Sunday, January 17, 2021

Trekking Poles FAQ: Are Hiking Poles for Everyone?

No, but… Using poles provides many benefits for people who like to walk or hike.  Optimal use of poles encourages better posture, endurance, confidence and gaitUsing the upper body muscles helps to preserve joints all over the body.

In the literally thousands of people I’ve encountered over the last 15 years, I’ve met a handful that really were not pole people.  One lady was so uncoordinated, that she was terrified.  It was a bad fit.   People that have progressed to a walker often can no longer benefit.   A hiking buddy of mine (who loves to talk) trips on poles when he uses them.  Best for him to not have poles.

Sometimes people have to ease into learning new skills like using poles – or any new thing (think orthotics).   Here’s a very recent example:  One lady was given this prescription:  Use your new poles for only three to five minutes, 2 or 3 times a day.  Consistency/Frequency with very low intensity & duration.   She then went out for an hour with a friend and overdid it.  She damaged her fragile shoulder and hated her poles.   She admitted she was out too long, was distracted and did not focus on her form.   She called her poles “toxic.”   I silently shook my head in frustration at her admitted and blatant violation of her body.  She blamed the poles even while admitting her ridiculous and (as it turned out) dangerous behavior.   Rather than gently and progressively lubricating the shoulder joint and slowly building muscles that support the shoulder, she ended up back at the doctor’s office in severe pain.

Poles COULD have helped her in many ways, but she did not listen to either her body or her trainer.   Regular readers of this blog know that I like to focus on the positive.  So I end this post with happier thoughts.

“To be interested in the changing seasons
is a happier state of mind
than to be hopelessly in love with spring.”  ~ George Santayana

“Giving people self-confidence
is by far the most important thing that I can do.
Because then they will act.”  ~ Jack Welch

Posture and Memory: How to improve both!

August 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Coaching, DVD Updates, Fitness & Health

Yikes!   SO many things to remember all the time.   To maintain optimal and erect posture is WORK.   So how do I coach people to lengthen, elongate, lift, scan and BE  TALL?

My two best tools:

  1. If something enters your realm of consciousness, honor it.
  2. Every time you stop and start, press your RESET button.

That’s it!

I shall elaborate, but first, I need to talk about what a teacher or trainer does in order to achieve the desired result.   If I said the same thing to you 20 times and you were not “getting it,” who is at fault?  And, yes, there is fault here.   Well, I, as the instructor need to change my message.   I need to find another way – something that resonates for YOU.

That’s why I have so many cues in my toolbox that sound similar – I’m looking for the key to your lock, so that you will feel the lift, feel the difference, achieve the optimal (fill in the blank, in this case POSTURE) result.

Now for elaboration on my TWO tools:
#1)    DON’T try to remember everything.   Just allow whatever floats into your brain to be there; recognize and honor it, follow it.   That cue, that reminder, is linked with others so they naturally follow.   Forcing good form does NOT work.

#2)   What and were is your reset button?
What:   An imaginary button that you mentally press that brings you into your optimal posture.
Where:  Probably the middle of your chest.
When:   Press it every time you stop and start and then FORGET ABOUT IT.   When you remember to press it, give yourself a pat on the back.   When you forget – well you remembered, but just a little late.  Yippee!  Give yourself a high five!

What works for you?

Low Back Pain: An easy stretch to relieve tired low back

February 26, 2011 by  
Filed under Coaching, Fitness & Health

After hiking, we often feel fatigue in the low back.   Here’s a simple and very gentle stretch to help alleviate that discomfort and to elongate the spine.

  • Find a bench or place to sit comfortably.
  • Sit nice and tall (roll your shoulders up around, down and back).
  • Hinge your torso forward from your hips.
  • Place your forearms on your thighs.
  • See if just this movement (forward flexion) feels like a stretch.
  • If so, relax and breathe in this position.

If you need a bit more stretch or relief, you’ll want to further lengthen your spine,  providing traction and elongation to your spine:

  • Anchor your forearms and elbows where they are on your thighs.
  • Imagine that you’re pulling your elbows up your thighs, but don’t move them.
  • Feel your shoulder blades squeezing down your back and your back lengthening.

This low back stretch should feel yummy.  If it does not, stop immediately.

Save your Knees: Hiking Tip for Steep Terrain

Watch where you step!  How many times have you heard this?  When hiking, optimal foot placement can save a tweaked or strained ankle and it can significantly improve your performance.  

This post is about a technique we teach on the trail (OTT) called the Side-Wide.  It’s especially useful for steep steps or obstacles.

