When it’s 1 a.m. and
can’t sleep, he goes outside and jumps on his pogo stick.
The 66-year-old pediatric neurosurgeon says pogoing helps his insomnia. It’s also his go-to workout. Dr. Manwaring started exercising on what many consider a children’s toy 11 years ago when he was diagnosed with osteopenia, a condition of lower-than-normal bone density. With a 70-hour workweek, he’d been proud of his modest exercise routine of walking, hiking and biking. But he realized that to improve or at least maintain bone density, he needed to add weight-bearing exercises.
His research found that weightlifting, jumping rope, bouncing on a trampoline or pogoing would benefit him most. He first tried jumping rope. “It was portable, intensely aerobic and burned a lot of calories fast,” he says. “But it was also really hard on my knees.” He then started to research pogo sticks. Jumping on a pogo stick comes with the risk of falling, and he says he realizes it might not be suited to most people with his condition. But Dr. Manwaring says he’s always had good coordination.
He discovered a pogo stick called the Vurtego. Unlike the metal, spring-loaded toy version, this adult model is designed with an air piston that can be customized to the user’s height and weight. “It has a much softer, trampoline-like feel on contact with the ground, which is easy on the knees,” he says.
The newest Vurtego model can hit heights of 10-plus feet, but Dr. Manwaring keeps his jumps between 2 to 3 feet. “I’m now at retirement age,” he says. “I have no interest in acrobatics. I just go up and down, maybe side to side, and try to avoid falls.”
Tests on his bones have shown a “gratifying reversal and stabilization.” He calls his pogo workout “a valuable component of maintenance mode,” he says. That also includes vitamin D and calcium supplements and medications that enhance bone density.
Dr. Manwaring splits his time between Orlando, Fla., where he practices, and Phoenix and Provo, Utah, where he conducts research. He keeps a pogo stick at each of his residences. “My wife has no interest in it,” he says. “But most neighbors who see me immediately ask if they can try. Unlike most exercise, it makes you feel like a kid again.”
Dr. Manwaring performs two to five five-minute bursts of pogoing throughout the day. “I use it as an intense interval exercise, doing 100 to 200 jumps to get my heart rate up,” he says. “It’s enough to just break a sweat.” He says his pogo breaks offer him a “therapeutic pause” from work and help him refocus. “It requires attention and endurance to stay upright,” he says. “If you go too slow, you’re going to fall.”
He says to pogo continuously requires full-body engagement. His legs take on the heavy lifting of jumping repeatedly, and his core must stay engaged to maintain balance. His shoulders, triceps and biceps get worked from pushing and pulling on the handlebars.
Dr. Manwaring usually pogos in his driveway or in the front yard. “It’s really quiet, so if I go out in the middle of the night, the neighbors won’t be disturbed,” he says. He will sometimes hopscotch with forward, backward and side jumps. He occasionally competes against his neighbors or will track his progress against online pogo groups. He likes to set goals for himself and uses apps, such as Accelerometer and Sensor Kinetics, that count total jumps and allow him to calculate the height of his jumps.
Breakfast is Cracklin’ Oat Bran topped with whole milk and a glass of orange juice. “I’m picky about my OJ. I only drink Natalie’s,” he says, referring to a family-run juice company in Florida. He tries to stick to a Mediterranean diet of fish and salads and healthy fats like nuts and olive oil. He prefers salty to sweet. “I probably eat too many pistachios,” he says.
The Gear & Cost
Dr. Manwaring owns three Vurtego pogo sticks. His V3, now discontinued, cost $300. He uses it primarily for his maintenance routine. He has two different sizes of the newest model, the V4 Pro (retail $420), which boasts 10-plus feet of jump potential. “It’s beyond my skill level and ambition, but still very fun,” he says. A Vurtego pump, which helps adjust the power of jumps, costs $25 to $40.
He likes to pogo in a sneaker with a thick sole. He wears a lightweight bicycle helmet and mouth guard for protection. “When I first started, I was not so cautious,” he says. “My foot slipped and the pogo flew up to hit my chin, resulting in the need for tooth repair.”
Pogo Like a Pro
Jumping on a pogo stick isn’t just child’s play. Newer models designed for adults deliver a great workout. Biff Hutchinson, who currently holds the world record for the highest jump on a pogo stick, just over 11 feet, teaches pogo classes in Burley, Idaho.
He says most pogo sticks on the market are designed for children: “An adult would be too heavy for them.” He suggests a model with an air spring that allows for weight customization. More air creates a stiffer spring. “It’s good to start at one quarter of your weight,” he says. “If you weigh 200 pounds, you’d pump the pogo to 50 [pounds per square inch].”
Mr. Hutchinson says it’s important to begin on a flat surface with a bit of grip, like rough asphalt or firm grass. “Put the center of your feet, as opposed to the balls, on the pegs, and keep your shoulders above the handlebars for the best center of gravity,” he says. Start by jumping vertically, then advance to hopping side to side, he says. “You want to keep the handlebars as close to the hips as possible for stability,” he says. Mr. Hutchinson says pogoing is also great cross-training for skiing and BMX biking. “You’re using a lot of the same muscles.”
He suggests wearing a helmet and even ankle braces. “Rolling an ankle is the most common injury,” he says. “If you feel like you are going to fall, quickly throw the stick away from your body, so you don’t come down on top of it.” As with any sport, he says the more you practice, the better you’ll get.
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