Benefits of Using POLES for Walking & Hiking

Physical Therapy

Diane Kern, Physical Therapist

Diane Kern, Physical Therapist  

“I don't know how many patients I've sent over to Jayah - the poles have been such a boon to some of my patients. They've been able to alleviate back pain and return to activities they thought were lost to them forever.” 


Jerald R. Gerst, MD, MPH
Physician specializing in treatment/prevention of musculo-skeletal injuries

Jerald R. Gerst, MD, MPH

Physician specializing in treatment/prevention of musculo-skeletal injuries

 “It's very important that those of us who use poles for balance and  mobility (including myself) do so with correct technique. Those of us  who use them for that reason tend to have decreased upper body strength  and muscle tone and a higher incidence of degenerative changes of the  neck and shoulder which can be aggravated by improper use.”  


Robert G. Macdonald, M.D., FRCP, FACC, FSCAI

Robert G. Macdonald, M.D., FRCP, FSCC, FSCIA

 “Exercise is important for maintaining bone density, building muscle strength and enhancing cardiovascular fitness and weight loss.  Poles can provide  stability and a sense of security to allow patients to more quickly resume a walking program.”     

Personal Training/Coaching

Linda J. Buch,  Owner of Balance Enterprises, LLC, "Body Language" Fitness column

Linda J. Buch,  Owner of Balance Enterprises, LLC, "Body Language" Fitness column

 “Jayah is one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to  the why, how and where of walking and trekking poles. She is also a  great teacher--clear in her explanations and directions.”  

Mobility, Multiple Sclerosis

Hose Cruise, Age 60, Multiple Sclerosis Group Facilitator

 Hose Cruise, Age 60, Multiple Sclerosis  Group Facilitator 

 “I feel safer when I'm walking down the street.” “I know that, if I stumble on uneven pavement, it's not a fall – I won't be kissing that  pavement.” 

Poles facilitate fall prevention.

Preparation for or Recovery from Joint Replacement Surgery

Masami Takesue, Age 67, Hiker, CPA

Masami Takesue, Age 67, Hiker, CPA

“Poles have improved my structure. I've had arthritis for many years…by  exercising my arms, my legs, it seemed like my whole body started  functioning properly.” 

Use poles to combat aging, address back pain, lubricate arthritic joints or prepare for and recover from joint replacement surgery.

BENEFITS of Learning how to Optimally use POLES

Hiking with POLES

Power & Endurance on the Uphill

Support for your Joints on Downhill

Endurance:   Using the poles optimally on uphill significantly improves your power & endurance. You’re using more muscles to do the same work, your arms and torso help to propel you up the hills.

Preserve Your Joints:   Poles protect your knees.

Reduce Stress on Knees, ankles, hips, and spine especially on downhill.

Strengthen muscles that support the spine.

With OPTIMAL USE, upper body muscles also help prevent stress in hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders & neck.

Backpackers, trekkers, day hikers – anyone who enjoys the outdoors  will feel the benefits.  

Kids leap & hop, adults improve  performance; hiking with poles is a skill that will keep you moving,  grooving & enjoying the outdoors.

Strength:   Feel the POWER of Poles!

Learn how to recruit your lats, pecs, obliques, serratus, triceps, rectus abdominus and more.

Using your arms and core muscles helps to build and condition your upper body as you hike.

Balance:   Tricky trails become easier with the stability poles provide on the trail. 

Confidence:   As you build your skill, your confidence will grow and you may find yourself comfortable on trails that you previously avoided. 

Reduce Risk:   Poles are not a guarantee, but they can significantly reduce the risk of injury.  

Whether you’re on trails, or crossing streams or on narrow hillside  trails – learn optimal use so you can enjoy trails that you might avoid  without your poles.

Swelling:   Rhythmic movement of hands & arms results in gently pumping the  muscles and stimulate the heart which can reduce swelling in the  extremities. This gentle rhythmic pumping is especially helpful for arm  lymphedema. 


All the benefits above are important.  Would you want to do without  even one of them?

Maintaining your ability to do what you want to be  able to do 


Developing the ability to go beyond your current limits – to go on  that trip you’ve always dreamed of is what learning this vital skill is  all about.