When you step straight up or straight down, 2.5 to 3.5 times your body weight can go right into the knee joint, yikes!  We all know that when our feet are slightly apart as opposed to close together, we’re better balanced. Widen your stance and feel the difference.     The Side-Wide, when consciously practiced, becomes automatic.  Give yourself a little “Side-Wide” cue to reinforce muscle memory.

First, the side step

Then step wide

Stepping to the side, whether up or down, helps balance and prevents knee stress.  Stepping wide after the first step to the side feels natural as you distribute your weight into a wide stance.  It’s instinctive to shift your weight to the other foot after stepping to the side.  Notice how your body weight shifts.

Big steps can cause imbalance & knee stress

Side-Wide: First step is less steep than straight up

Then Step Wide completing the big up step or obstacle

The steeper the terrain, the smaller your step. This simple strategy is important for many reasons including your safety on the trail as well as for protecting your knees.    Practice the Side-Wide on both up and down stairs and obstacles in the trail.  See where optimal foot placement can feel more secure and easier on your knees.  For practice, pick one somewhat challenging step.  Do this technique over and over until you create body muscle memory.   Focus on the weight shift and the lack of energy going into the knee joints.

Proper planning prevents particularly poor performance. Learn this simple technique so that it becomes automatic.   Let your poles help you as you practice on terrain that feels slightly challenging.   Before you know it, you’ll gain confidence and speed.

Healthy Obsession: Hiking with Poles & Pole Selection

August 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Coaching

Article in the San Francisco Chronicle about this healthy obsession of hiking with poles.

The connection I have with MY poles is profound.  They fit me like a “glove.”

Learning which poles fit the body and suit a person’s goals is a process.

We look for 3 things:

  • What grip, strap & length best fits your height, weight and hand size?
  • What issues are you dealing with?
  • What are your hiking, walking or mobility goals?

Based on the above, it’s then important to find the most comfortable “fit.”  Just like with shoes, you try one pole in one hand and a different model in your other hand.  That’s the beauty of attending a field seminar – you get to try different models on a variety of terrain.

We’ll talk more about this in other posts.

Shoulder Stabilization: Key to Learning PoleWalking

August 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Coaching, DVD Updates, Fitness & Health


Scapular Retraction and Scapular Depression are 2 basic movements that provide the foundation for shoulder health.    By doing this regularly, you will use and strengthen the muscles that support and elongate the spine.

Learning how to use poles for walking, hiking and/or mobility presumes that you’re in optimal posture and here’s a first step.  This basic  movement is the foundation of how we start; it’s designed to help you connect to the muscles that support your shoulders.

Scapular Retraction:

  • Seated on edge of chair with feet flat
  • Back straight, dorsal glide (gentle chin tuck which lengthens your cervical spine)
  • Tuck your tummy
  • Rest your hands on your thighs
  • Shoulders relaxed (roll up, around & back)
  • Move hands up thighs toward core keeping length in spine
  • Elbows straight back
  • Squeeze shoulder blades together and hold for count of 2
  • Repeat several times until you feel slight fatigue in muscles
  • Roll shoulders up, around, down and back between each movement

Same movement with Scapular Depression

  • As hands move up thighs and shoulders squeeze together, at the end of the movement focus on shoulder blades sliding down the back like you’re putting the bottom tips of your shoulder blades into your back pockets
  • Hold for a count of 2 or deep relaxed breath
  • Repeat approximately 8  times (again until slight fatigue)
  • Do 2nd Set after rolling out your shoulders

In all our classes and seminars we show a basic shoulder HEART.

Imagine a clock, or half a clock from 12 to 6:

  • Pull your shoulders up towards your ears – this is 12:00 (upper trapezius)
  • Roll your shoulders up and back towards 1:00 (posterior deltoids)
  • Squeeze gently together and back – this is 3:00 (rhomboids)
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades down as though you were putting them GENTLY into your back pockets – this is 4:30 and the essence of scapular depression (latissimus dorsi)
  • Relax all the way down – at 6:00

You’ll achieve more benefit from all of these movements if you focus doing them slowly and smoothly.  It’s better to mindfully do just a few and really FEEL the muscles activating than to rush through them.

Everything we do is FORWARD.  From driving to cooking, gardening and…  LIVING.    Do this shoulder heart at the computer, in the car, out on the trail when using poles – do them all throughout your day – 457 every day for the rest of your life!  They feel good, relieve stress and are great for posture!

For more info, see our wellness page

SCAPULAR STABILIZATION is the position from which you want to do your upper body strength training!


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