Monday, August 22, 2011

Walking poles

Another quick thought.

If you are into hillwalking / hiking / backpacking you will have seen people walking with poles.  The usual justification is that it takes pressure off the knees.  My observation is that it seems to mess up people's gait, especially in climbing or descending.

My current theory is that it impacts on proprioception.  This is the way in which the brain senses the body's position in space, through various sensors - propriceptors - throughout the body in nerve endings in muscles, tendons and joints. The brain relies on complex and rich sensory data from across the body to maintain balance and posture as we move.

Perhaps using poles diminishes the way in which weight is carried through the feet and so the sensory input is also diminished ...... and this has a negative impact on balance and gait.

It is similar to the way in which shoes and stiff soled boots blunt the sensory impact and damage gait.

Just a thought.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't think the justification is that it reduces pressure on the knees. Poles allow a person to use the upper body to better move through uneven terrain. I don't quite see the downside to it.

pyker said...

When I lived in Switzerland I encountered people using these all the time. I never heard anyone talking about knees. They are fun -- you can go faster.

J. Stanton - gnolls.org said...

In my many years of hiking, I've found only one situation in which trekking poles are useful: crossing shallow streams on rocks without getting your feet wet. Poles make it much easier to balance on wet rocks, because you can balance them on the streambed and it doesn't matter that the pole is getting wet.

Otherwise they're just extra weight, and they're actually an impediment in rough terrain (i.e. Class 3/4 scrambling, or any talus climbing), because they must be carried somehow.

I think their popularity is mainly due to gadgetism: it's one more thing to sell you in order to engage in an activity (hiking) for which you shouldn't need anything but the shoes you already own.

JS

praguestepchild said...

I always wondered about those. I figured a lot of them were off-season X-country skiers.

BCR said...

I think your logic is flawed. If you think of the poles as an extension of the arms... you're walking on all fours.

Walking on all fours, eg. scrambling up a hillside, does not diminish your proprioception.

Chris G said...

We arent designed to walk on all fours, we are bipeds. Diminished proprioception occurs over a long time. If you depend on two sticks to hike with now what will you will be like in 20-30 years if for some reason you have to do without them? If you dont have any preexisting knee or joint problems the best thing would be to strengthen the muscles used in walking to prevent injuries. The idea that some use in that pole use means you can carry heavier loads is also flawed, it just shifts the load elsewhere.
I have never felt the need for poles and would only consider using them for negotiating very steep slopes or river crossings (and even then one pole would be enough). If someone needs to walk with two poles because they are not confident in talus,scree whatever then it would be best to develop the confidence than rely on poles.

Anonymous said...

I first bought a pair of poles ( www.Exerstrider.com ... no affiliation,) about 20 or so years ago. Over the years, I have gone through phases of using them consistently and phases of not using them at all for several months at a time. (Other stuff would fill the vacuum, such as swimming, KBs, C2, HeavyHands Walking, "Ross Style" training, etc., etc., etc.

A couple weeks ago, I re-entered an Exerstriding, ("NordicWalking") phase, this time, mixing in wearing a weighvest ( www.weightvest.com , no affiliation, ) on some days. I must say, I love Exerstriding ! Chris MAY be right on the money as far as using them on hill trails, but I use them around my neighborhood, in local parks and at the local HS track. To me, the movement is very much like swimming. Recruitment of the torso feels GREAT.

"If you depend on two sticks to hike with now what will you will be like in 20-30 years if for some reason you have to do without them?"

I don't know if "depend" is the right term here. These are not crutches. Like everything else outside our bodies, they are tools, hopefully for development. I certainly train now with the intent to be able to do this stuff indefinitely. I don't see this "having to do w/o them..." as being a reason not to use them. Should I drop KB swings from my program now b/c someday, G-d forbid, I may lose my arm ? Uh..I don't think so.

I have been doing "C-PEN" running, (Chi, Pose, Evolution, Natural,) with the poles. As a "stand all day at work," kinda guy, I find the effect on posture to be beneficial and significant.

Pole walking is another one of those things that "looks silly." I wonder sometimes about the very first bicycles, the kind with the huge front wheel. How "silly" did they look ?

I hope more people have the "courage" to try pole walking. I am certain that 30-60 minutes per day, (no fancy gym, no expensive cert., etc., ) would heal MANY of our society's ills.

Just sayin'...

Thanks Chris !

Eddie

antispirit said...

I do wonder about another potential impact. Walking also seems to have some neuroprotective qualities to it. I wonder if adding the walking poles would curtail those benefits in some way. I guess we'll have to wait 30 years to find out...

Anonymous said...

