Could a pair of walking poles really help my aching leg muscles?
I have a confession to make. For years I have laughed at walkers with poles. I have pooh-poohed poles as an annoying waste of time; as a cheat’s crutch. I have tried my partnerâ€™s walking poles (he swears by them for easier walking) but I have found them to be irritating, awkward and painful for my shoulders.
But I have had to face facts. I have a big event coming up, the Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon, which involves, among other tough disciplines, a walk/run over seven Munros and 15 miles. I need all the help I can get to minimise leg pain and muscle fatigue.
So I had a look on-line at walking poles studies. I discovered that walking poles, especially lightweight poles that are designed for Nordic walkers, are a great way to aid walking endurance and save the usual pain in leg muscles. (My partner pointed out that he had been telling me this for years but I needed to read some research to be convinced.)
On test: Leki Micro Magic Poles
Leki are a big name in walking poles and they sell a huge range. I was recommended the Micro Magic Poles because they are lightweight (made of carbon and weighing just 400g per pair), easily foldable and have a clever “Trigger Shark Strap”.
In fact, it is the Trigger Shark Strap that has been the game changer. The strap looks like a topless glove. The set-up goes around the hand, palm and thumb to offer a comfortable and adjustable glove-like fit.
The strap is affixed to the pole handle with a small loop of cord. With the Trigger Shark Strap I found that my hands could relax while still supported and attached to the pole. When walking, IÂ quickly foundÂ a rhythm whereby IÂ could gently hold the handle and position the pole in line with myÂ steps.
The poles had a great â€œswingâ€. This felt like a nicely weighted pendulum swing â€“ Â each time I paced out, the poles seemed to position themselves into the right place for the next step. I have no idea how this works but I expect it is down to the design, weight and the ability of the user.
If you think of what Nordic walkers look like in action then you can imagine how these poles work while walking in Scotlandâ€™s mountains.
The poles come in fixed lengths so you need to make sure you buy the right size (105-130 cm) to suit your height. When not in use they fold into three parts for easy stowing and carrying.
Walking with Leki Micro Magic poles
I took the Leki Micro Magic poles to the Kintail area of the Highlands for two days of Munro bagging. In total I walked 10 Munros (one of them twice). I have to confess I found the poles to be a huge asset on both the ascent and descent.
Contrary to what I have always believed, these poles were easy to manage and aided the uphill by reinforcing stability on difficult terrain. On the descent I learned how to use the poles to balance myself on steep sections. The poles significantly helped to reduce the pain in my quads as I walked downhill after two days of hiking.
After walking seven Munros on the South Glen Shiel Ridge on day one I would normally need to take several days off the walking. But the following day my legs managed to take me around another three Munros.
My legs were not super fresh on day two but they were able to cope with 1300m more of ascent and descent.
I also noticed that the poles gave me a good upper body workout. When using poles the whole body is more engaged with the walking and I can see that my shoulders and arms would benefit from the toning powers of mountain walking.
I have only a couple of concerns with the poles. First, I found that my hands became tanned all around the Trigger Shark straps so I have been left with rather odd white lines!
Secondly, I could easily fit thin gloves under the straps but I doubt these straps would work so well with the bulky gloves that I use in winter. My partner pointed out that these poles are more suitable for summer walking but I would really like to use them in winter, too.
All in all, though, these walking poles have been an amazing discovery. I am now something of a born-again walking poles evangelist.