April 24, 2017

By Sheri Goodwin

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Get ready — hiking season is just around the corner! Part of your training for mountain hikes should include the equipment you will use on the trail.

Here are a few tips for training with trekking poles to help you build confidence while getting in shape for your next adventure. First, let’s look at some trekking pole basics.

Proper Pole Fit

Stand on a flat surface. Hold on to both grips and place the tip of the pole on the ground, so poles stand vertically. Elbows should bend to a 90-degree angle. When hiking up hill, decrease the pole height to keep a 90-degree angle. When hiking downhill, increase the pole height to also maintain a 90-degree angle.

Gripping the Poles

Place your hand through the bottom of the strap; relax the hand so that the strap is positioned around the bottom of your wrist. Your hand is now supported by the strap and can lightly hold the hand grip.

Training with Hiking Poles

1. Interval training on hills

Find a short hill that takes approximately one minute to hike. Walk to the top at a fast walking pace — slightly faster than “conversational” pace. Next, turn and walk back down the hill at a slower pace; the downhill pace should take 2–3 minutes.

Use your poles with your natural arm movement up and down the hill sections. Repeat the hill 3–5 times, depending on your fitness level. As your fitness improves, find longer and steeper hills to conquer. Interval training improves both your muscular endurance and cardiovascular system.

2. Strengthen arms with pole push-offs

Instead of the normal grip on your poles, place your palms on top of the hand grips. When you plant the pole on the ground as you walk up the one-minute interval hill, push off with more force than usual. Your triceps will get a great workout and your leg muscles will be less stressed. Let your arms recover as you walk down the hill by applying a normal and gentle grip on the pole handles. As your arms get stronger, you can increase repetitions and hill length.

Integrating lunges as part of a training regime will allow you to tackle steeper hills and longer hikes with a strong base.

3. Tone legs with lunges

Step the left foot forward and up the hill and keep right leg behind. Keeping your feet facing forward, bring your hips and legs into a lunge position. Only go down as far as is comfortable for your hip joints and leg muscles.

Maintain a slight forward lean in your upper body but be sure your front knee is in alignment with your foot and does not go past the toe line. Stand back up and repeat the process with the right leg forward.

Start with 1–2 sets of six lunges on each leg, and increase as your fitness increases. Hands can hold folded poles straight out in front of you. Performing lunges going uphill trains the major muscle groups used while hill climbing, building a stronger base for longer hikes and steeper hills.

4. Walk backward

Backward walking can be used as an active rest period between long hill climbs or as rehabilitation for some injuries. Hikers recovering from knee or back pain can usually walk backward pain-free.

Start at the bottom of a short hill and ensure that the hill is relatively smooth, absent of holes, major bumps and preferably free of cyclists. Turn your back to the hill and start walking backward so that you are hiking up the hill. Using poles at the same time takes more focus and coordination, working both the body and your brain.

Walk back down the hill forward so as not to risk injury walking downhill backward. Depending on your fitness level, repeat 3–5 times. This exercise strengthens your thigh and calf muscles, improves balance, and takes stress off the knees and lower back while enhancing cognitive control and vision.

Gear to Get You Going — Trekking Poles


Based in the United Kingdom, Pacerpoles are biomechanically designed with right- and left-specific grips. These allow the hands to position naturally, preventing fatigue and optimizing natural body movement. Retail: $99

Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles

Super light and highly packable thanks to their unique folding design, these are great for long-distance hiking adventures. Retail: $160

Helinox Passport Poles

The Passport trekking poles are the lightest Helinox poles available. The Twist Lock 120 is easy to use, allowing you adjustability on the go as well as the ability to pack them up small. Highly packable, super strong, ultralight-weight. Starting at 10.4oz per pair. Retail: Starting at $139.95

Sheri Goodwin is the owner and founder of Transformational Journeys: Training for Life-Changing Trekking Adventures. Read more about Goodwin and her training courses at www.desktotrek.com.