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Energy (Part 2) – Using Trekking Poles

Hi LTCers! Ryno Griesel is back to share Part 2 of his series on improving your trail running technique. This time he focusses on the application of Trekking Poles.


Trekking poles convert your body into the ultimate 4×4 – even one level up from Power Hiking.


If you plan on using trekking poles in a race, it is important to verify whether that particular race allows trekking poles to be used as quite a few local and international events do not.


Getting the right fit for your trekking poles


The length of your poles is critical for success. I generally use the 90˚ elbow-fit rule. This implies that (if you stand on a flat surface, with your arm pointing forward and your elbow bent at 90˚ – the handle should fit comfortably in your hand. You can also have a look at manufacturer’s guides based on general length, but remember to take into account that we are not all equally proportioned.


Generally speaking, poles should be a bit longer for down-hills (the ground is further away) and shorter for up-hills (as the opposite is true). When you have adjustable poles, I would advise to only consider adjusting them if you know in the race that you will encounter a long section that will justify the extra time needed for this adjustment.


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Technique is everything when it comes to using trekking poles. For me it is similar to swimming – I am generally fit, but can seldom manage more than one lap in the pool because I’ve never made the time to learn proper technique. With the right action, trekking poles will increase energy efficiency and add more power to your running. With poor technique, poles will lead to increased fatigue, strain and injury.


Trekking poles should be a mere extension of our natural body movement and rhythm.


As a start, put your hand through the loop of the handle, from the top, and then grip the handle to have your wrist resting on the strap. This will not only prevent you from dropping the pole, but increase the power of your pull as you use both your hand and wrist – for the same reason this leads to less direct hand fatigue. This further allows you to free up your hands to eat or hold a map/GPS for navigation.


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Using trekking poles for flat and up-hill


When going up-hill, place the pole 45˚ in front of you, just outside your line of foot-strike, but in line with your desired direction of movement. Anything outside this channel does not add optimal value. Pull through in a straight line as you walk past the pole. Once past, push off at the end to propel yourself forward.


A mere place and swing does not help much.


The steeper the gradient – the more your pull action will be used, and for less gradient your push-off action will come into play more.


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A lot of top runners, especially the Europeans (being very proficient in poles from their ski background) use trekking poles with great success on down-hills for added balance. Your technique and length here will be crucial. I personally limit my use to up-hill and keep them in my hand or pack them away on down-hills.


Using trekking poles for water crossings


Since you have 4 points of contact, trekking poles will assist you to stand your ground in strong currents as you can now use your full body to steer you in the right direction.  The poles can be used as prodders to identify potential hazards underneath the water and help to determine optimal foot placement. Staying upright when hopping over wet and slippery rocks is made easier by placing the poles next to the rocks to assist with balance should you slip!


Other tips when using trekking poles


Be courteous when using poles in races, especially on single-track. You can easily stab a fellow runner in front of you when placing the pole or even connect with someone behind you with your push-off.


I typically use poles in steep areas over longer distances and at a slower pace where I expect the extra energy efficiency gained outweighs the additional admin of having them in the long run.


I use a set that is quick to assemble, folds up small and is lightweight. It helps if your pack has loops/connections on the outside to attach poles for easy access. Keep the sharp ends away from your waterproof gear and consider investing in tip protectors for general transport.


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To see these techniques come to life and get personal coaching from Ryno, as well as practical gear, nutrition, and cross-training lessons from other experts, check out the Trail Clinic


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Ryno Griesel


Ryno Griesel
About the author:

Ryno Griesel is an accomplished Adventure Racer and a self-professed mountain lover. He currently holds both the Drakensberg Grand Traverse record with Ryan Sandes and the mixed record with Linda Doke. He believes in giving your all whether it be as an athlete or in your career. Despite his rigorous athletic demands, Ryno maintains an occupation as a Chartered Accountant (SA), Registered Independent Auditor and registered SARS Tax Practitioner. You can find out more about Ryno here

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All images supplied by Heloise Hunter from TRAIL Magazine

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1 Comment
  • Heloise Hunter

    October 28, 2016 at 1:12 pm Reply

    The proper grip/loop is the most common mistake I see! Great stuff, Ryno 🙂

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