Overview of Pacerpoles + the basics of Walking
Heather Rhodes © 2010
Pacerpole Overview - and Walking Basics
Written as an explanation as to why Pacerpoles are different, and used differently to conventional walking poles of all kinds. It is included here for those interested in reading a little about the background to Pacerpoles - and a lot about how we 'move' - to gain a better understanding of how we can help ourselves improve.
......It is difficult to cover the complex aspects of walking in a few lines - so this piece should really start with an apology for its length. I hope that the content will be of interest to most, so I have tried to keep the terminology inclusive and open to all.
Having trained as a physiotherapist 40 years ago I have been analysing muscle and bone relationships for 4 decades - with specialist interest in 'functional' anatomy (the anatomical/biomechanical analysis of how to improve performance) and being aware of the benefits gained by doing an action one way, compared to another to maximise potential. For example - when doing a press-up; think of the trunk as a horizontal box and the arms as levers lifting it up and down, with the hands as pivot points ....then do another press-up but this time move the hands further forward with the elbow slightly straighter .... and you'll note that the second press-up was not as effective and took more effort, even though it was the same trunk (weight) using a similar arm lever action (slightly straighter) with its marginally different pivot point. Aspects of this arm-leverage scenario are referred to later.
A. Pacerpole Overview:
To clarify; the main difference in concept between Pacerpoles and other poles is that Pacerpoles were designed from first principles, and based on anatomical/biomechanical analysis of the arm's walking stride actions above the legs. From this data came further analysis of how the arm's leverage can be accessed without distortion - in order to complement that of the legs and maximise the users walking potential (whatever their fitness level or walking terrain ... those with ME, amputees (Mark Inglis, climber/first bilateral amputee to summit Everest - 2006), or the team who chose to use Pacerpoles In the Race to the North Pole last April - and won by a margin of 2 days (5 teams competing). In contrast, the concept designs of conventional poles of all kinds are based on 'modification of existing' i.e the ski pole whose original design comes from the wooden staff thousands of years ago - but has been modified over the years using high-tech materials, padded straps/gloves and well engineered shaft sections which lock together. What hadn't been addressed over the years (or perhaps hadn't been realised that there was an issue to address) was the inability to maximise full potential of our upper body leverage to improve posture and walking performance, which was being undermined by 2 things; the inefficient link between the hand and the shaft to transmit power without wasting it - and the distortion of the arm's leverage as it attempts to use what equates to a portable prop or pole, to push or pull against. In the early chronology of "Health&Fitness Walking", Pacerpoles (i.e. p a c e r pole which is an acronym for physiotherapist architect clinician engineering research) should be included - as in 1994 the MD of a major German pole manufacturer met with us here in the UK to discuss the innovative benefits of pacerpole design and use; but because they were handed Left and Right and costly to produce - plus a walking-education programme would be needed to explain how-to-use, so the body performs better on the slopes, or when just wanting to get fit; this would be too expensive, and so not commercially viable. As people were already buying their single poles for either hand - why bother.
We were obviously ahead of our time! Therese Iknoian writing in the American publication 'Gear Trends' Winter Outdoor 2004 p20 - 22 ('Walking the Walk'), gives an enlightening account of those early days "since Exel rolled out the activity in 1997". As a follow-up, despite obviously being aware of the name P a c e r pole since 1994, the name chosen more recently to promote a range of Fitness poles has been the Leki Pacer Vario NW pole - which could cause confusion. Just to clarify, these poles should not be confused with Pacerpole (TM.reg), with its unique 'geometry' of handle design - and its use to improve posture and "walking" performance - whether on expedition, or in the local park for general health.
