Suat Tuzlak just walked three blocks through the asphalt jungle using a pair of aluminum poles.
You might thing this is odd. But Tuzlak doesn’t.
“These are urban poles,” Tuzlak explains.
They look exactly like ski poles, except they are tipped with tiny rubber hiking boots.
He holds out one of them.
“Take it,” he says.
“Now put your other hand on your belly.”
Remember that patting your head and rubbing your tummy trick? Well, this twist isn’t quite so difficult.
“Now press down on the pole,” says Tuzlak. “Do you feel it? In your stomach?”
And sure enough, the muscles were contracting. A smidge.
This tiny little movement is significant, says Tuzlak.
The micro-muscle contraction doesn’t seem like much. But over a kilometre, or five, it quickly adds up.
“These poles suddenly turn walking into a full-body exercise,” he says.
A boost in fitness and very little change in lifestyle. It seems like a good deal.
For 87 per cent of the population, walking is the favourite form of exercise according to a recent survey, so this is the perfect accoutrement.
Grab your poles and you suddenly make a favoured exercise even better, said Tuzlak, who is now a certified urban-poling coach. That is, he teaches people to walk … with poles.
It came easily to him. A hiker and cross-country skier, Tuzlak has often used poles as part of his exercise routines.
He just hadn’t thought to use them in the city.
Then, one day last winter, he saw a guy doing just that.
“It all started with Michael Dougherty,” says Tuzlak.
All winter, he watched Dougherty hike Whitehorse’s ice-covered streets to FH Collins Secondary School.
The poles helped him with stability and boosted his overall fitness.
“There’s a 30 to 40 per cent increase in caloric expenditure,” said Dougherty.
And there’s no marked change in behaviour. He’s just walking … with poles.
He started about four months ago. Since then, Dougherty’s noticed it has stretched his walk a bit. His gait is faster. And there’s a little more sweat on his brow when he gets to the school where he teaches.
“I’m expending a little more energy,” he says. “I think that’s worthwhile. It’s something I’m doing anyway—adding this is nothing.”
Walking with poles is common in Europe and is a growing trend
on the West Coast, largely thanks to Tom Rutlin, a fitness wonk who is credited with making boot-equipped poles popular, if not fashionable.
The 62-year-old Rutlin started walking for exercise in 1985. He started Exerstrider Products, his pole-walking company, in 1988. Since then, he’s become an authority on the subject, promoting the sport in Canada through his company Urban Poling.
That’s where Tuzlak went for his certification.
Urban poling strengthens your core muscles, boosts your cardio, stamina and burns calories, according to Rutlin.
Tuzlak sees another benefit.
“There’s a psychological improvement,” he says. “It’s whimsical. It makes walking more interesting. There’s an increase in your mood and a decrease in fatigue.”
Also, for those who are deskbound, it helps work out the kinks, says Tuzlak.
“It’s good for older adults and for anyone else … it improves balance and posture and it’s good for shoulder and neck pains.”
Of course, until it builds a following around town, you’re going to look a little odd. But that doesn’t bother Tuzlak or Dougherty.
“I like being self conscious,” says Dougherty.
“I don’t care if people laugh—if it’s a good thing, who cares if they laugh,” says Tuzlak. “And, over time, they may not laugh anymore.”
Tuzlak doesn’t do things in half measures. Anyone who is interested in learning about urban poling can stop by his Alpine Bakery for a trial. He’ll take you out over the lunch hour.
It’s simple. And that’s the key to this, he says.
You don’t have to go anywhere special. Just a walk down Second Avenue or up to the bluffs is all you have to do to get a pretty good full-body workout.
You just have to remember to bring the poles, says Tuzlak.
“It’s for everyone, year round, that’s why I’m enthusiastic,” he says.
It is not without its pitfalls. Dougherty just lost one of his boots—it popped off over a storm drain, dropped eight feet and disappeared. Now he’s just got a metal tip.
But that really doesn’t matter. It’s the pole that counts.
And, over the last couple of months he’s seen an improvement in his fitness.
And he simply feels better.
“If I can earn an extra milkshake or two, I don’t mind,” he says.
Contact Richard Mostyn at