Proprioception:   Lift your feet! Scan the trail ahead and know when you need to pay special attention to your footing.

Poles can help you to look around at the glories of nature but they don’t take the place of care and attention.

Pole Walking for Balance & Mobility

Fall Prevention & Balance:  Improve stability; reduce fall risk

Confidence:  You’ll notice that people are less likely to bump you when you’re  walking confidently with 2 poles, so crowded situations may be less  intimidating. 

Endurance:  Improved posture allows more efficient breathing, thereby improving endurance.  Tip: Learn your half way point & always turn around BEFORE you  reach it. Poles are not magic, but they can be a tool to help you  incrementally improve endurance.

Posture:   Walking with poles “self corrects” the posture allowing the lungs to  reach greater capacity, which benefits cardio-pulmonary function and  also increases endurance. 

Strength & Bone Density:   

Weight-bearing exercise is recommended for the prevention and management of osteoporosis.

Walking with poles provides weight-bearing exercise for the arms, spine, back, chest and core muscles.

Gait:   Poles facilitate a more fluid gait.  

This includes the natural arm swing, reciprocal gait pattern and the torso rotation that is lost with a cane or walker.

In our mobility DVD we address gait issues brought on by painful knees/hips, longer leg length, uneven stride and more.  

Equalize:   If you have trouble keeping up with your kids (or grandkids), try poles and see how you feel. 

Compliance:   Do you need a cane, but shun it? Poles are sporty and do not have the stigma of a cane.  Plus they’re fun and facilitate a more fluid gait.

Poles may enable you to get outdoors onto uneven sidewalks or gentle trails.

Keep a pair in your car so you can spontaneously enjoy a walk in the park. Remember, the looks you get are ENVY.

Function:   What’s more functional than walking?

Maintaining the ability to walk is key to survival and enjoying life.

Proprioception:   Using poles may help you “listen to your body.” Knowing where you are in space is critical for balance & mobility.

Learning optimal technique helps with pole placement. As with any new  skill, learn optimal technique so you can feel the many benefits.

Back Pain: By using and strengthening the 2nd largest muscles in the body (latissimus dorsi), you and address and help alleviate back pain and discomfort. 

Nordic Walking

Weight Management:  Studies have shown that you can burn up to 70% more calories over regular walking. Facilitate Weight Loss!

Cardio-Pulmonary Function: Adding energy to your walk can create a profound benefit for your cardio-pulmonary function. 

Endurance:   Spread the work of the muscles over the entire body to experience greater endurance and more energy. 

Balance & Confidence:   Poles used behind in a propelling motion may not be as noticeable for balance, but you do have 2 more points of contact. 

Preserve your joints:   Nordic Walking is a terrific way to take an average daily walk to the next level.

Walking “with attitude” gets you moving and grooving without the joint pounding often associated with higher intensity exercise.

Recruiting the shoulders and spine while walking brings muscles into  your activity.   Joint lubrication from walking and an exaggerated  reciprocal gait can be very helpful especially for arthritic joints.

Runners, X/C skiers and other athletes utilize Nordic Walking as cross training.

Exercise & Focus:   Walk out your door. Start moving & grooving with your Nordic Walking poles.  You don’t need a park or a mountain.  

Those looks you get are ENVY.

It's easy to go out for a walk and get DISTRACTED. With Nordic Walking poles, you don't forget that you're out walking for exercise.  SAVE TIME:   Compared to walking, even brisk walking, more muscles are recruited in less time, making this a very efficient form of exercise. 

Gait:   Once you improve your technique, you’ll notice that your stride  lengthens.  This is part of the progression as you learn to use your  whole body to walk with poles. 


