Author Topic: The correct way to use walking poles  (Read 5304 times)

Callum

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The correct way to use walking poles
« on: April 01, 2014, 01:33:32 PM »
Recently I was struck by something - I don't know how to use my walking poles correctly.

Now don't get me wrong, I have been using them for years, especially on downhill descents. However, last week a group of youngsters, all from the same school, came kitted with walking poles and I became conscious that I have had no formal training in using poles, being self-taught, when the kids asked me the correct way to use them. Experience has taught me that when I am self-taught in a subject I invariably am missing something. Can somebody point me in the right direction where I can find comprehensive instructions to use them correctly?

Hobbo

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2014, 02:58:37 PM »
I found this. The changing length for up/down hill makes good sense.
 <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7ShLirVcDU" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7ShLirVcDU</a>

In failing that, it's about choosing a length that's comfortable and knowing when to put them away (you may find it better to keep hands free for scrambling, etc).
I don't know it all and when I think I do, I tend to find karma is just around the corner...

captain paranoia

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2014, 06:08:43 PM »
Peter Clinch usually talks sense on OM, and he has a few pages on poles:

Pete's Pole Pages

Locus

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2014, 08:18:16 PM »
Good link, that. One of the closing comments in it rang true from my use of poles.

Quote
Don't be afraid to "mix and match" according to terrain, or just how you feel:

the point is to get weight and stress off your knees, not get hung up on poling techniques.

Callum

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #4 on: April 02, 2014, 08:47:06 AM »
Thanks guys :)

My most common mistake is not always asking the right question :o Pete Clinch’s blog and Adventure Lifestyle Blog both give interesting personal recommendations for the use of walking poles, however, really what I am looking for is a professional body, the likes of MLTUK or a sports university for example, which has researched this subject and developed a set of instructions for their correct use? 

Lyle Brotherton

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #5 on: April 02, 2014, 09:32:53 AM »
Cal, I met a woman at a conference I was presenting at, who was giving a presentation about her research into walking pole techniques, from Loughborough University of Sport, England. Unfortunately I did not get to her lecture, but I will try and find out who she was and post my answer.
“Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance” - Plato

Locus

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #6 on: April 02, 2014, 09:49:55 AM »
One possible contact ( link ) which comes to mind, is a woman called Heather Rhodes, a retired physiotherapist and creator of a particular form of walking poles called Pacer Poles that she designed to be more efficient as poles and better for the body. Maybe they have courses you can go on, Callum? On her website under the 'How to Use' section she has videos on flat, ascent, and descent. Long distance hikers like Chris Towsend use her Pacer Poles all the time now. Others have said that once someone gets the 'knack' of technique that these poles 'auto correct' as such, it is possible to do it with standard poles.

captain paranoia

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #7 on: April 02, 2014, 05:49:27 PM »
Callum, you're after best practice guidance, approved by some NGB, then?  Which we would hope would be based on peer-reviewed research, analysis and testing, and a review of the long-term effects of different styles of pole usage.

Good luck...

I think the best you're likely to get is from the likes of Peter Clinch; people who have a scientific, analytical bent, and have thought about, and have experience of the subject.

I fear the creeping terror that is 'qualificationitis' and 'argument by authority'...

The obvious solution to the 'best practice' issue is: "don't use poles"; if nature had meant us to use poles, we'd still be walking on all fours...  I guess you then get sued because you didn't let them use poles...

