Do hiking poles build upper body muscle?
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May 14, 2009 at 11:12 am #1236309
I was curious for those who have thru hiked the AT or any other long trail with continuous use of hiking poles, did you notice any arm, shoulder toning? Obviously you build a lot of leg muscle but I was curious about the upper body? I plan on doing my thru in 2009 of the AT and was curious what to expect since I've never used poles for that extended period.May 14, 2009 at 11:43 am #1501268
It totally depends on where you are starting from. If your arms are scawny and weak from lack of use, then you should expect to gain some muscle. If you are a heavy weight trainer with big triceps, then you will lose muscle…May 14, 2009 at 11:53 am #1501271Mary DBPL Member
@hikinggrannyLocale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Using poles will build up "long muscle" (not the kind you get from body building) in your arms, shoulders, back and abdomen. I use poles for daily exercise walking (with rubber tips over the points) as well as for hiking, and find that they turn walking into a whole body exercise.May 14, 2009 at 11:54 am #1501272Jim MacDiarmidBPL Member
I would think so. You're carrying weight, however little, and the push-off, especially going uphill, is essentially resistance training (like training in a swimming pool). The full body workout aspect on day hikes is one of the things I like about trekking poles. I haven't *noticed* more arm toning, but I have no way of quantitatively measuring that. But how could using muscles not build/tone them?
When I was researching trekking poles, one person who was against them said that as bipeds our arms are not designed/supposed to aid us in walking and using poles can actually fatigue you faster.
I personally have found that trekking poles help me climb much faster than I ever did w/o. It's not that hard to shift back and forth between how much you use the poles and how much you use your legs, like shifting weight between your hips and shoulders with a backpack. You can always stow the poles for flat stretches.
For such a long distance hike, definitely get the absolute lightest poles you can afford. My poles weigh 8oz/pole, but there are 3-4 oz poles available. I started to notice the weight of the poles after about 13-14 miles of hiking. I bet the 4 oz lighter poles would be a noticeable difference over the long haul. I know I can feel 4 oz more or less in my shoe weight.May 14, 2009 at 11:54 am #1501273
While I certianly don't fall in the bodybuilder category I would consider myself about average but I do a lot more cardio conditioning than upper body. Does anybody have direct experience with this from their thru?May 14, 2009 at 12:29 pm #1501277
"But how could using muscles not build/tone them?"
LOL. Ever looked at your aberage marathon runner???
I am a 'bodybuilder', and lose a tremendous amount of muscle (both upper and lower) on long hikes. The high reps make it impossible to maintain fast twitch muscle (which is the stuff that makes you look 'toned').
Using poles does help with uphill battles, but they also make you burn more energy over all. The more you are in a calorie deficit the more you are also likely to lose muscle. For the record, what most people call 'toned' is actually just 'lean'. In other words, if you lose a decent amount of subcutaneous bodyfat on a long hike, it will be easier to see what muscle you DO have, and thus you will look more 'toned'.May 14, 2009 at 12:36 pm #1501279Jim MacDiarmidBPL Member
That's true. I suppose I should've remembered that from high school wrestling, when I had to cut weight. My muscles looked bigger and more defined, but that's just because I was carrying very little fat.May 14, 2009 at 2:26 pm #1501314Diane “Piper” SoiniBPL Member
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara
For me the answer is yes.
But I'm a woman. And I have very flabby, chunky arms. Even so, with my weight loss over 1500 miles and the toning from the poles, I did see a visible and never-before attained level of muscle definition.
