Running with Poles Guide: Benefits, Tips, + Techniques

If you follow ultra running or run races yourself, you’ve most likely seen an abundance of people running with poles lately. Kilian Jornet, Courtney Dauwalter, François D’haene, and most sky runners use poles while competing to take advantage of the great benefits that come along with them. 

What exactly are running poles, and why and when should you give them a try? That’s what we are going to discuss today. 

In this article, we will take a look at: 

  • What running poles are used for.
  • In what types of terrains are the use of running poles advantageous?
  • The benefits of running with poles.  
  • How to choose running poles.
  • Running pole technique and posture
  • Tips on how to use running poles efficiently

Ready for a crash course in running with poles? 

Let’s jump in!

Running Poles Guide

What are running poles used for?

Running poles have become popular in trail races, especially when they include numerous steep uphill sections and tricky, technical terrain. Poles are mostly beneficial in longer ultramarathons and vertical kilometer races.

4 benefits of running with poles

Using running poles for these types of tricky terrain and for steep uphills is full of benefits. 

Let’s take a look at them.

1. Take a Load Off Of Those Legs

If used with proper form, poles can take a load off of your legs while, in turn, engaging your core and upper body. This means that running with poles spreads out the work.

This is especially helpful in longer races where you want to give those fatigued leg muscles a break every now and again. Delaying localized fatigue can contribute to a much more enjoyable second half of an ultramarathon.

Running Poles Guide

2. Speed Up On Those Tricky Sections

Using running poles can give you an extra boost of speed while running uphill and even increase your speed and efficiency.

3. Gain Stability

Using running poles on any terrain provides extra stability. It gives you two more points of contact with the ground below which helps improve balance on unstable terrain. 

On downhills, running poles give you some extra help stabilizing your body as you cruise down the trails. It will also give you a confidence boost on those technical trails, helping avoid a slip and fall or losing your balance due to the extra contact points. 

You can also avoid obstacles and break them with greater ease. In addition, running poles will take some pressure off of your quads as to not burn them out too early in the race. 

However, practicing poles on downhills will be imperative as you don’t want the poles to end up being a hindrance instead of a help. Learn to navigate the poles with ease, so they don’t get in your own way or in someone else’s, as this could potentially cause an accident.

4. Improved Uphill Posture

When we become fatigued, which is pretty much inevitable in ultras, our uphill posture can suffer greatly as we tend to bend over as we gasp for air. Using poles correctly can help maintain your body upright. This aids the air flow to your lungs and helps to take the pressure off your lower back.

Running Poles Guide

How to Choose running poles

Choose running poles for ultimate comfort and convenience. Collapsible, lightweight poles will be your best bet.

Lightweight

Most running poles are made from carbon or aluminium and can weigh as little as 10 ounces or a little under 300 grams.

Of course, the lighter the poles, the more expensive they are. But it’s worth its weight in gold to purchase the lightest ones possible within your budget. Every gram counts when you are schlepping gear around for the duration of an ultramarathon; but it’s worth those few extra grams in the end.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Running poles are not standard and come in a variety of sizes. Be sure and pick the ones that are the perfect fit for you. You can check out size charts for each brand of poles. However, there is a standard rule to go by when choosing your pole height. 

Hold the poles by the soft grips straight out in front of you and have the tips touch the ground. Your arms should be at a 90-degree angle and your forearms horizontal to the ground for a comfortable fit.  

Some poles are slightly adjustable, where you can vary the height.

Related: 12 Running Uphill Benefits: How It Makes You A Strong Runner

Running Poles Guide

Storing Poles While Running

In most races, you will not need to use your poles for the entire duration of the run. Therefore, it is most convenient to have collapsable poles to put away with ease. You can get poles that conveniently fold into two or three sections or telescoping poles that collapse down to a third of the length, making them small enough to tuck away. 

Some running vests are now conveniently equipped with small straps in the front or back where you can easily store the poles. Just fold them up and secure them in the loops each time you don’t need them, and pull them right back out when you do. 

If you do not wish to store them because you will need them frequently throughout the race, you can run with both poles in one hand, holding them off the ground horizontally. This way, you don’t need to be constantly puting them away.

Running Poles Guide

How To Run With Poles: 2 Techniques

The technique you decide to use will vary, depending on the type of terrain or incline that you are facing at that specific moment in a race. The following are the two most common ones used in trail running.

#1 Alternating Pole Technique / Nordic Walking Technique

This technique is best used on moderately steep terrain when advancing quickly. 

As you walk or jog naturally, your legs and arms will alternate as you advance. When you hold your poles, they should alternate in sync with your natural movement

When you are walking slower, your poles can go right along with your leg movement hitting each stride in sync. If you are running, you will want to allow a few strides between setting down each pole. This technique works well in faster sections of a race.

Running Poles Guide

#2 Double Pole Technique

This technique is most common when tackling very steep inclines where more power is needed to trek up the hill.   

Simultaneously, place both poles on the ground in front of you, ensuring the poles are at a similar angle as the hill’s incline. Take a few substantial strides and push through past your poles as you lean forward. Then lift the poles, bring them back in front of you and place them down slightly ahead of you and repeat.

Pole Tip Placement

As you place each pole on the ground in front of you, be sure and place them down gently, avoiding digging into the terrain, causing more energy to be expelled. They should be angled slightly inclined toward the slope, propelling you forward as you go. 

Do not angle the poles back towards your body. This will hinder your natural movement and slow you right down. You want the poles to launch you forward instead of hold you back.

Running Poles Guide

How To Hold The Straps

Using the straps will improve efficiency, but it needs to be done correctly, or it will have an adverse effect. 

Put your hands through the straps and lightly grip onto the handles. Have the straps wrap around the back of your hand on one side and up your palm on the other side. The strap should sit between your thumb and forefinger.

Be sure your grip on the handles is loose, and the weight is distributed on the straps to not tire out your hands and forearms. If your grip is too tight, you can also provoke painful blisters on your hands. 

Note: Do not wrap the straps around your wrists!

Running Poles Guide

Be Cautious

With other runners around you, be aware of your surroundings and be careful not to trip or hit anyone around you with your poles. Practicing with them sufficiently before a race will help you get accustomed to handling them correctly and keep them under control at all times. 

Training with poles before a race is a must to ensure you use them as efficiently as possible. Use poles on your long runs and hill workouts at least 4 weeks before your race. This will also give you the chance to decide whether you are comfortable using them, or feel more comfortable without the poles.

Be sure to check your race guidelines before incorporating them into your training, as running poles are actually prohibited in some races. This can be due to the sheer number of participants or narrow, single-track trails where limited space could make running poles a hazard. 

Using running poles is a great way to improve your overall speed and comfort during a tough race. The more you practice using them, the better your running economy will become and the more efficiently you will hike and run. 

Give them a try!

Want to boost your trail running game even further?

Check out this article on the best gifts for trail runners. There’s nothing like giving yourself a treat too!

Photo of author
Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community she is known for her ear to ear smile even under the toughest race conditions. She loves sharing her knowledge and experience with everyone and has a great desire to motivate others to hit the trails alongside her. Run for fun!

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