Hills. Some of us love them, others endure them. Whichever camp you fall into, hills are a fantastic way of increasing your fitness, toning your muscles and burning calories. But how much thought have you given recently to how, with Nordic walking poles in hand, you tackle them? I’ve noticed recently that there are two distinct styles – a pushmi and a pullyu. Unlike Dr Doolittle’s fictional beast, these methods are not in a symbiotic relationship, although you can use both styles on the same hill. One, of course, is where you use the poles to push you up the hill and the other is where you use them to pull or claw your way up. Here’s some thoughts on both styles.
You keep a powerful and full arm swing. The poles propel you up the hill and, if you add rotation, you can go up fast. The great advantage of a pushmi is that is keeps your posture pretty much perfect. In particular, you can push right into your hip flexors, keeping them open and your glutes (butt muscles) engaged, both of which prevent you from bending over at the hip and recruiting your lower back to help haul you up. Hinging at the waist is one of the most common Nordic hill walking adaptations that I see. Try to avoid doing this if you can. Whilst it’s natural to lean into a slope, the lean should come from your ankles not your waist.
You use the poles in ‘four wheel drive’ style. They are often a little more upright and you tend to plant the pole higher and further in front. This style is great if you are unfit or if the ground is rocky and very uneven. Careful though, with the poles more in front it is easy to round your shoulders forwards. This is bad for both your breathing and your posture. It is also very tempting to hinge at the hips and recruit your lower back muscles – so be aware. Maintain your heel-toe roll action for as long as you can to keep your powerful leg muscles firing.
Whether you’re a pushmi or a pullyu, don’t tighten up your arm swing. Clamping your upper arm to the side of your body and bending from your elbow is another of the most common mistakes people make when going uphill. Doing this is bad for your elbows and wastes the opportunity to utilise your upper body during your climb. So keep your arms pumping. Finally, remember that on seriously steep hills double arm poling is excellent.
An Affair with Two Poles
Mel Mackintosh took up Nordic Walking when she retired from her GP practice last Spring. She has taken the activity seriously and is so good that I have blacklisted her from my technique masterclasses! She’s written about her ‘affair with two poles’ as she calls it. It’s representative of so many of your comments that I asked if I could print some of it in this blog.
“My husband thinks I’m having an affair because I keep disappearing for a couple of hours only to return flushed and elated. Truth is that since I have taken up Nordic Walking I have become obsessed! I have more energy and have never felt fitter, not even when I flirted briefly with jogging a decade ago.
Having always been ‘unsporty’, I’m developing a new self concept as someone who enjoys being active. I look for opportunities to walk and I now wear a fitness tracker and have no problem achieving 10,000 steps most days. Last summer I walked 100km of the West Highland Way with my husband and took my poles with me – I was amazed at how much more stamina I had. My swimming has also improved and I think this is because the arm swing and upper body rotation of Nordic Walking have strengthened my arms and core muscles.
I thoroughly enjoy both the outdoor aspect of Nordic walking and the camaraderie that develops on the regular walks. I love the larks and deer at Ashton Court, the woodpecker and bluebells in Leigh Woods, and the chestnut trees and gully goats on the Downs. The sociable nature of the Bristol Nordic Walking classes is great fun but I now equally relish solitary walks. For me, just focusing on the simple act of walking with good form and a steady rhythm is a mindful experience. At the risk of sounding esoteric, I somehow feel more connected to the universe.
Another big plus (besides my improved posture and better quality sleep) is that my walking pace has increased. My family of mountain goats now complain that they find it difficult to keep up with me on family walks. Then there’s that delicious feeling of acceleration I get when the poles propel me along the flat and assist me up slopes. On a sunny day at Ashton Court with the expansive views across the city, it feels a bit like flying! “
We couldn’t agree more Mel.