable rubber tips for softer landings. Poles with carbon steel tips are recommended for hiking on unpaved surfaces. Some have both. To purchase poles priced from $80 to $150, visit Exerstrider.com, Leki.com and Keenfit.com.

From our sister publication, Diabetes Focus Fall 2012

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 16 Aug 2012

Last Modified: 17 Mar 2015