Do poles save energy during steep uphill walking?

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2019 Jul;119(7):1557-1563. doi: 10.1007/s00421-019-04145-2. Epub 2019 Apr 24.


Purpose: In trail running and in uphill races many athletes use poles. However, there are few data about pole walking on steep uphill. The aim of this study was to compare the energy expenditure during uphill walking with (PW) and without (W) poles at different slopes.

Methods: Fourteen mountain running athletes walked on a treadmill in two conditions (PW and W) for 5 min at seven different angles (10.1°, 15.5°, 19.8°, 25.4°, 29.8°, 35.5° and 38.9°). We measured cardiorespiratory parameters, blood lactate concentration (BLa) and rating of perceived exertion (RPE). Then, we calculated the vertical cost of transport (CoTvert). Using video analysis, we measured stride frequency (SF) and stride length (SL).

Results: Compared to W, CoTvert during PW was lower at 25.4°, 29.8° and 35.5° PW ([Formula: see text] 2.55 ± 3.97%; [Formula: see text] 2.79 ± 3.88% and [Formula: see text] 2.00 ± 3.41%, p < 0.05). RPE was significantly lower during PW at 15.5°, 19.8°, 29.8°, 35.5° and 38.9° ([Formula: see text] 14.4 ± 18.3%; [Formula: see text] 16.2 ± 15.2%; [Formula: see text] 16.6 ± 16.9%; [Formula: see text] 17.9 ± 18.7% and [Formula: see text] 18.5 ± 17.8%, p < 0.01). There was no effect of pole use on BLa. However, BLa was numerically lower with poles at every incline except for 10.1°. On average, SF for PW was lower than for W ([Formula: see text] 6.7 ± 5.8%, p = 0.006) and SL was longer in PW than in W (+ 8.6 ± 4.5%, p = 0.008).

Conclusions: PW on steep inclines was only slightly more economical than W, but the substantially lower RPE during PW suggests that poles may delay fatigue effects during a prolonged effort. We advocate for the use of poles during steep uphill walking, although the energetic savings are small.

Keywords: Energetics; Pole walking; Trail running; Vertical km.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anaerobic Threshold
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Exercise Test / instrumentation
  • Exercise Test / methods
  • Humans
  • Sports Equipment*
  • Walking / physiology*