Forest Versus Trees

Considering what really matters in fitness walking with poles

I have been following the impassioned and yet dispiriting discussion on the UK-based Nordic Walking eCommunity about whether Pacer Poles with their unconventional grips can be considered Nordic Walking poles in the broadest sense of the term. Click here if you care to slog through the discussion on the topic, “Is There A Place For Pacerpoling on a – Nordic Walking – Forum?”

I read through long discourses on why Pacer Poles belong or don’t belong, a divisive thread that seems to pit purists versus globalists. I read the tangential discussion about whether the Pacer Pole people play well with others, which is totally irrelevant to an individual who wants to gain fitness by walking with specially designed poles.

Against this background, I was heartened to read a post by a Canadian blogger named Deborah who writes “The Unbearable Lightness of Becoming.” I don’t know her last name, nor do I care. She describes herself as “a 41 year old female living in the beautiful province of New Brunswick.” She has been trying to lose weight and also seems to be a fairly new Nordic Walker who just completed half-marathon. She wrote a post titled “I choose Not to run! But I will Nordic Walk” that continued, “Which is exactly what I did do this past Sunday for a half-marathon. I am proud of myself for seeing this through because I am a great one for starting something and giving up half-way through. It was a tough ten weeks. Today I hurt in places I did not know I even had but it is worth it.”

She didn’t write about which poles she uses or even whether they are one-piece or adjustable, which shoes she wears, which technique she practices and whether it is biomechanically correct. She wrote about setting a goal and accomplishing it, feeling proud and strong. Her enthusiasm for walking with poles is palpable. And that, IMHO, is what everyone in the small community and smaller “industry” should be focusing on.

Exerstrider founder Tom Rutlin, who himself was long considered an outsider and renegade by the orthodox Nordic Walking community, wrote on the eCommunity thread, “Pole walking in just about any form trumps ordinary bipedal walking (for health benefits, enjoyment and motivation). Let’s all  finally all begin to concentrate far more on getting more people to ‘taste’ this wonderful healthy activity which just happens to come in a number of flavors’ — all of which would likely to be equally tasty to those without prejudiced minds, not to mention the kind of fear and confusion arising from the endless technique and equipment debates which have too long obscured to the outside world’ the simple fact that ‘Walking with poles is great!’.” Amen.

12 thoughts on “Forest Versus Trees”

  1. And don't forget Claire that the forum you criticise has played a consistent and long running part in trying to get Tom Rutlin back in out of the cold.

    Walk well,
    Malcolm Jarvis, co-moderator of the NE eCommunity.

  2. I have had nothing but admiration and praise for the eCommunity forum and the communication channels that you, David and others have worked so hard to open and keep open. You guys are great. IM(very)HO, and with no particular product or technique to promote or defend, I believe that being inclusive is, in the end, more useful than being exclusive or exclusionary. Whoever gets/takes credit, I'm happy for Tom and for Nordic Walking in general that his concept has gained acceptance. Perhaps someday, Pacer Poles and other pole technologies and techniques not yet invented will also part of the NW scene.

    As a corollary to to my belief inclusivity, I don't believe in censorship. The ONLY reason that I have enabled word verification and am moderating my blogs is that they have been slammed by spam. I only reject comments in Japanese promoting who-knows-what, linking to Indonesian tourist bu websites or marketing products for the enhancement of a body part that I do not possess. Other than that, I welcome more opinions and discussions than this blog has ever received.

  3. Let's pretend for a moment that we didn't have the web to either promote or over analyze NWing but instead conventional slow and painstaking gains such as print magazine articles, tournaments, sponsors, and the likes of that. Tennis, golfing and many other sports have made it into the mainstream bc folks discovered it for themselves for the most part, either they become novice uses, passionate over users or some form of enthusiast.

    I'm just glad that NWing has evolved into a fitness activity that most can do. The thing is that most haven't tried it. And if they don't want to, that is just fine, not everyone plays golf or tennis either. Many ways to hit a golf or tennis ball, just like all the ways we can walk with poles. We just have to be VERY patient for this to catch on in the USA and include any and all poles and techniques. And it wouldn't hurt if a celebrity or two was photographed by TMZ NWing. In the meantime, we that like to NW, just have to be more visible with our poles. Join a HeartWalk event, walk for MS or just get out to your local park trail. Keep up the great blogs, boards and all helps!

