Picking up the stick

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      The finnish gymstick takes cardio and weight training exercises into the great outdoors.

      Every once in a while, a new type of exercise captures the public's attention. In recent years, we've seen the emergence of boot camps, trail running, and the stability ball. In parts of Europe, one of the hottest new trends is the Gymstick, a pole with rubber bands attached to two foot straps. This deceptively simple device enables people of all ages and fitness abilities to perform hundreds of different movements indoors, outdoors, and even in the water.

      Hana Weinwurm, a 28-year-old Vancouver personal trainer, discovered the Gymstick while attending a fitness conference in Whistler last April. She said that she was so impressed that she approached the Finnish inventor, Risto Kasurinen, to ask if she could help market the product.

      "I was very passionate about it, and I was very motivated," Weinwurm said in an interview. "I said, 'Hey, you know what? If you don't have anyone in B.C., I would love to help you spread the word.'"

      That led to a trip to Finland the following month for a five-day training program. Weinwurm learned that a Gymstick lets you do lunges, squats, bicep curls, tricep extensions, and other weight-training exercises. It's also possible to do rotational exercises, both large and small, including simulating the actions of various sports. During the interview, Weinwurm demonstrated how a person can use a Gymstick to create resistance while practising a hockey slapshot, a volleyball blocking exercise, a golf swing, and a soccer kick. This can be accomplished by placing the Gymstick and your feet in the proper positions. "You can mimic daily movements," she said.

      Kasurinen has created several models, including an aqua Gymstick for swimming pools. One of the most popular versions is the Nordic walking Gymstick, which provides upper-body resistance for hikers walking on trails. They can stop anywhere along the way, fold the Nordic walking poles into a regular Gymstick, and then start doing various exercises outdoors.

      Weinwurm described Finland as the "mother country" of Nordic walking, with more than 800,000 people taking part. She said that Kasurinen helped develop the sport, which offers social as well as physiological benefits.

      "Nordic walking will increase your metabolism, because you're using more muscles," she said. "It also increases your cardio. Your heart rate is going to go up."

      Weinwurm said that manufacturers of sports equipment constantly create products for indoor gyms, but recently there has been a trend toward getting people outside to exercise in the fresh air. Boot camps and CrossFit are just two examples of this. She noted that the Nordic walking Gymstick is so popular in Germany that certain hiking trails have signs highlighting Gymstick exercises that can be performed along the route.

      Weinwurm, who was born in what is now the Czech Republic, described her love affair with the Gymstick as a "reconnection with Europe and outdoor activity". Her father visited his brother in Ontario in 1984 and decided that he was going to escape what was then Czechoslovakia and raise his kids in Canada, where they would have greater opportunities.

      She said that when she was seven years old and living in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, her father took the family and another brother's family on a vacation to a resort in Yugoslavia in 1986. She didn't know at the time that her father had already planned an elaborate escape to Canada. This was three years prior to the collapse of Communism.

      Weinwurm said she and seven relatives, including her parents, didn't return home and instead went to a United Nations–sponsored camp in Yugoslavia, where they remained for months. Eventually, they were accepted into Canada, settling in Mississauga, Ontario, with her father's brother's family. "When we came here, we had 13 people living in one house," she recalled.

      The exclusive Canadian distributor of the Gymstick is Remington Medical Equipment Ltd. (www.remingtonmedical.com); prices range from $109 to $159. Weinwurm said that there are Gymstick Nordic walking-certified instructors at two Vancouver fitness facilities, Westside Gym and Body and Soul.



      Lori A Phillips

      May 17, 2015 at 6:07pm

      I enjoyed a gymstick class in Cyprus with Agnes Deckelmann at The Spa Retreat in Aphrodite Hills. Challenging exercises to a tape with her lead up modelling of the exercises. Loved it!