Teaching Urban Poling in Covid Times, Blessing or Curse?

Recently one of our long-time instructors Laura Clements wrote an amazing article on teaching Urban Poling during Covid. She was inspired after coming across our booth at a CanFitPro conference in Toronto after spending the day with her grandfather who was approaching 100 years old, and he walked with a similar straight arm swing, upright posture, and enviable stride length. She was already convinced that his longevity and walking stance went hand in hand and felt that any fitness tool that would encourage others to maintain or adopt a similar style would be very beneficial. She soon began to personally enjoy poling and of course benefit from it, inspiring her to become an instructor!

Presently she has temporarily stopped group sessions as the Ontario government has asked us to limit social interaction. She had great success in the fall of 2020 getting people out using the poles, as with gyms shut down, Urban Poling was a fantastic affordable option.  People were (and still are) dying to get outside, move their bodies, meet new people and lose those pesky Covid pounds, and UP is the PERFECT remedy.

One of the best ways to garner new participants these days is to hitch your wagon to existing Meetup or Hiking groups/clubs and offer to come out and do a demo. Most times she asked for a small rental fee per person ($5 each), which people rarely object to. She would write up a blurb for the Meetup on all the great benefits of poling, suggesting a time and place, and then the Meetup or group is responsible for garnering participants. For private demos, she always brings along poles to sell and has found that Covid was a great time to sell, as everyone wanted to be outside.

On an interesting note, many people have shown up to the Meetups with poles of their own (inexpensive mediocre quality ones). She always suggests that they try her poles, especially if theirs’ do not have booties (or good booties). She found a large portion of her pole sales are to people who already had poles, as they are already sold on the idea of Nordic Walking and have found an upgrade!

Her Covid specific thoughts: She would wear a plastic see-through mask to minimize risk. While telling them about the poles and teaching the method, she kept all participants in a large circle to maintain social distance. Throughout the class, she asked people to stay a pole length away from each other, and specifically chose a conservation area that had a wide walking path so that people did not have to walk close to each other. Deserted parking lots are great too!

She offered latex gloves and wore them herself, to foster comfort when helping participants adjust their poles. She passed each participant a Lysol wipe at the end of the class asking them to thoroughly wipe down both poles before handing them back to her.

Over the years here is what she has found that has drawn and kept her participants engaged in her classes, before Covid:

  • Switching locations and exploring new trails. This may be the number one thing people love, set a different meeting point for each class. People appreciate new areas to walk. Many people who lived in the area for years had no idea the great trails in their backyard!
  • Educational and historic information about the area. They LOVE this, and the internet is such a great source of info for you to find out some neat facts about wherever you are walking beforehand.
  • Sales or incentives. People love a draw or freebie, and when you start off a class with a group of new participants it is a great opportunity to offer a ‘name into the hat’ for a free spare pair of booties or carrying bag for those buying the poles on the first day.
  • Seasonal Events. Flower festivals, fall foliage trails in conservation areas, spring trillium trails, Outdoor Christmas fairs, winter trekking with snowshoes, etc.
  • Switch! Especially at the beginning of a new session when people don’t know each other, she often brings a whistle and blows it every 5 minutes for people to switch who they walk beside to get to know all the people in the class. Sometimes she gives them a topic to get the conversation going.
  • Interval training and the many variations that the Level 2 UP class has and more, such as hills, balance challenges, quick steps, using benches, and partners to do exercises with the poles.
  • Making it yours. She is a certified yoga teacher and knows that many other instructors have additional qualifications that they can incorporate with the poles. So, she will do fun yoga poses (both strength and balance ones) incorporating the poles, either at the mid-point of the class or at the end.
  • Nature facts. Especially drawing on the knowledge from participants on plants, animals, and points of interest along the way.
  • Stretching/Cool-down exercises. A great value-add that many folks appreciate is taking a good 5-7 minutes to do a thorough cool-down, holding each stretch for a full 30 seconds, for an effective stretch. This collective gathering is also a great opportunity to sell poles/accessories, and encourage participants to ‘bring a friend’ to grow the group!

We’d like to thank Laura for sharing her expertise and experience with us! We hope this helps you to start instructing or revamp your classes. Happy Poling!

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