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Adjustable poles are the most versatile for accommodating people of various heights.
Walking is pretty much the most basic workout you can do. If you like to walk for exercise, you can increase the intensity by using Nordic walking poles. They'll boost the benefits you see from ordinary walking -- like increased heart rate, decreased blood pressure and stronger bones -- plus using poles for walking will turn the activity into a full body workout as well as reduce stress on your joints.
Heights and Types
When selecting a Nordic walking pole, you'll find that most have the same basic features -- wrist straps, handle grips, spike tips and asphalt shoes. The things that vary are whether the pole is fixed, adjustable or has an extending feature. The adjustable poles can extend to any height, but the extending poles have a limit to how much they can be adjusted. Finding a pole that is the correct length for your height -- or adjusting the pole to the correct length -- is done by holding the grips of the poles in your hands and placing the tips on the ground. Your elbows should be bent to 90 degrees, with your upper arms held in at your sides. If your forearms angle down, your poles need to be longer; if your forearms angle up, the poles need to be shorter.
Getting Used to the Poles
In his 2008 book "The Complete Guide to Walking: For Health, Weight Loss and Fitness," Mark Fenton outlined four steps that would help first-timers get used to walking with Nordic walking poles. Fenton explained that you should start out carrying the poles, holding them about mid-shaft so that they aren't even touching the ground. Swing your arms as you normally would. Then slide your hands through the wrist straps but don't take hold of the grips. You'll continue walking and swinging your arms, but now you'll be dragging the poles. After three or four minutes, grab the hand grips and practice planting the poles at a 45-degree angle. Start with one arm extended forward with the tip of the forward pole back. Lightly press back on the ground while stepping forward with your opposite foot, then repeat with the other side. Once you're used to the planting action, after about another three to four minutes, progress to pushing with more force against the ground to get your full body in on the workout.
Using your Nordic walking poles correctly is essential to getting the most out of your walking workout. When you put your hands through the wrist straps, you'll slide them up through the bottom. Adjust the fit of the strap so that it's secure without being too tight or too loose. You'll hold the grips loosely in your hands, relying more on the wrist straps to push your poles backward as you walk -- you should even let go of the grip when your arms move forward. If you'll be walking over flat ground, the fixed poles will work for you just fine, but you'll want adjustable poles if you'll be doing your Nordic walking over varied terrain. Shorten your poles when you walk uphill to enhance the load-bearing demands. Then when you walk downhill, lengthen your poles to help with your balance. When walking sideways up or down, your up-slope pole should be shorter than your down-slope pole to help control your ascent or descent.
Fixed poles are easily cleaned with a soft cloth, but the extending and adjusting poles have seams at the adjustment points, as well as internal mechanisms that can be affected by moisture and dirt. You should loosen or unlock the sections and pull your poles apart entirely so you can clear away moisture and dirt from the seams and the expanders. You might find it necessary to use a soft nylon brush to completely remove all dirt, but never use cleaning solutions or lubricants, as they could damage the interior parts. Replace damaged parts as needed, and always leave your poles disassembled for a few hours to allow moisture that may have gotten inside to evaporate.