Antispirit:

"I wonder if adding the walking poles would curtail those benefits in some way."

How could it ? Why would it ? Walking with poles is still walking, just with poles. The implication that it might be less beneficial would suggest that carrying something, even a light load, diminishes the positive effects.

On the other hand, such finding might have crossover to proving a pet theory of mine: To wit, that chewing gum while walking reduces the benefits attained walking w/o chewing gum.

Eddie

antispirit said...

I was thinking along the lines of reduced need for balance and proprioreceptive feedback.

But if adding poles makes it an enjoyable activity, then I find it hard to argue with it. Even if my hypothetical situation was true, walking with poles is better than sitting on a couch. Or worse, sitting on a couch with walking poles.

Anonymous said...

"...Or worse, sitting on a couch with walking poles."

:-)

Anonymous said...

I actually think the poles help with balance and feedback. Using, I mean really using, the poles, one will feel their torso working in a way that "simply" walking, (with torso "along for the ride," or even pumping, a'la race walking style,) does not come anywhere near.

BTW, for those who do "core" work, each pole plant, and especially double pole planting, feels like a brief "plank" position. The rhythmic tension/relaxation involved feels great as well.

antispirit said...

Maybe it's their preconception of them as a sort of crutch. I seem to be guilty of that bias. If that isn't the case then I have no problem with them. I do remember reading that they cause you to burn more calories when you walk. While I am not concerned with calories per se, it does seem to show that it "activates" muscles more intensely. And judging from the stellar reviews I have read in these comments, it also seems to activate a wider range of muscles.

I'd still be interested to see any synergistic or deleterious effect they have on neuroprotectivity. Perhaps they add to it.

Anonymous said...

Antispirit:

Dude, try 'em out and see for yourself. No way these are bad for anyone. If I'm wrong, your Estate can publicize the fact that I steered you wrong :-)

Really, try 'em. Exerstrider (again, no affiliation,) offers this money back guarantee.

http://www.walkingpoles.com/content/view/30/43/

No downside.

If you do, please report your findings.

Enjoy ! :-)

Eddie

Chris said...

Just a note for those who doubt that poles can impact on balance, I found this on the BMC (British Mountaineering Council) website:

If you use poles all of the time you’ll lose the ability to balance naturally as you step up, walk over uneven ground or boulder hop. So if you are only taking a short walk with a light pack then leave the poles behind or save them for the steep descents. Youngsters need to develop this skill, called proprioception, before they walk any distance using poles.

http://www.thebmc.co.uk/Feature.aspx?id=1892

Chris said...

By the way, thanks for all the comments. I will post more on this

Anonymous said...

Man was not born with a pole in his hand why complicate a simple thing as walking

Chris said...

JS - Gryka didn't use poles!

Chris G said...

No affiliation my arse

Pool Tables said...

Today, I believe it is essential to walking sticks. They offer a lot of support when going down steep slopes.

Chris G said...

Why today? Have the slopes suddenly got steeper overnight?

Anonymous said...

Chris G: Is the, "No affiliation my arse," for my benefit b/c I posted a link to an outside source ? If so, well, whatever. Please be suspicious, please don't check out the link or walking poles or any reference you see on the web for fear that the referral source may be profiteering.

I have posted comments on this blog before. I really like what is offered on ConditioningResearch.com and live in alignment with much of what is offered here.

I understand that you can't see through the cloud of anonymity and BS that is the interwebs. Maybe I'm a con man, LOL. ("Psst. Hey pal, wanna buy some walking poles?")

As an active 51 y.o., I've seen and tried many approaches to healthy living over the years. I honestly believe walking poles, (distinguishing from trekking here,) offer something wonderful for many, many people.

For those for whom this is not true, Peace :-)

Eddie

Dave Riley said...

Since i was using a cane for everyday walking I switched to one and --when walking the dogs -- two trekking poles. They pulled me upright when the cae bent me over and gave my upper arms a workout addition.

As for hiking-- when I was climbing the mtns here in Australia I never used a stick. the only advantage would be on slippery loose gravel going downhill...and fording streams across slippery rocks.

I'm saying this as a daily trekking pole user for maybe 4-5 years on city paths, and parks.

Dave Riley said...

Since i was using a cane for everyday walking I switched to one and --when walking the dogs -- two trekking poles. They pulled me upright when the cae bent me over and gave my upper arms a workout addition.

As for hiking-- when I was climbing the mtns here in Australia I never used a stick. the only advantage would be on slippery loose gravel going downhill...and fording streams across slippery rocks.

I'm saying this as a daily trekking pole user for maybe 4-5 years on city paths, and parks.