It was gone in a flash, however.May 15, 2009 at 7:50 am #1501454
Thanks for all the responses. Looks like I'll at least get some upper body workout from the Thru. Picking up and placing down the poles for over 2000 miles has got to have some effect.May 15, 2009 at 8:35 am #1501464Tom CaldwellBPL Member
If you're taking a moderate dayhike through familiar territory, get some wrist weights, like 2+ lbs each, in addition to your poles If you get tired out from them, throw them in your pack. You might even try it on a moderate out and back overnite, use them a few hours and just stuff them under a log or something to pick up on the way out. If one could do this every week, wonder what it would do?May 15, 2009 at 4:14 pm #1501567AnonymousInactive
Hiking with poles, IMO, is a classic high rep/low weight form of exercise. You don't get enough resistance to build muscle mass, but you sure do build up endurance in whatever muscle you already have. Personally, I would far rather have muscles that can do what is asked of them all day, every day, than go for that "ripped" look which contributes exactly nothing to my ability to move in the mountains. My 2 cents.May 15, 2009 at 5:09 pm #1501577Jason ElsworthSpectator
@jephotoLocale: New Zealand
"Using poles does help with uphill battles, but they also make you burn more energy over all."
Interestingly recent research from both Oklahoma State University and University of Massachusetts seems to show that using poles wont result in you using more energy overall when using poles for hillwalking. I can't find a reference for this research, but it is covered in TGO Magazine's December 2008 article on poles by Eddy Meechan.May 15, 2009 at 6:32 pm #1501586Bob EllenbergMember
When I first started using them I experimented and tested and decided they help more than I knew. I adjusted my straps tight so that if I dug them in hard, my wrists took some of the load as opposed to just holding the handles tighter. I found that if I dug them in on every stroke it was like walking on all fours. In fact, later in the day, I could swing them free and feel a lot more load on my hips than when I dug them in. I feel the load distribution is one of their greatest benefits.May 15, 2009 at 7:50 pm #1501597Chris ChastainSpectator
@thangfishLocale: S. Central NC, USA
> get some wrist weights, like 2+ lbs each, in addition to your poles If you get tired out from them, throw them in your pack. You might even try it on a moderate out and back overnite, use them a few hours and just stuff them under a log or something to pick up on the way out. If one could do this every week, wonder what it would do?
I would suggest starting slow when trying this… like maybe 1 lb for 30 minutes for a week and then increase.
You may find that you get sore on weird places on your forearm.
I do this everyday (with ankle weights and pack full of water jugs), with poles and going hard (almost running) for 2 miles. Not sure what benefit (if any) is derived from the wrist weights, but it did take a little time to comfortably get there.
It has helped my endurance quite a bit, all in all.
I was just trying to get maximum benefit from the short time I had available.May 16, 2009 at 10:06 pm #1501732Brett TuckerMember
@blister-freeLocale: Puertecito ruins
Bill, most thru-hikers (AT and otherwise) will probably tell you that hiking poles don't really build muscle, per se, although some seem to believe they help to maintain muscle tone in the arms that might otherwise be lost over the course of weeks and months of minimal upper body use. In the long run, though, the "muscle argument" for poles tends to fall pretty far down the list of benefits and/or excuses for why experienced l-d hikers use them, among those who do. You might try to eliminate any such bias favoring the use of poles for your upcoming hike in order to best evaluate the immediate merits – if any – on your training walks.
Do thru-hikers "build a lot of leg muscle"? In fact, it's certainly not a given that they do. Personal physiology, hiking style, packweight, and other variables lead to quite a variance among hikers on this. The Appalachian Trail is certainly steep and relentless in its grades, which favors muscle development more than on other long trails, but over the long haul the same effort required to build muscle can also break it down, due to an accumulating caloric deficit, ie weight loss, that often forces the body to break down muscle in the absence of appreciable body fat. Most finishing thru-hikers, especially the guys, look very lean to gaunt overall, toned and wiry in the legs.May 17, 2009 at 1:59 pm #1501799
Wrist and arm weights are not a substitute or training aid for poles use. Poling mainly works the triceps muscles compared to wrist weights which work more shoulder and biceps, ie poling uses a pushing motion and wrist weights use a pullin motion.
It is pretty hard to build significant muscle on a prolonged, day after day, calorie restricted endurance activity, but stamina will increase and fatloss is pretty much assured!May 18, 2009 at 4:25 am #1501894Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
We were out walking in the mountains this last weekend. Our route overlapped with the local 'The North Face 100' race – 100 km of mountain tracks. They were coming towards us.
We watched them pound past us, from the leader at 35 km to the main pack. There were over 400 runners.