<sigh>

Hugh Westacott

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #8 on: April 02, 2014, 06:25:44 PM »
I'm ambivalent about the use of walking poles. Here is an extract or my forthcoming book The Walker's handbook; Everything you Need to Know about Walking in the British Isles (some of the formatting has been lost in copying the text):

Walking poles (sometimes called trekking poles) have become popular in recent years because they
•   reduce the strain on ankles and knees when descending steep slopes
•   provide additional upthrust when climbing steep slopes
•   help maintain balance in awkward situations such as when crossing stepping stones and fording rivers
•   can probe for firm ground in boggy areas
•   can be used as tent poles by backpackers wishing to reduce the weight of their pack (providing that they have a tent of suitable design)
•   help improve upper body strength and general fitness

105   The generally accepted technique for using most poles is described below but should be modified in the light of experience so that you find a method that suits you:
a)   One pole is good, two poles are more versatile.
b)   The standard advice is to adjust the length of the pole so that, when holding the handle, your upper arm is vertical and lines up with your hip, and your elbow forms a right-angle with your forearm. Should this not prove comfortable, you can lengthen or shorten the poles as appropriate
•   when walking uphill, shorten the poles
•   when walking downhill, lengthen the poles
c)   Lengthen the strap on the handle and push your hand under and through the loop. Grasp the handle of the pole so that the strap lies under your thumb and palm. Adjust the strap just sufficiently so that it is neither slack nor tight over the wrist.
d)   When using poles, the weight is taken on the wrist strap and the hands hold the handles loosely and are used only to direct the pole to the next position. Using poles will become second nature after a little practice.

106   Poles require some attention to keep them in good working order:
a)   Every so often, pull the sections apart and thoroughly dry and clean them and ensure that the locking mechanism is working satisfactorily.
b)   Poles that have been stored for some time may become corroded. Slide the sections rapidly in and out until any oxide dust is removed, then spray lightly with furniture polish.
c)   The locking mechanisms will have to be replaced after extended use. Outdoor shops usually stock replacement items for the more popular brands.

107   Some walkers have found that excessive reliance on walking poles can lead to a reduction in their sense of balance. Also, when using walking poles it is difficult to use your hands for anything else. During the course of a day’s walk you are likely to
•   open and close gates
•   climb stiles
•   take photographs
•   use binoculars
•   consult your map
•   take compass bearings
•   obey calls of nature
•   eat and drink
•   remove, don and adjust clothing
•   use a handheld satnav
a)   Poles get in the way of performing these activities conveniently. They are usually propped against a tree, building or fence, or laid on the ground.
b)   A solution to some of these problems is to tuck the handles under the chest strap of your rucksack or to suspend the poles from a loop of shockcord attached to the shoulder harness of your rucksack. If the poles are clear of the ground it is possible to walk a few yards unencumbered which is helpful when taking photographs etc. (poles that have a screw thread to which a camera can be attached can serve as a unipod). For information on how to attach a map to a pole see 6:17.

Callum

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2014, 02:15:17 PM »
Hugh, a balanced overview and I agree, the too much kit is a an easy trap to fall into. Locus, the Pacerpole is a well informed site, thanks for link :) I will keep everyone posted win my quest.

Lost Soul

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #10 on: April 04, 2014, 12:35:58 PM »
Excellent post Hugh.

I was moving my self to offer some words of wisdom.  However, you have effectively said all I was going to say.  So agree with all you say.

Just a couple of observations though.  For me personally I have found poles on the flat to be a complete waste of time and in fact something of a hindrance .  So I only use them on steep ground both going up and down.  As for coming down, the pressure relief on knees and thighs has to be experienced to be believed.

As for what to do with them when taking that award wining shot of ones friends dodging an angry bull.  I use Osprey rucksacks and they have a system called stow on the go.  Quick stowage and retrieval of poles with out having to dismount your pack.  Consists of two loops of thin bungee, one on the left shoulder strap at the point it begins to disappear under your arm pit and the other on the lower part of the left side of the pack.  Pop your poles into the loops.  They sit snuggly under your arm against the side of your body and do not get in the way of anything you might want to do.   Be that climbing stiles or eating a pork pie etc.

In terms of lock mechanisms I was advised by the guys at Plas Y Brenin to use poles with Flip Locks.  Which I did buy.  They are far easier to manipulate with gloved hands and don't jam up in freezing conditions.  And yes they are far easier and quicker to use.

