Sunday, August 25, 2019

Save your Knees: Hiking Tip for Steep Terrain

Watch where you step!  How many times have you heard this?  When hiking, optimal foot placement can save a tweaked or strained ankle and it can significantly improve your performance.  

This post is about a technique we teach on the trail (OTT) called the Side-Wide.  It’s especially useful for steep steps or obstacles.

When you step straight up or straight down, 2.5 to 3.5 times your body weight can go right into the knee joint, yikes!  We all know that when our feet are slightly apart as opposed to close together, we’re better balanced. Widen your stance and feel the difference.     The Side-Wide, when consciously practiced, becomes automatic.  Give yourself a little “Side-Wide” cue to reinforce muscle memory.

First, the side step

Then step wide

Stepping to the side, whether up or down, helps balance and prevents knee stress.  Stepping wide after the first step to the side feels natural as you distribute your weight into a wide stance.  It’s instinctive to shift your weight to the other foot after stepping to the side.  Notice how your body weight shifts.

Big steps can cause imbalance & knee stress

Side-Wide: First step is less steep than straight up

Then Step Wide completing the big up step or obstacle

The steeper the terrain, the smaller your step. This simple strategy is important for many reasons including your safety on the trail as well as for protecting your knees.    Practice the Side-Wide on both up and down stairs and obstacles in the trail.  See where optimal foot placement can feel more secure and easier on your knees.  For practice, pick one somewhat challenging step.  Do this technique over and over until you create body muscle memory.   Focus on the weight shift and the lack of energy going into the knee joints.

Proper planning prevents particularly poor performance. Learn this simple technique so that it becomes automatic.   Let your poles help you as you practice on terrain that feels slightly challenging.   Before you know it, you’ll gain confidence and speed.

Save your Knees: Benefits of using poles for hiking and walking

With OPTIMAL USE, you can achieve ALL these BENEFITS of using Poles for Hiking, Walking, Exercise, Balance & Mobility!

Win-Win-Win ~ Be in nature, connecting with your friends and family while getting a great workout using your whole body.

Improve Power, Balance, Control & Confidence ~ Confidence is the #1 benefit for many pole users.  It cannot be taught, but it is felt almost immediately and empowers people of all ages.

Preserve Joints ~ Reduce stress on knees, ankles, hips, and spine.  Optimal use helps to prevent strain on joints in the hands, arms and shoulders.

Fat Burning & Weight Loss ~ Experience faster, easier and more efficient calorie burning and energy use with poles because more muscles are recruited in less time.

Focus ~ Using poles reminds us that we’re getting great exercise.  The constant feedback we receive enables more consistent spinal rotation, power and attention to our bodies.

Improve Gait ~ Walking with 2 poles facilitates a more even, fluid and reciprocal gait.   People preparing for or recovering from joint resurfacing or replacement can help “unweight” a joint.

Increase Endurance ~ Spread the work of the muscles over your entire body to experience more energy and greater endurance for your hike or walk.

Improve Posture & Cardio-Pulmonary Function ~ Walking with poles “self corrects” posture allowing your lungs to reach greater capacity.  This benefits cardio-pulmonary function and helps to increase endurance.

Weight-Bearing Exercise – Build Core Strength ~ Weight-bearing exercise is recommended for prevention and management of osteoporosis.    Using poles while walking is a time-efficient way to get weight-bearing exercise.

Compliance ~ “Sporty” poles can be more empowering than a cane.

Lymphedema ~ Movement of hands & arms may facilitate reduction of swelling in hands during exercise.

Reduce Risk of Falling & Injury ~ Poles provide bi-lateral stability.

Equalize ~ Family and friends of uneven abilities can walk together – poles can give you an “edge” and help you keep up with your buddies.

Enjoy the Outdoors, Feel the Power ~ Venture onto uneven terrain with confidence and have more fun while hiking or walking!.

Achieve, Regain & Maintain Mobility ~ “ARMM” yourself with a vital skill for LIFE!

Restore & Maintain Spine Function ~ Walk with attitude and vitality.  Look and feel YOUNGER!

© ™

POLES for Balance, Mobility & Functional Walking

November 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Poles for Balance & Mobility

We’ve updated the education page for the DVD:   POLES for Balance & Mobility.

This  DVD is chapter-based. The chapters are listed so you can easily find what you want to work on.  

This training is designed to be used as a progressive (you get better as you go) tool either on your own or in conjunction with your physical therapist or trainer.

You can work on one skill at a time or get an overview to decide where you are in your mobility.

Our progressive format is an important element – so many people have told us that they go back again and again after practicing.   We even put in learning tips so you can see how others approach these skills.

When you have a moment check out the updated page.

If you’re thinking about purchasing poles, take a look at the updated Pole Buyer’s Guide page as well as the Product Recommendations.

You can even fill out the Product Consultation Form at the bottom of the Recommendations page for some feedback on which poles might best suit

  • your structure
  • your issues
  • and your goals.

