Have you ever been given the following advice about double poling?
- You need to crunch your abs to get more power.
- You need to reach with your arms and lean forward.
- Your arm and core muscles are your big source of power in double poling.
I’ve repeated this advice many times over the years, but now I want to make amends, because…
This advice is wrong.
Double poling. It looks so simple. You just sort of bend over and push your poles behind you, right? You don’t even have to coordinate opposite movements with your right and left legs. How hard can that be?
Unfortunately, very hard.
Double poling is hands down the most difficult cross-country ski technique to master. But, whether you skate or classic ski, double poling is also the most important cross-country ski technique for you to learn. Why?
Because double poling can teach you how to unlock the most powerful energy source available to cross-country skiers.
Kids can learn new physical skills just by watching and copying, but most adults need to understand the mechanics of the skill they’re trying to learn.
This post is all about the mechanics of double poling. The idea is that when we have a clear understanding of the technique, we can make improvements faster and easier.
This is a long and technical article, so definitely not for everyone! In fact, it’s so long, I cut it into two parts. You’re going to have to work to get through all this information! But if you’ve been struggling with your double poling, I think it’ll really help you.
The Two Parts of the Double Pole Cycle
I’ll break double poling into two phases, covering the first in this post, and the second in Part 2:
- The Pole Push Phase, which begins just before the skier plants his poles in the snow, and ends when the poles leave the snow behind him.
- The Recovery Phase, which is the phase when the skier elevates his trunk and swings his poles forward.
The Pole Push Phase
Learning how to double pole means learning how to direct the most force, with the least effort, through your pole tips to the ground in a backwards direction, so that you move forward. Many skiers think that force comes from muscles in the core and arms pushing the skier forward.
Your arm and core muscles do play a role in propulsion, but there is another, far more powerful source of energy you should use when you double pole:
Potential Energy: The Secret to Powerful Double Poling
If you only take away one thing from this article, I hope it’s this:
Double pole technique is less about pushing with your arms and core muscles and more about utilizing potential energy. You create and release potential energy with every double pole cycle by raising and “dropping” your body weight.
How Does This Work?
You want to start your pole pushing phase with as much potential energy as possible. You’re going to do this by getting your centre of mass (COM) as high as possible. That’s the job of the Recovery Phase, which I’ll cover in Part 2. For now, let’s just assume that your COM is nice and high and you’re ready to plant your poles and start the pole push phase.
During the pole push phase, your COM is going to drop. It’s the “fall” of your COM that generates the majority of the force that pushes your poles backwards. For those of you who think in terms of physics, the “drop” is the conversion of potential energy into kinetic energy.
For those who don’t think in physics terms, here’s a different explanation: you rose up during your Recovery Phase and now you’re going to use your falling weight to push your poles. All you’ll need to do is let your body weight transfer through your poles and into the ground.
The way you “drop” your COM is really important. A common piece of advice is to “fall forward on your poles”. I tried this but didn’t find it very helpful. What it made me do was reach my arms and torso way forward, bow at the hips, and try to let my upper body “fall”. It felt scary and unstable and it jolted me through the shoulders when my poles landed.
What Not to Do
So my first tip is don’t reach or try to lean forward. All reaching will do is make you feel off balance and uncoordinated. It’s very important to stay in a comfortable position. Trying to reach too far forward is very difficult and doesn’t offer much benefit. The forward body lean you notice when expert skiers double pole comes from their ankles, not from the upper body at all.
Skiing is all about being efficient. If you simply think about keeping your weight on the balls of your feet all the time you are double poling, your body will naturally be in the correct position.
What to Do
Instead of reaching with your arms and falling to drop your weight, simply relax the muscles in your lower back, hinge at your hips and let your upper body drop onto the poles. At the same time you are hinging at your hips, you also flex at your knees and ankles to help drop your weight.
Flexing your knees and ankles is important because it helps keep your body weight forward. If you don’t flex at least a little at your knees and ankles, your weight will transfer from the balls of your feet to your heels and your butt will drop.
In this dryland double pole video, our demo skier, Kai, shows you a great exercise for practicing the double pole body movement.
Honestly, practicing this body movement is the best way I know to get better at double poling. And you don’t have to be on skis, or even holding poles, to do it!
Of course, it’s not enough to just let your weight fall. You still have to channel that energy through your arms to your poles, then to the ground beneath you, with minimal loss. The most important thing you can do to help with this aspect of double poling is to learn proper poling technique for cross-country skiing. Remember, bent arms = strong arms.
For about the first half of your pole stroke, the job of your arms and core muscles is to stay strong (engaged) and effectively channel the energy you release when you drop your weight onto your poles. Sounds simple, but this is really difficult to coordinate and takes hours of practice. Don’t give up! You will only get better and better!
After the upper body has flexed about 45 degrees, the upper back and arm muscles can start to push the poles back further to generate more power. But this push is not the most important or most powerful part of the double pole stroke. How far you push your arms behind you will depend upon the terrain, the snow speed, and how fast you are trying to go.
As an example, here’s a video of the wonderful Canadian skier, Heidi Widmer, sprinting to the finish line in a 10k interval start classic distance race. Shortly afterwards, Heidi was named to the Canadian 2014 Olympic Cross-country Ski Team. Because she is sprinting, she doesn’t bother with the long follow through with her arms that you might use when double poling over longer distances or at a more leisurely pace.
Hopefully, by now you can see that double poling requires a combination of being relaxed, so your hips, knee and ankle joints can flex smoothly, but also being strong in your arms and core so that you can transfer energy to your poles, then to the ground, with minimal loss.
The main points I hope you take away from this are:
- You store up potential energy at the start of your pole push phase (more on that in Part 2)
- You hinge your hips and flex your knees and ankles to allow your COM to drop
- The drop converts your potential energy into kinetic energy
- The energy is channeled through your engaged core and strong arms, first to your poles, and then to the ground, generating propulsion
- Once your upper body has fallen, say about half way, you add a final thrust with your arm and back muscles.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of “The Little Known Secret of Powerful Double Poling” where I’ll go into detail about the Recovery Phase.
Here’s to you, skiing faster with less effort! Thanks for reading.