Good walking gear gives you a better walking outcome – PART TWO

Three pilgrim-walkers on le GR 65 near Ostabat (le Chemin du Puy in France), each with different walking gear.

The iconic metal silhouette statues between Pamplona and Puente La Reina; representing the disparate Camino de Santiago users over the last thousand years

For more than a thousand years, pilgrims undertaking this long walking journey invariably made use of a wooden staff.

Coffee first, then the bi-lateral walking poles go into action.

Today, you can walk the Camino with a traditional wooden staff or go for a hi-tech trekking pole or walking pole.  We know the walking stick or pilgrim’s staff has multifunctional purposes both in the past and up to the present: from assisting the pilgrim walker undertaking such long distances to historically being both a defensive and an offensive weapon.

In today’s world, freedom of choice is de rigueur and therefore, along the Camino tracks you see people with or without poles or walking sticks. Some will have bi-lateral poles (two) to just having one walking stick.  However, wooden walking sticks or unadorned pilgrim staffs are only ever used as a single unit.

Opportunities to buy a wooden pilgrim’s staff is presented to pilgrim-walkers along the Camino track many times a day.  Should you buy at least one if you are not walking with any other walking device?  The answer is yes.

However, let’s ask the right question: what is better for the pilgrim walker in our time?  What does the science say?  What is the evidence?  And what do experienced walkers say? What does the data say about hi-tech bi-lateral walking poles compared to no walking poles?  And what about using a single walking stick?

Permit me to answer these questions with another question.  When you call a plumber to do some work around your house, do you expect the person to turn up with his plumbing gear from the 1970s?  The answer is obvious: you expect your plumber to be up-to-date in both his knowledge, skills and tools.

Studies in laboratory experiments a few years ago indicated that you took up to 30% of weight and/or reduced forces off your lower limbs during 7 hours of walking, transferring that weight to your upper torso; thereby saving your hips, knees and ankles about 500 tonnes of weight related stresses.

Recently, in 2010 researchers at Northumbria University (UK)  for the first time, tested two groups in the outdoors: everything was measured and equal: i.e. the two groups were of equal fitness, did the same walk up and down a mountain track, ate the same meals, carried similar weight in day packs and took the same scheduled rests during both the ascent and descent.  The only variable in this experiment was the fact that one group had bi-lateral trekking poles and the control group did not have any trekking poles.

The results showed that there was significantly less muscle soreness in the group using trekking poles.  This group demonstrated a reduced loss of strength and a faster recovery immediately after the trek compared to the control group.  Self-rated soreness peaked at 24-hours in both groups but was significantly lower in the trekking-pole group, both at this point and at the 48-hour point.  In addition, levels of the enzyme creatine kinase (which indicates muscle damage) were much higher at the 24-hour point in the non-pole group, while the trekking-pole group’s levels were close to the pre-trekking levels.  This shows that the muscle damage they were experiencing was negligible.

(Source: Northumbria University (2010, June 3).  How trekking-poles help hikers maintain muscle function while reducing sorenesshttp://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100602121000.htm)

Dr Glyn Howatson who conducted this landmark study stated: “The results present strong evidence that trekking poles reduce, almost to the point of complete disappearance, the extent of muscle damage during a day’s mountain trek.

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