These are the 3 things we look at to determine which poles best suit and fit you.

Parkinson’s Disease: Poles can help!

Click here to see an article that recently appeared in the Denver Post.

Why optimal pole length improves performance on the trail

I recently saw a video on YouTube about how to set pole length.  It was beautifully presented.  But it was filled with information, presented as fact that is so contrary to everything we teach that I need to clarify what we teach and why.  There is NO CORRECT POLE LENGTH.  There’s only optimal length.

Our techniques are designed to help you use poles efficiently so that you can achieve the many benefits.   Nonoptimal technique can cause strain in your hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders – even your neck. Learn how to avoid the “Death Grip.”  The thumb joint is fragile.  Reducing knee stress at the expense of a strained or damaged thumb joint is completely counterproductive.

Optimal pole length gives HIKERS 3 major benefits:

  1. On flat terrain, you get great exercise OR achieve ease of use
  2. On uphill, you improve endurance, posture and power
  3. On downhill, you’ll be at the optimal length to preserve your knees and improve your performance.

Optimal pole length gives people with mobility challenges benefits as well, which include:

  1. Enhanced mobility
  2. Optimal Posture

The traditional teaching on pole length is pervasive and consistent.  Everyone will tell you the same thing (as if every user was exactly the same) – set your poles at a 90 degree bend in the elbow.  Our training is completely, yet subtly different.  Every pole user is different; every person is different.  Walk around on flat terrain with your poles set at 90 degrees.  Then try our method, feel the difference, and decide what feels better for the joints of your hands, wrists, elbows and SHOULDERS.

Next post:  How to set starting (Baseline) pole length.

How and Why To Set Baseline Pole Length

About 15 years ago, we defined and created the term Baseline Length.  Baseline length is:

  • determined by your height, your goals and the terrain
  • your pole length for most of your flat and uphill hiking (you’ll extend the length for downhill and changing terrain)
  • set at a length designed to minimize strain in the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, shoulder and neck
  • measured by the angle of your elbow
  • how you set your poles at the beginning of the hike
  • the shortest length you’ll use that day
  • set first with the bottom section
  • can change based on the terrain, how you feel and your goals

Baseline length differs depending on your abilities and goals; it’s:

  1. longer for people who have mobility challenges (approx 80 to 90 degree bend of the elbow), facilitating more support for balance, and
  2. shorter (lower) for hikers (approx 100 to 120 degree bend of the elbow), facilitating ease of use on flat terrain and power on uphill terrain.

Hikers:  The basic 90 degree rule for baseline works against peak performance on the trail.  Why?

  1. Flat:  in order to bring the pole forward, you’ll have to recruit your shoulder joint.  Repetitive movement in a joint can cause strain.  A shorter baseline facilitates ease on flat terrain.
  2. Uphill:  Optimal baseline length on uphill gives you more power because the poles work with you in a more effective pushing motion.    Poles that are too long on uphill can more easily slip (stabbing your buddies).   Plus, it’s efficient –  you save time because you won’t have to change pole length from flat to uphill .

Why does everyone say 90 degrees?  Interesting question.  It’s certainly easier to communicate.  Also, people who do not adjust their (adjustable) poles, often find that 90 degrees is easier.  But biomechanically, once you feel the difference, you’ll have the option of more effectively recruiting your upper body muscles and we think you’ll never go back to 90 degrees.

To determine your baseline length, DO:

  • Place your hands correctly in the straps
  • Place your elbow directly by your side
  • Have your forearm straight out in front
  • Make sure the pole is straight up and down
  • Stand tall, in erect neutral posture
  • Relax your hand so that you can determine a more neutral position for your wrist

Contrary to what you may see or hear:  DO NOT hold the pole upside down on the bottom shaft to measure (yikes).  3 Reasons:

  1. It’s not an accurate reading for many reasons, including how tightly you use your straps
  2. It puts the pole strap in the dirt where it can pick up dirt that can chafe your hands.
  3. If you got poison oak on the lower section and then rub your eyes, yikes!

DO set your baseline length with the bottom section as long as you need to – but no longer than the stop max mark.  Extend the middle section only if your height requires lengthening to get the elbow angle you seek.  It’s nice if you can have a baseline length with the middle section closed so that you return to baseline quickly and easily by simply collapsing the middle section.  Note:  when purchasing poles, look to see how long the bottom section extends.  This can be a factor of whether the poles properly fit you.

DO NOT set both sections at equal lengths. Everyone says to do this, because it’s the position of maximum strength in the poles.  BUT, when do you need the maximum strength?  On steep downhill. You’ll have the middle section extended then anyway.   Plus, have you noticed that companies like LEKI give you a LIFETIME warranty?  It’s because their poles are STRONG.

Another reason not to do this:  By setting baseline length using both sections, you’ll need to extend both sections to get the maximum length you’ll need for steep downhill.  Set your bottom section at the beginning of your hike and then all your adjusting is done with the middle section.   That way you can adjust without taking your hands out of the straps. You cannot adjust the bottom section without taking your hands out of the straps so you’ll have to stop and fuss with your poles.

