How to use Walking Poles

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How to use Walking Poles

Not all poles are designed for the same purpose.

Trekking poles are designed to provide stability, whilst Nordic walking poles burn more calories and provide a good upper-body workout.

When used correctly, trekking poles won’t burn any more calories or exert any more effort than walking.

They are there as an aid on longer walks and hikes or if you require better balance and stability when walking, as well as helping to reduce strain on the knees.

Nordic walking poles have a strap or demi-glove that keeps the poles in your hands which allows you to release them from your grip on the backstroke and have them snap back into your hand.

The grips are also less ergonomically designed, with a focus instead on being slim and minimalistic.

Nordic walking poles

The most important part is to invest in the right hiking poles for you.

You may want to consider adjustability, foldability, shock absorption, weight and locking mechanisms.

Decide whether you want one or two poles. If you only need a little help with your balance then one should do the trick.

Bear in mind that if you use one pole for a prolonged time, you’ll work out one side of your body more than the other, causing an imbalance or sore muscles.

Aim to use your poles when it’s most needed, such as river crossings and downhill sections; or regularly change the hand you hold your pole in.

Poles are a helpful aid for crossing rivers

Once you’ve got poles of the right weight and length for your build and purpose, you can start using them. But remember that useage of poles should be built up over time.

Most people find that when they first use them, their upper body gets more tired than usual.

When setting your pole up at the start of your hike, the pole should be set to a length that lets you lightly grip the handle whilst your arm/elbow is at a right angle and your forearm is parallel to the ground.

You may find that you need to further adjust them en route according to the terrain.

Hiking poles should be set longer for descending downhill sections and shorter for climbing uphill.

Poles are particularly helpful for stability on descents

It’s also worth adjusting your wrist straps as it will make your life that much easier when you want to snap a quick photo or grab something out of your backpack.

If your poles have right- and left-hand specific straps then make sure you’ve got them the correct way round then put your hand up through the bottom of the strap and pull down and grab the grip of the pole.

By doing so, your wrist and heel of the hand are supported and you can keep your hand relaxed on the grip.

Shorten the strap accordingly so that when you bring your hand down on the strap it lines up with where you want it to rest on the grip.

Your hold on the pole should be relaxed, not a death grip.

Even if it seems illogical, by keeping your grip relaxed, it will minimise the effort needed to flick the pole forward with each step.

To get an idea of the best grip, hold the pole handle between your thumb and forefinger without using any other fingers (as that’s all you actually need) and then loosely close your other fingers.

Once you’ve got the poles set up for you, the rest comes down to good posture and movement.

Good posture and movement will allow you to go further for longer

Try not to change the way you would usually walk too much.

Walk in a relaxed fashion, keeping an awareness of your upright posture with shoulders relaxed downwards.

For your first few uses try and check in (or get a team member to glance over) occasionally to make sure that your shoulders are relaxed and movement is isolated to your arms rather than a rotating torso.

Plant your pole(s) a little ahead of each step and follow naturally with your feet and body.

Remove the pole and swing it out in front again. Big strides and swings of your poles are unnatural and should be avoided.

Much the same as with walking without poles, the entire movement should be smooth and flowing.

Keep your elbows in close to your sides and move the opposite pole and leg forwards each time.

The only time this differs is when you are taking on a steep uphill or downhill, when you may want to place both poles in front of you at the same time.

Flicking the pole forwards involves a small upward motion of the forearm or a slight flick of the wrist.

Keeping the loose grip we mentioned before will make sure the pole pivots forward correctly.

Everyone has their own style!

Unless you’re on really slippery terrain, you don’t need to push each pole’s tip into the ground.

Just move your arms forward and back naturally and trust that if you slip or trip the pole will be there to stabilise you.

Once you’ve got the basics mastered, you can utilise your walking poles to pick up a bit of speed.

The technique here is closer to that of the Nordic walking technique.

Put a bit of extra shoulder action into each poling movement, with the tip of the pole planting slightly behind your body for additional propulsion.

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