We saw 3 trekking poles – and they were being carried not used.
Actually, more of them had iPods…
CheersMay 18, 2009 at 9:48 am #1501936Brian LewisMember
@brianleLocale: Pacific NW
I thru-hiked the PCT last year and used trekking poles always.
About a month into the trip I looked in the mirror after taking a shower in a motel room and was a bit shocked at how scrawny my upper body had become.
I had lost about 30 pounds by then, and while indeed my arms no doubt had plenty of strength in the narrow subset of muscles I was using with the poles (I use them to help power up hills, not just to poke along with), my overall look (including arms and shoulders) was reminiscent of the old comic book advertisement of the bully kicking sand into the face of the 90 pound weakling. My legs were those of the bully, but my torso was definitely the other guy!May 18, 2009 at 1:41 pm #1501981
"We saw 3 trekking poles – and they were being carried not used."
Why/how would a runner use trekking poles? For river crossings?May 18, 2009 at 3:49 pm #1502004AnonymousInactive
"There were over 400 runners.
We saw 3 trekking poles – and they were being carried not used."
Ummm, I think 'running' is the operative word here. I've never seen a runner using them either. :)
TomMay 18, 2009 at 5:55 pm #1502018Eugene SmithBPL Member
@eugeneiusLocale: Nuevo Mexico
You're both right and wrong, "trail" is the operative word, and trekking poles are immensely versatile and useful in other applications besides walking on a trail. Trekking poles and trail running go together quite well depending on the terrain. I have begun incorporating trekking poles into all my trail runs, which is about 3 times a week. One of my regular routes switches from twisting single track to a 700ft. scramble up the face of one of our local features, it is the type of steep pitch, loose, mixed rock and sandstone where trekking poles shine and aid significantly, they also aid in descending, basically all the areas where trekking poles assist in hiking, they too can be incorporated into trail running, try it sometime. This is my experience.
I have read about other endurance athletes such as Andrew Skurka and North Face team member Sam Thompson who utilize trekking poles into their trail runs, particularly Sam Thompson who ran the Colorado Trail using poles. My running form has improved some with the use of poles on the trail, a certain rhythm developed and it gave my hands and arms something to do, which I always seemed to struggle with. It is really nice to attack a climb running with poles, I don't feel the urge to hunch over so much and suffer to the top, rather the use of poles seems to elevate me and provide proper posture and footing.May 18, 2009 at 6:09 pm #1502020Nick GatelBPL Member
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
Lets see, 100 km = 62 miles over here in la, la land.
62 miles on mountain trails… no one is going to 'run' of all it.
Typically it is a hike up the big hills, and like many hikers, the poles come in handy.May 18, 2009 at 6:49 pm #1502029Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
But everyone keep telling how trekking poles add propulsion?
If highly competitive runners don't get any advantage from them, why should walkers?
Um – I should add that some of those runners did have good upper-body development!
I cheerfully make exception for those who find that poles are useful for bad knees on downhills – no argument there.
CheersMay 18, 2009 at 7:26 pm #1502038
"But everyone keep telling how trekking poles add propulsion?"
I don't think there's good eveidence to say poles 'add propulsion'. But there is good evidence that they reduce stress on lower joints, allow an increase in stride length, reduce perceived exertion over long hikes, and generally make hikers 'feel better', even though poles cause an increase in measurable exertion. Anecdotally poles stop my hands from swelling, and allow me to stand more upright while going up and down hills. The benefits for me are more ergonomic than speed (and safety crossing rivers and other slippery things).
Not sure about running. It is hard for me to imagine trekking poles would offer anything more than stability or piece of mind while running, and the increase in exertion might even be detrimental to performance over a long run.May 18, 2009 at 7:35 pm #1502040Eugene SmithBPL Member
@eugeneiusLocale: Nuevo Mexico
I think Nick makes a good point, when the trail turns to steep, hiking ensues, the poles can be a tool for those that gain benefit from using them, which isn't everyone. Granted there are masochists out there who I'm sure get a kick out of pushing their bodies to extreme measures like maintaining a strong pace up steep terrain undeterred.
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