B. Walking Basics : for those unfamiliar with how the body organises itself for walking.........
The trunk is like a rectangular box balanced vertically on the pelvis with the 2 leg levers underneath lifting it upwards and forwards (which is why you'll have seen heads bob up and down in a crowd as people walk). We move around a vertical axis (a vertical line through the head and trunk, down through our centre of gravity just behind the navel - should fall between our feet as we walk). We know that the wider shoulder girdle should balance directly above the narrower pelvis (pelvic girdle) so that the spine is kept vertical - spanning between the two ...with the postural muscles such as the abdominals in front, and the group of back muscles behind, all working like guy ropes to keep us erect as the vertical box/trunk 'wobbles' free above the legs (with 'wobbling' more noticeable when moving over rough ground etc so more tiring with more corrective muscle work required to keep us vertical). We also know that we need to keep vertical to breathe properly. The rib cage needs space to expand; the lower ribs are like bucket handles moving up-and-out, expanding so that air is sucked down to the base of the lungs, which has the bigger capacity. If the space between the top of the pelvis and the bottom of the ribs is reduced ...such as when we 'droop' or tip forward ...then the rib cage can't expand properly and shallower breathing occurs, with air moving in/out more from the top segments of the lungs with less capacity (perhaps think of the lungs as pyramids - with a bigger base and smaller apex). Efficient breathing will be compromised as you droop (tire) ......or even worse, consciously stoop forward when going up-hill, causing poor body posture away from the vertical - and so struggle for breath unnecessarily. To teach people to move uphill in this way is biomechanically flawed - and I question the fundamental basis that underpins such practice.
We know too that keeping the trunk vertical allows the leg levers underneath to perform better. In simplistic terms ... for example, the familiar sprint to the line in the 100metres - and the dip to get the chest across that line. If the commentator shouts 'oh - he's dipped too soon!' i.e. his vertical 'form' has come out of alignment and the leg leverage is underperforming for the last few strides - so he loses the race. Keeping the trunk vertical when walking is just as important for performance - and the Core Body Posture of the Pilates and Alexander Technique promote this posture too ... The question is how can we 'programme' better body posture of shoulders over hips, without our potentially wobbly-box eventually sagging into bad habits? Well fortunately we have our own natural walking resource - our arm levers under the shoulder girdle to keep the top of the trunk vertical on the pelvis, to lever the trunk upwards and move it forwards as we walk ....just like the leg's stride leverage under the pelvis.
With the top two corners of the vertical trunk being supported as well as the bottom two underneath, then better body alignment can be sustained as we move - and to keep the trunk as stable/vertical as possible, the top Right corner works with the bottom Left corner i.e. when these are fixed to the ground via the arm and leg, then the top Left corner and bottom Right can move through, repetitively - whatever the terrain or fitness level. The basic bipedal walking action is the same whether you are fit, in which case - the longer the stride length and quicker rate, compared to those who are less fit - with shorter strides and slower rate.
"Briskness" is a personal speed, with slightly longer strides and quicker rate than normal - so what is quick for one is slow for another. By tapping-in to the arm's stride leverage to complement that of the legs leverage underneath (i.e. supporting the trunk, lifting it up and moving it forward) better and quicker progress can be made with slightly longer strides. The improved cardiovascular function, respiratory function - and muscle strength - as well as the feeling of well-being, are all well documented as the benefits of a brisk walk. It is how to harness the arm's natural 'walking' stride (rather than creating a new one) to enhance our 'briskness' which is at issue. Ancient neorological pathways still retained, mean our arms are already walking stride for stride above the legs.
It might be helpful here to be aware that structurally, even though the muscle groups of our limbs are similar - in the sense that the familiar quadriceps at the front of the leg which straighten the knee, equate to the triceps at the back of the upper arm which straighten the elbow ...... and the biceps at the front of the upper arm equate to the hamstrings, which include 'biceps' femoris, at the back of leg, and so on. It can be recognise from this that in one way the arms are fastened-on-back-to-front, compared to the legs ...and it is this anomaly which has an affect on the range of joint movements needed, such as at the shoulder. When walking the leg swings forward from the hip; this is because as your knee bends, the foot goes backwards - so the hip has to swing to bring the foot forward. For the arm, when the elbow bends the hand/pole comes forward automatically - so a forward shoulder swing in front of the body is unnecessary, and would bring the arm/pole too far forward for effective leverage to supplement our bipedal gait which lifts the vertical trunk upwards and forwards each stride.
Another example to help understand how the arm-stride works so you disrupt its natural action the least, is to consider the way your upper arm moves in an arc as you run; the emphasis is behind the trunk - not in front. Within the walking-stride, the arc of the upper arm has the same emphasis but is less extreme - so when integrating the arm/pole, the general arc made by your upper arm goes from behind the trunk towards the vertical - rather than reaching in front. As fitness improves and the walking stride lengthens then instead of the shaft tip placement on the ground being just under the shoulder - it moves further behind - increasing the emphasis of the upper arm's arc stride action behind the body. The legs increase their length naturally, by extending further onto the toes for the final push-off. To complement this, the arm's stride length can be increased by shifting the elbow's action back slightly - which has the effect of lengthening the arm's stride range (for example if training and wanting to keep changing speeds i.e. length and rate of stride, from normal to brisker - for set distances).