  4. Claire, I so enjoyed this post, especially about Deborah's non-technical pleasure in Nordic walking. I also appreciate your recent posts about various aspects from the technical to the newsworthy about the sport. For myself, I'm finding that your guidance and that of others gave me a great grounding (as it were!) in form, so that I can now feel the naturalness of using the poles. I Nordic walk on the hiking trails several days a week and feel a gracefulness–I hope this doesn't sound too silly–like that of a giraffe, long-armed and long-legged.

  5. Hi Claire,

    Many thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments.

    I guess we did “go over the top” recently with our level of introspection. Maybe we should all get out more!

    As your other correspondents have said, all we want is for as many people as possible to pick up a pair of poles, of any stripe, and get going, using any method they choose. We can then perhaps sit back and enjoy the kind of banter which is exchanged between enthusiasts.

    I have always found your insights sharp and perceptive. It’s one reason why Nordic Walking USA lives on my favorites column.

    Walk well,
    Malcolm, Co-moderator NW eCommunity Forum

  6. Hi Malcolm
    It is amazing that Exel has let Tom "in out of the cold" after some of the things he has said about the type of poles Exel promotes.
    Someone who "Loathes" straps as much as he does is lucky he can stand next to them and give his views. What a great opportunity. Now if he can trully promote his poles (handles) without affending the people that have spent many dollars learning a specific way to teach Nordic Walking, he may have something.
    Dancing and walking with poles, free style,
    Jeff DeMeester
    Keenfit, Fittrek, Leki and ANWA
    Trained Instructor adding power to your walk.

    1. There is no doubt that Tom is a super nice guy doing his best to promote his unique, but outdated downhill ski type poles. I met an old friend of his this past weekend at a wedding and he said a lot of great things about Tom – despite the scar on his forehead from a hockey puck that came off the ice during a “keep the puck on the ice” game.

      Tom’s website still includes false claims about his strapless poles being safer and other misleading info suggesting that collapsible poles are not necessarily heavier than one-piece poles. Tom’s one-piece poles are kinda heavy (downhill design) and only come in 6 lengths, while true “Nordic” type one-piece poles are much lighter. Having been in the ski business for over 25 years I’m aware that skiers don’t use collapsible poles and that there medical studies/articles about the increased chances of injuries due to strapless poles – all the studies are consistent about an increase in injury due to the strapless grip design. Scott and Reflex were the 2 leading manufactures of these thumb grabbing pole grips and discontinued manufacturing. I have taught a bunch of Nordic Walking Classes where participants brought their Exerstrider Poles with Relfex grips (same plastic molds with REFLEX printed on them). 100% of the time they upgrade to our much lighter SWIX Nordic Walking Poles equipped with comfortable fingerless glove type straps – patented by the Salomon Ski Company.

      Many of my most enthusiastic customers are those that purchased collapsible poles by mistake from other sources, loved the concept of walking with poles, but had problems with the twist-locks or flip-locks. The feedback is consistent while teaching classes, taking calls in the office and receiving emails. Tom agreed with me 5 years ago that one-piece poles were more stable and user friendly, but he as adamant that collapsible poles were easier to sell.

      Walking with poles is the best and walking with quality one-piece poles makes it even better, especially if equipped with quality fingerless glove type straps – not simple loop straps or velcro slings.

      1. Pete – With all due respect for your opinions and your enthusiastic promotion of Nordic Walking in your community, I think that you musht have macro dissing adjustable poles and promoting what you always call “real Nordic Walking poles.” I have both one-piece and adjustable poles of various brands, and my contention remains that there is no “right” or “wrong” type of pole or technique. There are differences that are often a matter of personal taste. I still believe that a rising tide lifts all ships, and that the collegiality developing in the Nordic Walking community will benefit everyone. Did you go to the Nordic Walking Expo outside of Minneapolis last spring? It demonstrates that open-mindness and tolerance CAN exist in the Nordic Walking world.

