January 10, 2023

Trail running poles: why you should use it

Using running poles during training and competition can make the difference

Many trail runners still don’t use trail running poles. Trail running poles are very useful when going uphill and, in some cases, when going downhill. Their use allows you to better distribute the weight, decreasing the load on the knees, ankles and spine. They also contribute to a better distribution of effort over multiple muscle groups, both in the upper and lower limbs, delaying symptoms of fatigue and keeping the pace more constant.

Why use the poles

The using of trail running poles triggers the “4-wheel drive” effect, which leads to better fatigue management. Going uphill, the effort is conveyed evenly to several muscle fibers, optimizing the energy.
Downhill, for people less trained or in certain phases of the race, they help to maintain better balance and face the stretch with greater confidence.

Especially in cases of particular elevation, trail running poles can really make a difference. Studies have shown that when the slope is greater than 15°, using poles is very beneficial*.

How to choose trail running poles

Trail running poles can be fixed or foldable. In both cases, one of the most important aspects is their stiffness, or rather the weight/stiffness ratio. The stiffer a pole is, the less energy dispersion there will be with each push; on the contrary, a flexible pole will disperse a lot of energy that will not be transmitted to the ground.

Fixed or foldable trail running poles?

Fixed trail running poles are recommended for routes that require constant use, for example the Verticals or for athletes looking for maximum lightness. The fixed poles can weigh less than 100 grams each, such as in the Gabel FX-75 R model.

Fixed poles
Foldable trail running poles

If the route has sections where it is better to choose free running, a foldable model is recommended. The technologies to make them foldable are different and each has its own advantages. For example, the Wired models with internal cable enjoy a great speed of deployment and refolding, at the price of a few grams of weight and some vibration.



Weight and stiffness

When choosing poles, weight also plays an important role. The poles must be light. The less the weight, the easier they will be to handle and transport. When choosing poles, stiffness is also a determining point. The poles must be able to support the weight of the body and contribute to the thrust.

How to use the poles

The trails where the trail running competitions take place have gradients of varying difficulty. It is very important to know the techniques of using the poles to make the most of their characteristics. Let’s see together how to use trail running poles:

  • Alternating technique – for stretches with little slope
    This technique is the right arm-left leg alternation and vice versa. It is ideal for sections where there is not much space and with little slope. It allows for high tempos and wide strides.
  • At the same time – for sections with steep slopes
    The poles are used without alternation, therefore together with each step to push or support the body’s weight.
  • Gallop – climbs with little slope or medium slope
    On hills with an average gradient, the gallop may be the technique for you. This technique consists in using the poles alternately every 2 or three steps. This allows you to save time in the less difficult stretches while still maintaining good speed.

* Giovanelli M, Sulli M, Kram R, Lazzer S (2019) Do poles save energy during steep uphill walking? Eur J Appl Physiol 119(7):1557-1563

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