Referring to the 'Press-ups' scenario earlier, and using the arm's leverage effectively, to lift the horizontal trunk .... it is the 'geometry' - or the 'angles' made by the limb's joints, and the pivot point position on the ground from where they thrust - which affects performance. As another example, position the shaft tip (which equates to our new arm 'pivot point') on the ground underneath the shoulder. The upper arm is angled slightly back, with the elbow bent to just below 90degrees. The forearm is in its midline position (i.e. midway between pronation and supination) so the hand/palm face the vertical as they rest within the Pacerpole handle ........ this means that as the hand thrusts down against the contoured handle, the 'geometry' of these arm joints straighten to lever the trunk upwards and so enhance the vertical posture whilst instigating the stride .... and as the arm's leverage straightens behind - it thrusts the trunk forwards (our walking gait pattern).
Compare this action to the straighter arm-lever action in front of the body, so as the hand thrusts down - the leverage causes excessive trunk rotation rather than an effective trunk lift necessary to instigate the stride. Whilst trunk rotation is inherent when we move the right arm with the left leg etc, it is always proportionate. As our walking gait spans from little more than a shuffle through to a race walk, the degree of trunk rotation is only excessive when race walk mode is achieved. It follows that the straighter arm stride-leverage as an action in front of the trunk, produces the excessive trunk rotation from the top half of the body which would 'naturally' require a super-fit race-walk length of leg stride, or a slide-and-stride one on X-C skis - to be underneath it, if there is to be a 'natural' balance of this degree of rotation.
When walking there is also a Timing and Sequencing of the joints comprising the limb's movement pattern - so it is seen to flow along, fulfilling its function. The limbs don't just bend and straighten, they also rotate as a 3D stride-action. If there is excessive movement eg of rotation, at one of the limb's joints disproportionate to the rest in the sequence then the limb underperforms - for example when walking on soft sand, where the foot/lower leg keeps on rotating (pronating) as it trys to push-off, making it difficult to control. These disruptive actions are very tiring - as well as distorting the joint alignments with potential knee/ankle trauma through uncontrolled movements at their extreme range. Such imbalance also affects the body's posture poised above.The arm's stride leverage works in 3D too. For it to be accessed (instead of dissipating its force into thin air) it needs an artificial extension. The design for this is critical anatomically, as in effect it is an add-on body part (even though temporary) with the 'new' arm which is now in three segments, spanning from the shoulder to the shaft tip on the ground. The upper arm, the forearm, and the shaft. With the shaft segment being inherent as a body lever, its length is also critical if it is to fulfill its function without distorting the arm's stride action.
The joints of our 'new' arm align the three sements into a conformation for effective walking leverage without wasting effort (so the leverage is focused on improving body posture and generating brisker strides). These joints are the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder, the hinge and the pivot joints of the elbow, and what should be defined as the new 'artificial' joint between the hand and Pacerpole's contoured handle. Synchronised movement takes place at all these joints as the arm's stride naturally bends/straightens/rotates in various degrees (like the leg's stride leverage underneath) this is why Pacerpole handles have a unique contoured shape and angle of attachment to the shaft. They control our walking stride leverage (which is moving in 3 dimensions, so there is a lot happening). If there is excessive rotation at any of these joints - then leverage will be compromised (as per the equivalent of the legs walking on soft sand). Pushing against a conventional pole's strap, causes problems for the arm as it is unable to control the excessive rotation/pronation movements as it straightens. It equates to not being able to maximise the arm's leverage potential to improve posture and performance. The arm actions, and range of movement used when holding other poles does not negate their value for use as an outdoor gym - with the pleasure gained from being in the fresh air. When using modified ski poles though, with straps/suspended gloves, care should be taken as in the event of a fall the protective reflex action of the outstretched hand would have difficulty in freeing itself from the pole - and could be a cause for concern. Pacerpoles by definition are not modified ski-poles - and their correct use enhances the better body posture of our bipedal gait for brisker walking. By controlling the arm's stride leverage they mimic the leg's own walking-lever actions to lift the trunk upwards and forwards as we move around our vertical axis - with the effect that we become a "Double-Biped"! .................