Some people shun pole users.  Why?  I’ve heard people say they get  stabbed or impaled on the trail.  Such an experience would sour anyone.   I teach pole etiquette as part of my seminars.  Here are some tips:

  • Keep a safe distance between hikers.
  • If someone is crowding you, step aside and let them pass.
  • On steep uphill, poles can slip.  Hikers too close could lose an eye.
  • On steep downhill, allow extra space both in front and in back.
  • If someone is reaching forward (not good technique) a pole tip could  jab your Achilles tendon.  This is a nasty injury.  Just step aside and  the unaware pole user pass.
  • People carrying (not using) poles should know where their tips are.   Usually they can turn their tips forward to avoid stabbing someone.
  • People walking with pole tips behind them can stop suddenly.  The hiker behind can walk into the sharp tips.
  • People who lay their poles on the ground in the middle of the trail do not realize their poles can be stepped on and broken.
  • If you stop to adjust your poles on the trail, try not to have your tips facing the middle of the trail.
  • When taking poles apart, point tips down – not at your buddies or car windows.
  • Carry your rubber tips with you at all times.  If you encounter  pavement, using rubber tips will save your trail tips and be way less  noisy.  Noisy poles can be very annoying.
  • If you hike with poles and are stabbing the ground, this noise can also annoy people.
  • At lunch stops, prop your poles out of the way.
  • Do not lay your poles in the dirt.  If the straps get dirty, that dirt can chafe your hands.

Bottom line:  I can choose who I hike with and avoid unsafe behavior.

  • Pole users: please be aware and considerate!
  • Victims of bad etiquette on the trail:  Rather than  shunning all pole users, let’s educate people – send them a link to  this post :).   Maybe if people knew how close they come to injuring  their buddies, they would modify their form?

Let’s enjoy, let’s protect & let’s share our precious planetary  resource with the future.  Any ideas on how to communicate pole  etiquette concerns so that we’re all able to enjoy the glorious outdoors  – with and without poles?

Why Use POLES?

The Balancing Act

As bipeds we human beings spend a tremendous amount of energy  maintaining our balance while walking or even standing. If you think  about it we balance our torso and upper body with just two points of  contact with the ground, our feet. This balancing act can be aided by  the use of a trekking pole. Not only is balance and posture improved by  using a trekking pole but the knees and lower back experience less  strain. There are other benefits as well: 

Safety & Impact Reduction 

  • Poles function as extra legs on uneven terrain preventing injuries 
  • Trekking pole users are less likely to lose their balance reducing stress fractures and sprains 
  • Knee strain is reduced especially when hiking downhill. 
  • With each pole plant, the user is removing 3% - 5% of the impact from each step.

Improved Posture


  • By using trekking poles you improve your posture while walking or hiking. 
  • This becomes more significant when carrying a daypack or backpack on  your back. The more upright your posture, the more air gets into your  lungs so breathing is maximized.

Walking with Attitude!

 As we age, we can lose or reduce spine function.    Using poles for  walking and hiking enables us to use our upper body muscles to help  preserve our joints.    

Spine function can be restored.  This is done because, when we walk with poles, we appear to walk as we  did when younger – with attitude.   We are using muscles which support  AND lengthen the spine.    Walking with attitude – with purpose –  is the natural walking pattern.    It’s called reciprocal gait.  It’s the diagonal pattern of opposite arm and leg.    When this occurs,  the spine is able to ROTATE.  This spinal rotation feels good, looks  good and is very healthy.

Walking with poles recruits core muscles, including the latissimus  dorsi, lower trapezius and oblique muscles.    These core muscles, when  used, strengthen.    

When optimal posture and form are used, the spine  lengthens.     Gravity acts,  the spine compresses, we get shorter.     Using poles actually can reverse this process – the spine lengthens and  elongates.

All of this assumes a natural arm swing.  The arm swing is part of  the spinal rotation and muscle recruitment. Learning optimal use of  poles is key to achieving these benefits.    Beware fads or techniques  that involve elbow pumping.    Repetitive movement of a joint can cause  stress.     Repetitive movement especially of an elbow joint can cause  tendonitis.    Anything that does not look natural or like walking “with  attitude” needs to be approached with caution.

  • As you walk, think of walking with purpose or focus.
  • Think of a lovely sachet or of strutting.
  • One lady said, “Oh you want me to walk Sassy!.”  YES!
  • Whatever works for you, know that you cannot rotate too much.
  • It only looks like you’re walking YOUNG.