« Last Edit: April 04, 2014, 01:58:55 PM by Lost Soul »

captain paranoia

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #11 on: April 04, 2014, 03:22:31 PM »
If you use the straps, then I just let the poles dangle from my wrists when reading the map, taking photos, etc.

Locus

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #12 on: April 04, 2014, 09:38:23 PM »
For me personally I have found poles on the flat to be a complete waste of time and in fact something of a hindrance.

Online instruction videos for walking poles often mention this - "propulsion" that poles can provide when used in specific ways, but probably isn't required for general hiking. 'Fast and Light' long distance hikers may find use for it to ensure they cover major distances in a day, but on occasions where a pole has been used on the flat in a proper way, that very efficiency narrows me into a groove of momentum that once snapping out of it later seemed unnescessary and has only served to burn off way too much energy reserve.

It may get me there 30 mins earlier, but at what cost? It is for this reason that like you I don't use a pole 'properly' (as in, close to the body, angled and driving me forward) when on flats. It is in my hand, but used as a 'feeler' (one of the great pluses of poles, I reckon) to test terrain in front of me.

Like you, my real use for a pole comes on descents. It was the core reason one was bought, after a self imposed knee injury which meant that four hours into any walk after that, the knee would start playing up and make the fifth hour a grimacing snail's pace. Using a pole helped hugely and my belief is that it aided in what proved to be a natural recovery over a few years.

Having said that, I think it is also easy to over trust a pole / poles for descents. Doing so nearly led to a horrible accident when hiking alone in Norway one year. Wedging the pole in, my trust was too quick and all of a sudden its hold flung away just as I was putting weight onto it, due to hidden ice in the placing point. I fell forwards off a drop, at an angle, with a backpack on. It is a miracle that a leg wasn't broken or the pole head didn't impale me in the side on landing (miraculously, upright).

Ever since then,  I keep a carefull balance between my own security and what a walking pole can provide on descent  :o

Lost Soul

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #13 on: April 06, 2014, 10:01:51 AM »

 'Fast and Light' long distance hikers may find use for it to ensure they cover major distances in a day, but on occasions where a pole has been used on the flat in a proper way, that very efficiency narrows me into a groove of momentum that once snapping out of it later seemed unnecessary and has only served to burn off way too much energy reserve.

Thanks Locus.  What you have described is in effect Nordic Walking. One of the prime purposes of which is to burn off more energy than normal.   Up to 40% extra if you do it right.  And to me that is one of the big dangers of using poles on the flat.  One does just what Locus describes and the cross over from supposed mobility assistance to unwanted energy burn is not easy to control. 

Well for me its not, because I do Nordic Walking as well. Its far to easy to for me slip into that methodology if I am not careful.  And if I get my self out of Nordic Walking mode then the poles just become something that have very little functional value, get in the way and unnecessarily occupy my hands.  Far rather use a spare hand to hold the girlfriend's hand. Much more pleasant experience and a better use for it.  8) 
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 10:03:55 AM by Lost Soul »

ianj37

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Re: The correct way to use walking poles
« Reply #14 on: April 07, 2014, 08:59:20 PM »
Two questions about the use of poles that you may have an opinion one - one annoys me and perhaps shouldn't, the second just intrigues me:

1) I spend a lot of leisure time in the Dark Peak where the state of the peat is delicate to say the least. I get annoyed at the number of small diameter about 2" deep holes I see pierced in compacted peat paths by the sharp unprotected ends of walking poles. To my mind the use of the spike is not necessary for safety on these wide flat paths and it annoys me that people do this because I assume that the hundreds and hundreds of these holes do their unnecessary bit to increase erosion. What do you think? If I'm wrong then I will walk a lot calmer!

2) This time use of poles with unprotected tips on rocky paths/paving. If it were very dry, as the peat often gets, could the sharp tip cause a spark and hence a fire? I've tried this in controlled conditions i.e. in my garden out of harms way and not been able to get a spark but I just can't help but wonder!

Such are the slightly strange thoughts that fill my mind on occasions!

Ian