        1. Hi Claire – thanks for commenting back!

          I sincerely do feel there is a right and a wrong kind of pole. As you know I am a big fan of one-piece poles – I carry 16 different lengths of Nordic Walking Poles and custom make them for NBA type height individuals by taking longer xc ski poles and adding Nordic Walking Ferrules (metal tips), grips and comfortable fingerless glove type straps (patented by the Salomon Ski Company.

          Collapsible poles do NOT accommodate tall individuals. Fact.

          My firm conviction about one-piece poles being superior to collapsibles is based on the feedback I have received during hundreds of Nordic Walking Classes that I have personally hosted, plus emails received, phone calls received and thank you letters received that reinforce my fact based opinion about collapsible not being ideal for a pretty large part of the potential demographic.

          I do carry two better quality adjustable poles on the http://WWW.SKIWALKING.COM website, but clearly state “WARNING: Seniors and individuals with balance issues should NOT use 2-piece or 3 piece twist-lock or flip-lock adjustable length/telescoping/collapsible poles! For everyday use please consider any of our durable and user friendly one-piece Nordic Walking Poles.” The SWIX CT5 is made in Italy (not China) and retails for $99.95 per pair. Our EXEL TravelFit Poles fit into most luggage and retails for $129.95 per pair. When folks try to order these we always try to talk them into our $69.95 SWIX VIP’s – despite our margins/profits would be BIGGER selling adjustables with a smile. We carry these adjustables for the few pilots and extreme backpackers that demand collapsible poles. These adjustable length poles basically stink compared to our quality one-piece poles.

          I hope that you can appreciate the basis for my consistency about one-piece poles being superior – my ski coaching background, the hundreds of lessons I’ve taught, the tons of emails and phone calls received here in the office, basic fact that adjustables don’t fit tall people and our unwillingness to promote even our own collapsibles despite the potential economic advantage.

          My daughter is a professional mountain guide. She and her fellow professionals all report that the #1 equipment failures are twist-lock and flip-lock poles.

          A retired park ranger told me that the park trailheads always had broken collapsible snowshoe poles left behind in disgust by snowshoers.

          I think that if everyone involved in the discussion actually taught Nordic Walking Classes (including support groups classes for MS and Parkinson’s, plus wounded warrior programs) would come to the same realization about one-piece poles -vs- collapsibles. How about listening to real folks calling us over the phone for better poles to replace their collapsible poles from other sources that wouldn’t stay locked or wouldn’t unlock or just plain failed/broke. And then there are the emails from individuals having issues with the cheap/flimsy collapsibles they not only purchased from big box stores, but even quality operations like Cabalas, LLBean and REI.

          No time to talk about technique here, but I disagreed with some of the supposed correct techniques I was introduced to during my Instructor Certification.

          Keep up the good work and have FUN Ski Walking,


  7. Jeff – I attended the first annual Nordic Walking North America Expo in Santa Monica in 2009. The atmosphere was one of open-mindedness and collegiality. NW leaders exchanged ideas, tried each others' poles and mostly soought to brainstorm ways to help the growth of fitness walking with poles — whatever the technique and whatever the brand of poles. If anyone there privately "loathed" another technique or kind of equipment, s/he kept it to him/herself. I was not in Minneapolis for Expo II, but I understand that the atmosphere of cooperation continued.

    Conspicuous by its absence from the Expos was the American Nordic Walking Assn., which — as far as I know — introduced classic European-style Nordic Walking into the US. ANWA's presence also would have been welcomed, becuase another perspective would have been added to the mix.

    NWNA is currently laying the groundwork for the third annual Expo. For my part, I expect this collegiality and cooperation to continue.

  8. Clare – I heard your talk at the Boulder Bookstore when your book first came out. I remember you saying something like, "Nordic walking techniques are more alide than they are different." That tuck with me. I went to one of the introductions at Fleet Feet up on Broadway. I enjoy nordic walking around the neighborhood but I am shy to take my poles other places.

  9. I'm just discovering Nordic Walking. Who knew there was such a debate about it? Thanks for all the info – keep up the good work.

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