How do trekking poles work?
Display Avatars Sort By:
John Davis
(JNDavis) - F

Locale: Isle of Man
How do trekking poles work? on 07/16/2005 13:08:47 MDT Print View

Waving long thin weights on the ends of my arms should surely reduce my endurance, but the opposite seems to be true.

I only use poles when crossing rough ground. For easy going I stow them. (Most of Scotland seems to be rough ground!) Perhaps the extra endurance I've noticed - maybe 15% - comes from smoothing out my walking style and making it as efficient as it is when walking on pavements/sidewalks.

This probably isn't the whole answer. I suspect that raising the heart rate by recruiting more muscle groups may be something to do with the greater range. Can anybody clarify this for me?

Thanks, John.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: How do trekking poles work? on 07/16/2005 14:16:04 MDT Print View

here's a semi-educated guess on my part.

1) using the arms, especially if not raised above the level of the heart very much (e.g., NOT overhead) will only have a small effect on increasing heart rate. the muscles involved are relatively small cp. to the gluts & quads, and therefore require less blood & O2, bear less wt, & use less energy (even though their use in this capacity may be less efficient for ambulatory purposes than the muscles of the lower limbs).

2) redistributes the workload, i.e. removes some of the load fr/the lower body allowing them to work (if you keep the pace the same) a tad less, so they fatigue more slowly. the idea is somewhat similar to doing,...let's say...bicep curls with a relatively light wt.,...perhaps 5, 10 or 15 lbs. how many can you do with one arm? quite a few, i would guess. now, share the load with the second arm. you'll probably grow bored of curling the 5, 10 or 15 lbs before both of your arms tire. of course in this example it's a 50% redistribution. obviously, using trekking poles does NOT cause this level of redistribution of the workload. the muscles of the upper body are simply too small to be able to handle either the loads or the repetition anywhere near as well as the larger muscles of the lower body. however, they can help somewhat.

3) better balance (perhaps this is what you meant by "smoothing out my walking style"???). this results in less forceful contractions & less work being performed by stabilizing muscles of the spine, back, sides, & abdomen. so, to some degree less work needs to be done by them. for example, most people can bench press heavier wts, or perform more reps before fatiguing when using some weight lifting machines, than when using free wts. balance/stabilization of free wts makes them inherently more difficult to lift. [note: lats & perhaps pects will need to be somewhat contracted to help stabilize the arms for balance so that the upper arm does not rise when it bears some load when using trekking poles.]

4) when ascending, your pects & lats get recruited to help your gluts & quads lift your body. the pects & lats are larger muscles & can bear more wt. the tri's (i.e. triceps), at the very least isometrically contract to keep the forearms partially extended and prevent flexing, and will perhaps, depending upon the grade being ascended, finish contracting at the end of step-up to extend the forearm completely/nearly completely. obviously, less work is being done by the lower body in this instance, w/the gluts & quads getting a slight rest by bearing less of the load of stepping up.

i think it's Leki that has the slogan "Four legs good; two legs bad !"


if anyone has any other ideas, or feel i'm mistaken on any point, feel free to share with us.

Edited by pj on 07/17/2005 13:22:17 MDT.

Ron Stoecklein
(rs7trout) - F
Poles vs. no poles on 07/16/2005 18:21:56 MDT Print View

I used poles for the first time this year---and I am sold--greatest difference seemed to be on the uphills and even more so on the downhills--my knees are a bit tweaked from mtn. biking--and my last trip without the poles--really hurt on the downhills--this trip was smooth on the downhills--never felt my knees at all---and the poles helped a great deal going over some of the snowfields.

I now consider them "essential" gear for me.

John Davis
(JNDavis) - F

Locale: Isle of Man
How do trekking poles work? on 07/17/2005 11:10:40 MDT Print View

Interesting replies. Walking is really complicated. It's amazing we find it so easy.

Poles help me a lot on uphills but they are also very helpful on tussocky, level stretches. Without them, my centre of mass moves from side to side. I have to stop this movement and then accelerate my trunk back over my legs. With poles, my centre of mass goes forward in a straight line and never heads out to one side of my hips. That's got to help efficiency and probably ties in with what you said, Paul.

The poles also help me to coil my body and this helps me to bring my trailing foot through. I'm not sure how this works but, as an occasional air guitarist, I can't help wondering whether marching is air poling!

Gregory Jablunovsky
(jablunov) - F

Locale: Laurel Highlands
Help Little Muscles, too on 07/17/2005 13:30:06 MDT Print View

I find trekking poles help with fatigue on the feet and lower legs as well as those little muscles on my hips. The balance force required to keep my center of gavity over my admittedly big feet used to go exclusively through the ankles, knee's, and hips. The poles provide an alternate way for me to right myself. I think that's worked well navigating rocky and root-tangled trails.