With the training business a little slow around the holidays, I've had the opportunity to do some hiking between Thanksgiving and now. Hiking can be a great workout and a relaxing "head clearing" and bonding experience. It also reminds me that fitness isn't only achieved in the gym. Recreational activities can also lend greatly to ones overall fitness. Now me, I've always hiked with a walking stick as it helps me with uphill as well as downhill walking, also it provides a little protection. This time while out on the trails I noticed hikers on the trails with what looked like ski poles. I asked a few questions and also did some research for you. Now the folks I encountered had only just bought their poles and were just trying them out so they didn't have a lot of feed back. So this is what I found out on the web.
Researchers from the UK took 26 men and 11 women who were physically active to the highest peak in England and Wales for a day hike. The study appears in the January issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. About half the study participants used trekking poles on the ascents and descents, while the rest used no poles and acted as a control group. Otherwise, the groups were similar they hiked together, so times were comparable. Everyone also carried a day pack and ate the same food. Average heart rates for the two groups on the ascents and descents were about equal. The differences showed up for Rates of Perceived Exertion, a measure of how hard people think they're working, based on monitoring functions such as heart rate, perspiration and breathing. Those with the trekking poles had significantly lower RPE than the control group on parts of the ascents, while there were no differences in RPE on the descents. Those with poles had less muscle soreness than those in the control group. The pole group also showed a reduced loss of strength and a speedier recovery right after hiking, as well as one and two days afterward, compared with the control group.
In the study the authors speculated that the lower RPE scores in the trekking pole group may be chalked up to the fact that the poles provided more stability and less load on the lower limbs during the ascents. Less muscle soreness might be attributed to the poles redistributing the load on the lower limbs to the upper body.
The "Pro" Side: Advantages of Trekking Poles
So obviously, poles reduce the impact of hiking on knee joints and leg muscles. Arm and shoulder muscles support and relieve the leg muscles. With the basic "hands above the heart" position necessitated by the poles, circulation is improved and heart rate is reduced. The "rhythm" created by walking with poles leads to relaxed, more regular breathing and increased stamina. A landmark study published by Dr. G. Neureuther in 1981 proved that use of "ski poles" while walking reduces the pressure strain on the opposite leg by approximately 20%. Furthermore, while walking on level ground, poles reduce the body weight carried by the legs by approximately 5 kg every step. Move to an incline, and that reduction increases to 8 kg. This translates into tons of weight yes, tons for even a two hour hike. Jacquie Hunt, editor of a popular hiking newsletter, weighs in with additional health benefits: "An advantage that I found once I started using poles is that my hands no longer swell up when it is hot. Keeping your arms moving so the blood doesn't pool in the hands is a lot safer than keeping hands high on pack straps and risking a smashed face if you trip. "Finally, poles help many people with balance issues. We all have different comfort levels when balancing along trails, crossing streams, etc.; for some hikers, trekking poles are worth their weight in gold. They can certainly aid when crossing soft ground, and can be indispensible for tasks like stream crossings.
The "Con" Side: Problems with Trekking Poles
First, using poles increases your total energy expenditure. Your arms were not designed to prop up your body, nor to distribute weight. Even Peter Clinch, whose "Pete's Pole Page" is long recognized as an on-line authority, says, "If you have tired legs and knees then poles can be a winner, but if you have a tired body, with your cardiovascular system at its limits, then poles may be more of a hindrance than a help." Those "tons of weight" that poles save the knees aren't carried up the hill by themselves. Many hikers with good legs are unaware that they actually may run out of gas more quickly by using poles. Not only do poles make hands and arms do what they aren't designed to do, they prevent your hands from being hands. Try to open the map, check the GPS, eat a snack, wipe your brow, grab a rock, snap a photo, or read a compass... all of that becomes more clumsy and time consuming with poles in hand. Without proper technique, poles are simply in the way.
balance and prevent falls when you lose your footing, and they can be beneficial in crossing soft ground, rivers and streams, and other difficult terrain. Poles can also be used to clear away brush, spider webs and other obstacles, and they're useful in probing snow or ice to see if it's safe to cross. Certain types of trekking poles can double as tent poles, or you can use them to support tarps and other types of shelters. In fact, many tents are designed to use hiking poles, which lightens your load and leaves more room in your backpack for other supplies. So like anything else that requires unfamiliar equipment get some qualified instruction.
Myself I have the homemade single pole piece of tree type. It's what works best for me. It doesn't matter which you choose, or where you choose, just get out in nature, and take a hike. You can even hike naked if you like, not kidding I found many naturalist hiking organizations on the web while researching this article. I've done it myself at seven falls in Tucson,Arizona, and it was a very exhilarating experience. Now, I shouldn't have to say this but, always leave word with a responsible person, mapping out your day when heading out on the trail, and don't forget your "Pure Water Gear" filtration bottle for pure clean drinking water any time anywhere even on the trail. (click the PWG yellow banner top left on this page for more info.) So what do you say get out and take a hike, poles no poles, cloths no cloths. The great outdoors awaits you. You absolutely never know what you'll find, around the next tree. Good Luck...
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