Going with the Pole

Christine Hennebury
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Urban poling enthusiasts enjoy socializing while exercising

Mark Crocker used to get a lot of odd looks when he first started doing urban poling, an outdoor workout that incorporates two lightweight poles.

"When I first started learning to use the poles, people driving by would stop and take my picture, and some would laugh, but then a lot of people began asking me what I was doing and be interested in doing it themselves," said the Goodlife Fitness elite personal trainer.

The urban poling class crosses the street on Topsail Road from the Village Mall and walks down the pathway leading to the area of the School for The Deaf. From left are Paulette Bown, Mark Crocker and Jennifer Brien. Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Mark Crocker used to get a lot of odd looks when he first started doing urban poling, an outdoor workout that incorporates two lightweight poles.

"When I first started learning to use the poles, people driving by would stop and take my picture, and some would laugh, but then a lot of people began asking me what I was doing and be interested in doing it themselves," said the Goodlife Fitness elite personal trainer.

While he had heard of urban poling in other cities in Canada, he had never tried it. When he heard that Goodlife Fitness planned to launch it as a summer program, he jumped at the chance to check it out for himself.

"Once I got my hands on a set of our urban poles, I did my research to perfect my technique and off I went across the city of St. John's to put the poles to the test," Crocker said.

He enjoyed it right away. And now that he is leading a class in urban poling, he has found the combination of socializing, exercising and being outdoors is even more enjoyable.

"Urban poling is one of the most effective ways to get fit and have fun. Cardio and strength-training all wrapped into a nice little set of retractable pole," Crocker said.

One of his personal training clients, Paulette Bown, 26, decided to try the class when it first started a few months ago, and she also enjoys both the cardiovascular benefits and the social aspect of urban poling.

"You get to meet people and Mark is so funny. Cardio is usually just you, not talking to anyone, just listening to music or whatever, but with this class you're chatting while you're moving. And you're usually outside, so that's good," she said.

Urban poling can be most closely compared to cross-country skiing, but without the snow.

"It is actually a very similar motion and provides you with many of the same benefits." Crocker noted. "If you are into cross-country skiing it is a great way to stay fit for the winter seasons to come."

The poles used for urban poling look similar to ski-poles, but they do not have a strap and they have a cushioned tip rather than a point at the bottom. Crocker advises using the poles takes a little bit of getting used to, but after about 15-20 minutes of practice it becomes very easy. The urban polers in his class make use of the 3-P technique (plant the poles, push off, and propel forward), to ensure that they are using the poles correctly and that they are getting the maximum benefit from their workout.

According to Crocker, incorporating the poles into a walking workout provides a number of benefits.

Regular walking places stress on various joints in the body, but using the poles balances body weight, reducing the stress on your hips and knees and back.

And while there is little difference in how hard the person feels they are working, incorporating the poles increases cardiovascular benefits by 25 per cent over a walking workout.

Regular walking focuses on the lower body but urban poling allows exercisers to use 90 per cent of the major muscle groups, burning more calories and providing a more complete workout. Crocker finds all his clients can benefit from urban poling, not just the very fit.

"Another great factor I have found as a personal trainer (is when I'm) working with clients who are in need of rehabilitation of a major muscle group. The use of urban poles allows the muscle groups to get a beneficial workout without over-exhausting the damaged area (such as the back)," he said.

While urban poling can be done alone, going with a class provides motivation and has the added benefit of socializing with fellow walkers. The local class is composed of men and women of all ages and they meet twice a week in locations in the metro area.

Class members carpool to the predetermined location and they begin by ensuring their retractable poles are reset to the proper height. They leave in pairs, matched according to their chosen speed so no one has to work harder than they are ready for.

This allows the class to accommodate people with varying fitness levels while ensuring no one is left walking alone.

The class usually lasts for about an hour, but it may go longer if everyone agrees to keep going. The session ends with some stretching and a decision about where to meet next.

It may take a little practice to learn the poling technique, but participants can quickly see and feel the benefits of an urban poling workout. Paulette Bown said she did found it a little hard to get used to using the poles but once she did it was a lot of fun, and very effective.

"It's a great way to get extra cardio, a good upper body workout. I have even found it good for my posture ... people should try it, it's well worth a try," she said.

To find out more about urban poling, to try a one-on-one demonstration or to purchase a set of poles (they come with free classes), contact Mark Crocker at Goodlife Fitness at The Village.

Geographic location: Canada, St. John's

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