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Walking Poles for Posture

Walking Poles Research

Walking Poles vs Regular Walking
Walk Taller to Move Better

As a longtime fan of walking poles, especially when I’m hiking steep and rocky terrain, I was excited to see a new EMG study looking at their bio-mechanic advantage for effectively engaging the core muscles {1}.

Nordic Walking

The popularity of walking poles, also called trek and nordic poles, has been increasing, especially with the aging population. The growing interest has lead to different styles being developed. Nordic walking is really popular in Scandinavian countries, and uses two poles. Hikers use poles, some favoring single and others a double pole styles. One company, Exerstrider, has a unique “backward boot” rubber tip, and so favors what I’d describe as a tighter gait with more focused postural engagement.

Walking Research

Prior studies have shown using poles when walking is better for the heart {2}, and increases both heart rate and oxygen consumption over regular walking [3]. The new study by Zoffoli et.al looked at the muscular motion patterns of how, for healthy people, different trunk muscles work at different speeds, and on different grades, and looks to be applicable to all styles.

I very much agree with the researchers position that the core trunk muscles are key for overall body balance, and that the neuromuscular system acts through co-activation to provide adequate spinal stability in different conditions. Prior studies by Aruin et al showed arm swinging requires postural muscle compensation to keep the body balanced {4}, and during pole walking these muscles must counterbalance the torque generated by the poles that would otherwise rotate the upper trunk about the longitudinal axis of the body.

In this study, the researchers found stride length was lengthened, and that “longer activation time of the trunk muscles during pole walking as compared to walking”. Also, that “during pole walking, the alternating pushing action of the poles, which are kept beside the body and inclined backwards, generates greater torque about the longitudinal axis of the body”.

Bottom line: Especially at the highest speeds, pole walking requires higher muscle control and engagement of the trunk region.

Dr Weiniger’s Perspective:

My take here is that the pole closes the kinetic chain of upper to lower extremity, transferring force to lower quarter to the upper quarter through the core muscles. And that the crossed upper-lower kinetic chain pattern is closed, promoting symmetry via increased accuracy of proprioceptive perception to reality.  Which is the idea behind the re-patterning neuromuscular co-activation for stronger posture and balance from my book, Stand Taller-Live Longer [5].

1 Zoffoli, Luca, Francesco Lucertini, Ario Federici, and Massimiliano Ditroilo. “Trunk Muscles Activation During Pole Walking Vs. Walking Performed at Different Speeds and Grades.” Gait & posture 46 (2016): doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2016.02.015.
2 Fritschi JO, Brown WJ, Laukkanen R, Uffelen JGZ. The effects of pole walking on health in adults: a systematic review. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2012;22:e70-8.
3 Porcari JP, Hendrickson TL, Walter PR, Terry L, Walsko G. The physiological responses to walking with and without power PolesTM on treadmill exercise. Res Q Exerc Sport 1997;68:161-6.
4 Aruin AS, Latash M. Directional specificity of postural muscles in feed-forward postural reactions during fast voluntary arm movements. Exp Brain Res 1995;103:323-32.
5 Stand Taller-Live Longer: An Anti Aging Strategy, S Weiniger, BodyZone Press, 2008

Disclosure: Exerstrider provided me a free set of their walking poles in the past for review, and are also a PostureMonth.org sponsor.

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