/ Walking poles - influence on power output?

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cb294 - on 04 Jun 2014
As per title, are there any solid data on the changes in power output between hiking with and without walking poles?

A book on trekking in Sweden that I have recently read claims that the power output of walking with two poles can be up to 40% higher than walking the same terrain without poles.

Clearly, using poles recruits additional muscle groups and makes you walk faster, but 40%? This is not about fast nordic walking, but wilderness hiking with a heavy backpack.

I am even more sceptical about the second claim, namely that the total energy consumption may go up significantly when using poles, causing a increase in total food required for a given trip. I can accept that you may have to replenish sugar more often when maintaining a higher power output / walking faster, but having to walk for shorter times should largely compensate.

Any opinions, data, publications on the topic?

Cheers,

CB
digby - on 04 Jun 2014
In reply to cb294:
Can't see that the power output would be any higher, just distributed differently around the body. Maybe it means 40% less effort by the legs.
You surely aren't going to walk faster? I'd maintain the same speed with less effort, or be able to on for longer.
Post edited at 10:45
RomTheBear - on 04 Jun 2014
In reply to cb294:

I think for most people their legs are more trained and therefore more efficient than their arm muscles, that's why some people maybe feel more tired at the end of the day using poles.

However one thing is sure, when going down poles save a lot of energy because they help you maintain your balance with minimal effort.
At the same time they will prevent you building up this core balance skills that are so crucial to move efficiently and safely over rough terrain.
Dauphin - on 04 Jun 2014
In reply to cb294:

What ROM said.

Compare cross trainer to treadmill - most people have not got a well cardiovascular worked out upper body, but depends why you are using them - additional support for years of knee / ankle / pelvic joint damage or for go faster with a small pack.

D
Jack B on 04 Jun 2014
In reply to cb294:

> A book on trekking in Sweden that I have recently read claims that the power output of walking with two poles can be up to 40% higher than walking the same terrain without poles.

Given the careful use of "up to" I can believe this. It would depend on the person, and the section of the walk. If your progress is limited by power output (for me: slogging up a hill, puffing like a steam train) the poles make little difference to total power output or speed. If progress is limited by legs, (for me: light pack on the flat, knees beginning to twinge) then the poles get extra muscle groups working for an increase in both power output and speed. 40% would be a lot, but as the walking gradually gets more like Nordic walking, I suppose possible.

> I am even more skeptical about the second claim, namely that the total energy consumption may go up significantly when using poles, causing a increase in total food required for a given trip.

Unless you are going further because you are going faster, I doubt this one. Or maybe the poles in question are really really heavy? The only way it would make sense to me is if the poles were being used in a style that traded efficiency for speed - not something I'd do.
Jim Fraser - on 04 Jun 2014
In reply to cb294:

Komperdell used to state in their advertising that one used 21% less energy by walking with two poles compared to not using poles. That figure is probably specific to a particular type of terrain and correct use of the poles. I am quite happy to believe figures in that range for walking on rough mountain ground.

Where I think energy will be saved is that your legs do not need to work as hard keeping you stable.


cb294 - on 04 Jun 2014
In reply to digby and others:

I can believe that the power output is higher (maybe not by 40%), as I do indeed walk faster using poles, especially uphill on steep but easy ground. I have good aerobic training in my arms and upper body, and will push myself forward with the help of my back musculature.

I also agree that there will be reduced power output going downhill, balancing the increased uphill power output.

Based on gut feeling I would guess that for a given distance overall I save energy expenditure (not power output, i.e. energy per time) by using poles. However, the author of the book (Claes Grundsten) usually talks lots of sense.

Anyway, won´t make any difference for me as to whether I use poles or not. My knees make that decision for me...

Thanks for the replies,

Christian

Carolyn - on 04 Jun 2014
In reply to Jim Fraser:

> Komperdell used to state in their advertising that one used 21% less energy by walking with two poles compared to not using poles. That figure is probably specific to a particular type of terrain and correct use of the poles. I am quite happy to believe figures in that range for walking on rough mountain ground.

OTOH, on the odd occassion I've been bored enough to buy a "women's fitness" magazine, they've always been enthusiastic about poles because they (apparently) help you burn more calories on a given walk...... (which I imagine is more about fast power walking on relatively smooth and flat ground, but that's not specified)
Jim Fraser - on 04 Jun 2014
In reply to Carolyn:

I think it's important to make a distinction here between the mutually exclusive objectives of performance and energy saving.

I think that on an ordinary British mountain day at a normal pace (1.5min per 10 vert metre?) you will use less energy and do less damage to leg joints if you use poles.

If you want to go faster on the hill then the 'four-wheel-drive' effect of using poles, where the effort is spread across four limbs, allows you to apply a greater total force to the ground, increasing performance and therefore energy use.
llechwedd - on 04 Jun 2014
In reply to cb294:

I'd say that any studies you do come across should be scrutinised carefully
before jumping to a conclusion.

There are many variables, task specificity being an obvious one, but here's another fundamental issue:

The upper limbs are 'guy roped' to the ribcage by muscles. These muscles not only consume energy by their activity, but also impact on the efficient action of respiration itself.
The limbs do not hang lifelessly down by your side when you walk- there is a natural and reciprocal swing as each stride is made. With this natural pattern, barring pathology, breathing remains effortless until more oxygen is required. But alter the way that the upper limbs act, and the pattern of breathing changes irrespective of the energy demands. To illustrate this, try the following:

Sitting in your chair, with the upper limbs and shoulder girdles relaxed, take a relaxed deep breath and attend to the feeling of the front of your chest expanding and the distance between your shoulders increasing.

