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Word From The Wax Bench...

High Praise for Pole Hiking – 2nd Edition

Photo: SMS Nordic

Last year, we wrote about how Chris got back to fitness after a long struggle with back pain and a neck and back fusion using pole hiking. This year, New Moon’s Steve Morales has a personal story about how pole hiking has helped him recover from a painful injury and surgery.

Steve’s Story:

When momentous things happen, one’s memory stores a vivid snapshot of the event. On Sept. 6, a little over six weeks ago, I was roller skiing down a quiet, beautiful country lane close to my home. I savored the first blush of yellow, orange and red on the trees, the pond reflections of a bluer-than-blue sky, the clean, fresh air, and a sense of achievement at finally getting out for my first roller ski of the season. It was a ski specific workout beginning a long, pleasant process of preparation for snow. I was near the end of my ski when this enchanted moment screeched to a halt. Quick as a flash, I was starring in a slow motion video of a true “Oh S..!” moment. I tripped, did a horizontal side layout, then slammed down onto the asphalt on my right hip. It felt like a sledge hammer smashing a stone to shards. My spandex workout shorts were the cushion. I lay still on the road for a while, assessing the damage, waiting for the pain in my right hip to subside. When the pain faded, I tried to get up and knew I wouldn’t ski away from this. Unclipping the bindings from the skis was agony. Only by supporting myself on my ski poles was I able to stand. Half a mile to the car. No traffic coming from either direction. I slowly hobbled toward the car on one leg and both poles, covering six inches per stride. It’s all still very vivid and is constantly accompanied by the extreme regret that I stopped paying attention, misplaced a pole plant, and now was paying a steep price. 

Fast forward to today.  I pole hiked a mile, bounded some uphills, then rode my mountain bike 5 miles on the Hospital trails, all the while paying quite close attention. (Modern surgery is incredible!) I’m in a deep fitness hole with Birkie only about 125 days away. It’s not really about the Birkie for me, though skiing my 39th this February is a goal. It’s about being fit and how great that makes me feel. My surgeon has warned me not to break my new titanium hip with its cool pink ceramic ball and polyethylene lined socket because the second replacement will be a BIG DEAL! My favorite ski prep has been roller skiing. That being off the menu for now, my new favorite is pole hiking. It feels good and is infinitely adaptable.  

After two weeks of boring at-home physical therapy, I added careful, daily walks with ski poles down the driveway to the mail box and back. What a relief to replicate the total body joy of skiing outdoors! Legs, hips, back, arms…it’s all working as easy or as hard as needed! It’s not new to me of course, and it lacks the speed of skiing, but the footing is secure, and I’ve been able to gradually lengthen the stride and increase the force and intensity as I’ve recuperated. And it takes me to beautiful places outside! I’m convinced it has helped me to get back quickly to enjoying regular outdoor exercise. 

Marty Hall, Canadian Ski Team coach (and past US Team member and coach) said at a clinic we coached years ago that when a skier leaves the house on foot, she/he should have ski poles in hand. That will be me until the snow flies.

We are all happy and grateful for Steve’s recovery. His journey to fitness is something we can all aspire to, whether or not we are working with an injury.

If​ ​you​ ​are​ ​not​ ​a​ ​skier, if​ ​you​ ​are​ ​recovering​ ​or​ ​not​ ​as​ ​fit​ ​as​ ​you​ ​would​ ​like,​ ​using poles​ ​is​ ​an​ ​easy​ ​way​ ​to​ ​see​ ​results​ ​that​ ​can​ ​have​ ​a​ ​profound​ ​effect​ ​on​ ​your​ ​life.​ ​That extra​ ​ease-of-use​ ​and​ ​support​ ​can​ ​help​ ​someone​ ​get​ ​out​ ​in​ ​nature​ ​that​ ​may​ ​be​ ​a​ ​bit fearful​ ​of​ ​rougher​ ​terrain.​ ​That​ ​increased​ ​balance​ ​can​ ​help​ ​someone​ ​overcoming​ ​injury get​ ​back​ ​on​ ​track.​ ​And​ ​that​ ​full​ ​body​ ​workout​ ​can​ ​get​ ​the​ ​elite​ ​athlete​ ​ready​ ​for​ ​their best​ ​season​ ​ever.

For​ ​those​ ​who​ ​aren’t​ ​recovering​ ​from​ ​injuries,​ ​let’s​ ​look​ ​at​ ​how​ ​pole​ ​hiking​ ​can​ ​be beneficial​ ​to​ ​your​ ​workout​ ​and​ ​your​ ​fitness​ ​goals.

Ease-of-Use – This​ ​one’s​ ​a​ ​no-brainer.​ ​You​ ​have​ ​ski​ ​poles.​ ​All​ ​you​ ​need​ ​to​ ​do​ ​is​ ​walk​ ​out​ ​the​ ​door—ski poles in hand as Steve mentioned. There​ ​are​ ​different​ ​techniques​ ​you​ ​can​ ​learn,​ ​different​ ​pole​ ​lengths​ ​and​ ​tips,​ ​different terrain​ ​you​ ​can​ ​explore,​ ​but​ ​at​ ​it’s​ ​simplest,​ ​all​ ​you​ ​need​ ​to​ ​do​ ​is​ ​go.


