The best way to describe urban poling is that it’s like an al fresco session on a cross-trainer. Just imagine: instead of thrashing away to a soundtrack of blaring motivational music and other people’s puffs and groans in the gym, you’re outdoors in fresh air skimming along the walkways of the local park.
Enthusiasts of urban poling will tell you that you use a higher number of calories than you do with regular walking, because you’re getting a full-body workout that engages the abs, arms and back and shoulder muscles and improves your posture. Walking with these poles, called Exerstriders, is a good way of keeping fit, too, if you have dodgy knees or hip pain.
Not that you need to be a crock before you take it up as as form of exercise. People have urban-poled their way through marathons, not to mention reached Everest base camp and climbed Kilimanjaro.
The key difference between urban poling and Nordic walking is that Exerstriders don’t have straps or gloves incorporated into the design. It means using a different technique. Whereas in Nordic walking the poles are angled backward and planted when the arm is bent, in urban poling you extend your arm forward as if you’re going to shake someone’s hand and then plant the pole on their toe. You release the pole grip at the end of the backstroke and the strap or glove snaps it back against your palm as you move forward to plant the pole.
When the correct technique is used you can be doing up to 1,800 mini-ab crunches per mile walked
Exerstriders have grips, with a large flared surface like a cavalier’s hat brim at the base that you keep hold of all the time. You push off with the pole to propel yourself forward, thus bringing greater contraction of the arm muscles and abs and, it follows, a better workout.
Incidentally, the grips on Exerstriders are not only more comfortable than those on Nordic walking poles but guard against possible damage to the hand, wrist or arm should you trip and fall.
Can you just buy a pair of Exerstriders and get going? This Urban Poling clip on YouTube gives an idea of what do do.
If you’re in London, you may be able to get expert instruction: Jen Ainger, a Canadian (urban poling is big in Canada) is the first to bring classes in to the UK. I tried one of her 75-minute sessions at the Little Pilates Studio in Greenwich, south London.
Was it as demanding as an hour’s running? I certainly wasn’t out of breath at any stage, even while Exerstriding up the mini-Alps of Greenwich Park. Even so, I felt pleasantly tired afterwards and then found out that when the correct technique is used you can be doing up to 1,800 mini-ab crunches per mile walked.
Drawbacks? Well, we were enjoying a stretch and tone break atop a hill above the Royal Naval College until a summer squall sent us scuttling for cover. You don’t get that in the gym. But nor do you get a lovely, sociable workout with a bird’s-eye view of the most glorious part of London.
Learn more on the Nordic Walking News blog