Now reach out horizontally with your arm and try and do the same thing.
The pattern of breathing has changed. It's no longer relaxed; more effort is required.

Transfer these findings to pole use.
Many people do not know how to use poles efficiently. By pulling themselves forward, they alter the pattern of breathing to a much more inefficient pattern.

Even walking normally, without poles, each of us is somewhere on the continuum of relaxed 'abdominal' breathing- shallow, inefficient breathing. I'd offer that the degree to which (inefficient) pole use affects this is not likely to be equal across the board.

Then there's the purely practical benefit of any prop. Give a sedentary person with anxiety and poor balance some poles and the confidence factor provided by the extra propping of poles will get them further down the Pyg Track. Even though their pole technique may be rubbish and inefficient, because they're less anxious, they're less short of breath. Power output increases.
Give the 'gazelle' poles for the same task, and they may just be carrying around extra weight.

Next, irrespective of technique, there's then the poor ergonomic design of most poles. Correctly used, the design of Pacerpoles taps into the normal gait pattern and efficient breathing is readily accessed. It's not just about propelling with arms and legs. But I'm sure someone else will have a different opinion.

Look on the Pacerpoles website if you want empirical data that poles help individuals perform well when attempting long treks that require stamina. Could say that's about consistency of power output.

As to the assertion that poles ruin core stability and balance, I'm happy to meet up in Snowdonia and demonstrate that this need not be the case.
p.m. me.
cb294 - on 05 Jun 2014
In reply to llechwedd:

Thanks!

CB
UKH Forums - on 05 Jun 2014
This thread was started in the OFF BELAY forum and has now been moved.
Please could you try and post in the correct forum, it makes life easier for both users and moderators.

HILLTALK
A general forum for topics relating to hillwalking. Discuss walks you have been on, great scrambles, the best ridges, Munro-bagging and longer multi-day walks.

More Forum descriptions - http://www.ukclimbing.com/forums/info/forums.html
pass and peak - on 05 Jun 2014
In reply to cb294:
Not scientific facts, but just from my own observations.
One thing nobody has mentioned is you tend to take a longer stride when using poles, especially when moving fast, probably why you cover more ground in the same time. As for energy expenditure, 90% of people I see with poles do not know how to use them effectively and apart from perhaps aiding balance, are actually having a negative impact on their walking efficiency. So in using them ineffectively they are definitely burning more energy, something you can see when you go to very high altitude. Used effectively over the long term, on open terrain then the benefits to tiered joints and leg muscles tend to out-way the negatives, something my old over used joints are now thankful for. In the sort my advice is; we've been walking on 2 legs for a long time now, so if your young and fit, why try to turn the evolution clock back. however if you have underlying problems or are getting past your prime, then get a pair and learn to use them properly.
altirando - on 10 Jun 2014
In reply to llechwedd:

I started to use walking poles after a lot of experience with Nordic skiing so I automatically held and used the poles in the same way, that is, planting by the ankle or behind and driving down - a triceps action that gives a very positive forward push. Cruising on a flat trail this is just a dab, up hill you can really boost your effort. Can't understand the point about reaching forwards - it is not an action like skating with poles, I keep my elbows in to my waist, the finger tips naturally hold the poles at an angle so they automatically plant by the ankles. I also doubt the efficiency of Pacer Poles, as this grip would plant the poles in front, not so effective, more of a pull than a push. Don't know about the effort figures but I seem to feel fresher after a long walk using poles.
Bob_the_Builder - on 11 Jun 2014
In reply to llechwedd:

> Sitting in your chair, with the upper limbs and shoulder girdles relaxed, take a relaxed deep breath and attend to the feeling of the front of your chest expanding and the distance between your shoulders increasing.

> Now reach out horizontally with your arm and try and do the same thing.

> The pattern of breathing has changed. It's no longer relaxed; more effort is required.

I read this and said bollocks, then I tried it. Quite impressive. I apologise for doubting. For the record, I didn't notice the difference when I put my arms out, but definitely did when I relaxed them again.

I use poles because my knees always used to hurt after long descents. I suspect my technique was part of the problem but after talking to loads of people about how they walked downhill the problem persisted. With the poles I can descend faster and my knees thank me through the following week. I'm only 23 so I don't want to blow out my knees just yet! Of course once I picked up technique I use them to crank uphill too, and when I have a heavy pack.
Howard J - on 11 Jun 2014
In reply to cb294:

I can't comment on the science but my empirical experience is that poles make a big difference, especially going up hill. I first tried using a single pole to take the strain of a twinging knee. When I switched to two poles, the first time I used them going up hill I was astonished how much easier it was. The idea that this uses more energy seems counter-intuitive.

Nordic walking seems to use an exaggerated arm swing and is intended as a body workout in its own right. The technique for hillwalking is different and probably more efficient.
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Moley on 11 Jun 2014
In reply to cb294:

I bought poles a year ago, coming from a running background and reaching 60 I thought I deserved a little help on the long uphill climbs and not all the continental and top ultra runners could be wrong for using them. I'm normally carrying a pack as well.

Yes, they make a tremendous difference to my climbing. I only use them uphill as I find them a nuisance downhill (they get in the way) and not needed on the flats. I think you have to be critical of yourself when and where you use them, some terrain is not suitable plus a hell of a lot of people use them incorrectly - I see people going uphill with the sticks out ahead, you can't pull yourself uphill!

I use Mountainking trailblaze, done me well and wouldn't part with them now but selective as to when I use them.

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