Twin poles transport walking ‘to the next level’

Class blends benefits of cardio, joint protection
By: Gloria Young,
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For 23 years until they retired in July, Richard Del Balso and his wife, Melanie Neeley, offered chiropractic care, sports training and injury care and injury prevention education at their Health First Chiropractic clinic in Auburn.
Now Del Balso, who works as a personal trainer, is introducing a sport that’s new to Auburn with his weekly Nordixx Pole Walking class at the Auburn Recreation District.  
“I’ve used hiking poles for probably eight to 10 years because we do a lot of walking in the Sierra,” Del Balso said. “My wife and I have used those routinely for taking the stress off our hips and knees.”
Fairly recently he learned about pole walking, which he said has become very popular in Europe and Canada.
“In the late 1990s, cross country skiers pioneered a different kind of pole for hiking conditioning in the summer months,” he explained. “It’s more of a fitness walking pole instead of a trekking pole that you would use for the mountains and for trail hiking.”
The poles are lighter than traditional trekking poles and have a rubber foot on the end that is adapted for walking on concrete or asphalt.
“You can take off the rubber foot and there’s a real strong carbon tip you can use for softer surfaces like grass or even on the beach,” he said.
The top of the pole has a snap-in glove with a quick release mechanism.
He describes using the Nordixx system as “taking walking to the next level.”
“Walking utilizes 60 percent of the muscles in the body — mainly the lower extremity muscles,” he explained. “With fitness walking using these poles and the technique, you can use up to 90 percent of the body’s muscles. So you get a much more effective exercise.  … especially for the upper body and arm muscle, and importantly for women, the triceps. … and it increases heart rate by about 15 beats per minute by using the poles verses walking without poles.”
It also increases energy consumption and calorie burning on average by 20 to 46 percent compared to regular walking, he added.
“Think of it as cross country skiing, but that motion is on pavement,” he said.
Another aspect Del Balso includes is posture.
“So much of what we do in our daily lives is sitting, reading, working at a keyboard,” he said. “We are hunched forward with the upper body. When I observe people walking on the street, I see them hunched over as well. They carry that same posture when they walk. So I emphasize that when you walk, you walk proud. That enhances the upright posture, which is so important for the health of the back and neck.”  
Another benefit is that if you can walk, you can do it.
“You can do this into your 90s and make your walking that much more effective,” he said. “It’s great for balance and deceased impact on the knees and hips by about 30 percent versus jogging. It is a much better exercise for those with hip or knee replacements.”
Sheryl Petersen, recreation services manager for the Auburn Recreation District, has observed the classes and approves.
“One of the things we do here at the recreation department is look at different kinds of low-impact courses for the adults. I think that the more we find out about exercise, especially as we grow older, is we want to get our cardiac in but also look out for our joints,” Petersen said.
Del Balso held the first class Jan. 7 at Recreation Park and says signups exceeded his expectations. The class runs once a week from 9 to 10 a.m. Monday mornings Jan. 7 through Jan. 21. A second session will is scheduled for Feb. 20 through March 6.
The emphasis during the first class is on demonstrating the technique and getting people used to the poles. In subsequent classes, he spends the first 15 minutes on stretching exercises before taking students outside to walk the half-mile path that goes around Recreation Park.
Del Balso has poles for use in the class.
“They have the option of purchasing them but it is completely optional,” he said.
 The poles are available online at about $100 including tax and shipping. They are adjustable and can be shortened to fit into a suitcase, he said.
For Del Balso, teaching the class is a way to get more people involved in physical fitness.
“It was natural for me,” he said. “When I was in practice, I was pretty big on advising fitness programs for my patients. … It makes total sense. It makes sense for a year-round fitness program that anyone can do in any condition.”
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