Balance – It’s​ ​pretty​ ​obvious​ ​that​ ​poles​ ​can​ ​be​ ​helpful​ ​in​ ​increasing​ ​one’s​ ​balance​ ​significantly reduce​ ​the​ ​risk​ ​of​ ​falling​ ​or​ ​injury.​ ​Using​ ​poles​ ​improve​ ​posture,​ ​and​ ​balance​ ​as​ ​well. But,​ ​along​ ​with​ ​that,​ ​two​ ​more​ ​points​ ​of​ ​contact​ ​can​ ​help​ ​you​ ​body​ ​relax​ ​into​ ​your workout,​ ​especially​ ​if​ ​the​ ​terrain​ ​is​ ​inconsistent.​ ​Feeling​ ​secure​ ​and​ ​balanced​ ​can​ ​also allow​ ​you​ ​to​ ​increase​ ​your​ ​stride​ ​length​ ​and​ ​use​ ​your​ ​whole​ ​body​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​focusing on​ ​what​ ​your​ ​feet​ ​are​ ​doing.​ ​Poles​ ​enable​ ​you​ ​to​ ​maintain​ ​forward​ ​momentum, particularly​ ​on​ ​tricky​ ​terrain.

Stress​ ​Relief – Poles​ ​prevent​ ​pain​ ​and​ ​damage​ ​associated​ ​with​ ​repetitive​ ​motions​ ​by​ ​recruiting​ ​other muscles​ ​to​ ​take​ ​on​ ​more​ ​of​ ​the​ ​work,​ ​especially​ ​on​ ​moderate​ ​to​ ​steep​ ​uphills.​ ​When you​ ​spread​ ​out​ ​the​ ​workload​ ​and​ ​absorb​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​impact,​ ​you​ ​alleviate​ ​the​ ​stress on​ ​your​ ​legs,​ ​knees,​ ​ankles,​ ​and​ ​feet.

Strength​ ​and​ ​Endurance – Here’s​ ​where​ ​poles​ ​can​ ​really​ ​make​ ​a​ ​difference​ ​for​ ​even​ ​the​ ​elite​ ​athlete.​ ​Using​ ​poles engages​ ​muscle​ ​groups​ ​that​ ​ordinary​ ​walking​ ​does​ ​not,​ ​including​ ​those​ ​in​ ​your​ ​arms and​ ​core.​ ​Add​ ​to​ ​that​ ​the​ ​swinging​ ​motion​ ​of​ ​your​ ​arms​ ​and​ ​you​ ​have​ ​a​ ​full​ ​body workout.​ ​They​ ​help​ ​propel​ ​you​ ​forward​ ​and​ ​upward,​ ​helping​ ​you​ ​increase​ ​your​ ​speed. Poles​ ​can​ ​also​ ​allow​ ​you​ ​to​ ​better​ ​your​ ​posture,​ ​which​ ​improves​ ​your​ ​breathing​ ​and lung​ ​capacity,​ ​increasing​ ​cardiopulmonary​ ​function​ ​and​ ​endurance.

Try incorporating pole hiking into your workout regimen. Besides increasing your fitness and balance, strength and endurance, and taking a load off your joints, you can take in your surroundings and enjoy nature. Just grab your poles and go!


Steve Morales is co-founder of New Moon Ski Shop along with his wife, Melisa. He is a major force behind CAMBA bike trail conception, planning, and creation.

5 thoughts on “High Praise for Pole Hiking – 2nd Edition”

  1. Great article. My wife Bonnie, and I use poles for hiliking by our cabin in northern Pennsylvania almost daily when we are there. We have also packed them in suit cases when we travel to
    Colorado, Spain, etc. I used poles in Alpine climbs around the world as well.

  2. Steve, all the best to you w/ the new hip , 125 day is just the right amount of time to get you the start line—Birkie 2019

  3. Best wishes Steve. One question. What length poles do you suggest for ski hiking, drylands workouts? Tad shorter than typical for striding to compensate for the lack of glide?

    1. New Moon staffers find classic length to be slightly long except for aggressive hill bounding. 5-10cm shorter than classic length seems to be ideal for most applications. This puts the top of the pole approximately in the armpit rather than the top of the shoulder. Skating lengths are generally too long for hiking and get pretty clumsy. Note that Nordic walking advocates go even shorter for casual use and recommend lengths that put one’s arm at a 90 degree angle while standing upright. If not interested in cutting a pair of poles, try your classics and see how they work out.

    2. Eric,
      Thanks for the good wishes. It’s going quite well. I use my regular classic race poles with the snow basket on them. I have to shrug my shoulders up a bit to get them into my armpits.

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