If you learn to adjust quickly and easily, then you’ll DO it. If you have to stop and take your hands out of the straps every time you want to adjust your poles, you won’t adjust them.  You will not be at the optimal length for the terrain you’re on.   3 Main Goals:

  1. Flat:  Ease of use
  2. Up:    Power & Endurance
  3. Down:  Support for your joints.

Baseline Length that is too long will

  • engage joints in the arm, increasing risk of joint strain
  • necessitate shortening for uphill optimal performance

Baseline Length that is too short will cause you to reach into the poles and work against optimal posture.  Try different lengths, actually walk with poles that initially might feel too short.  See if you notice how, with a shorter baseline, the poles can more freely swing on flat terrain.

POLES for Parkinson’s

September 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Poles for Balance & Mobility

Recent Article in the Denver Post

Stay tuned for much more info.

Also, coming soon:

  • How to set pole length
  • What is Baseline Pole Length?
  • Walking in Washington DC
  • Figs, Fabulous Food

POLES FAQ: Can I become dependent on using poles? Yes

When using poles, do we lose some ability to use balance muscles?  Do we become dependent on them?

We believe it IS possible to become reliant on your poles.  They are helpful in so many ways for helping us enjoy the outdoors.  Is it a good idea to occasionally hike on a moderate trail without your poles?   This is a very personal decision made based on your ability, the terrain and your goals.  If you hike without your poles, we suggest:

  • Know the hike – try it first WITH your poles.
  • Plan a short journey, do less than you think you can the first few times you hike without your poles.
  • Be consistent.  Hike without poles occasionally but regularly to keep up your skills.

Cross Training: Understand that, by hiking without your poles, you’re giving up the upper body workout.  For instance, we might do a relatively easy hike without poles the day after we go sea kayaking or an upper body weight training class or session.

Hiking without your poles may give you a better sense of proprioception (where am I in space?), can  improve edging*,  and can enable you to be more aware of your feet and legs.   Hiking on uneven terrain can challenge, enhance and improve your agility and balance muscles.  You will use muscles differently than when you are hiking with poles.  Exercising in different ways is important for achieving YOUR optimal fitness.

When do WE use our poles?

  • When we know we need them
  • When we have no idea what we’re getting into.
  • When we want the total body experience
  • When hiking with someone stronger or faster (poles give us an “edge”)

* stay tuned for a spiffy post dedicated to Edging – an essential skill for all hikers and walkers 🙂

FAQ: Poles for Hiking: Are two poles better than one? Yes!

Using two poles enables you to use your WHOLE BODY while walking or hiking.

Using one pole can give you a little extra stability, but at a cost.   No matter how careful you are, using just one side of your body, can create and even reinforce imbalance.  When going downhill, placing one pole in front of you and twisting at the same time can create torque in your spine.  Going downhill, gravity creates load in your knees.  Using one pole can unilaterally relieve some of this pressure, but adds torque to your spine and potential stress in your shoulder and wrist joints.

With optimal technique using two poles, you strengthen upper body muscles and achieve both spinal rotation and elongation – very healthy for your spine.

On downhill, you’ll bilaterally recruit your upper body muscles, including pectoralis, rectus abdominus and biceps.  You’ll notice better balance and power.  Because you’re using more muscles, you’ll notice you have more endurance BUT will feel LESS exertion – this is SO cool!   Poles facilitate better posture which helps backpackers, hikers and people with balance problems.  Lots more benefits, way too many to blog.

Comprehensive description of the benefits of using two poles.

Trekking Pole Troubles: Taking poles apart for Travel and/or cleaning

Our prior post covered the two most common problems people have with poles.  We covered in detail troubleshooting poles (fixing them if they fail to tighten).  The other big problem people seem to have is  trouble taking their poles apart.
Our best advice:  Get over it! 🙂

  • People purchase poles based on their collapsed length.   While this can make sense, it often can mean getting non-optimal poles for your height, weight, goals & issues.  Taking poles apart almost always means they will fit into luggage.
  • Poles MUST be taken apart for cleaning.  Take good care of your poles and they will take care of you – please!
  • Poles MUST be taken apart if they get wet.  This is basic pole care 101.  Go hike in the rain – Yippee!   Ford a stream.  Use poles in the fog.  But, when your poles get wet, the inside of the shaft gets wet and just drying them off on the outside isn’t enough.  The pole shaft can corrode.  The fix is simple!  Take your poles apart and let them dry apart over night.  Voila!  Clean, dry, usuable poles.

I have a deep connection with my poles.  They’re 9 years old, they’re PERFECT and they’re my buddies!    I use them, I abuse them, AND I keep them clean and dry.  A good pair of poles often has a lifetime warranty and good poles (that fit your body, issues and goals) should last you a lifetime of hiking and exploring!

Happy Trails!

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