How do you think double poling works?
Do you think double poling is about using arm power and upper body strength to push your poles backwards so you move forwards?
Do you imagine it’s like an ab crunch, but instead of lying down, you’re standing up?
Do you think it’s about getting your body weight high, thereby creating potential energy so you can tap into the power of gravity to propel yourself forward?
Your mental model of how double pole technique works influences your technique because it informs what you do to optimize your efficiency.
Double Pole Personas
The Ab Cruncher
If you think that flexing your abdominal muscles is a good way to add extra power to poling, then you will put a lot of emphasis on “crunching” your abs at the start of your pole push.
If you like the idea of gravity assisting you and are captivated by the way skiers sometimes come right off their heels, then you probably like cues like “high hips, high heels.”
That cue, incidentally, is even discussed in the scientific literature. (e.g. reference)
The Pole Slammer
Perhaps you think it’s important to hammer down your poles with as much force as possible. (It’s not.) Then you will try to get high and drive your poles into the ground.
If you’re observant, you can see each of these skier personas on the trails. You don’t have to speak with them to know what they think is most important in double poling.
Levers and Pivots: How I Think Double Poling Works
I think double poling works like a system of levers and pivot points.
The Boot-Binding Pivot Point
The first pivot point is between the boots and the skis. The body rocks back and forth on this pivot point.
This skier is double poling uphill, which is why she’s pivoting a lot at the boot and binding junction. I chose this clip to illustrate the boot-binding pivot point because it’s such an exaggerated example. It’s more subtle in other instances.
How best to distribute your weight across the bottom of your feet is a good question.
My guess is that it’s optimal to distribute your weight evenly between the big toe joint, little toe joint and mid-heel when the heel is down, and then to keep your weight evenly balanced, right to left, as your weight rolls forward. I would not let my weight rock back on my heels.
When I rock back to the flat footed position, I want my skis to accelerate forward forcefully, but, again, without my weight falling back.
I don’t think of getting “high”, I think about getting forward, which I find easier to do if I stay compact and maintain some flexion in my ankle, knee and hip joints.
The Pole Tip Pivot Point
The next pivot point is at the pole tips. I used to think the skier “dropped” his weight onto his poles and that’s how he took advantage of gravity.
I still think that’s true – sort of. The skier raises and lowers his centre of mass, creating potential energy and releasing kinetic energy to help power the pole stroke.
But I suspect it’s also accurate to say the skier pivots his body forward over the poles. It looks like he’s “dropping”, but relative to the pivot point (the pole tip), his body is pivoting forward.
This is an important distinction because then poling is at least as much about prying a giant lever (the poles), as pushing poles into the ground.
The first is more about mechanical advantage. The second is more about muscular power.
Joints: Pivots and Hinges
All the other pivot points are joints in our bodies: shoulders, elbows, knees, hips and ankles. The way I think of it is that the purpose of movement at these pivots serves 2 purposes:
- Reposition the skier, and/or,
- Feed power to the first two pivot points.
How Everything is Connected
What connects these levers and pivot points together and allows power to transfer through the system?
Your entire body. So, for this system of levers and pivot points to work well, you need to create full body stiffness or tension, otherwise you’ll just dissipate energy through slack tissue.
Just like any mental model, this account of double poling will influence what you chose to focus on in order to optimize your technique.
1. Bracing, not crunching
You want to feel a bracing sensation, similar to doing a plank exercise during the propulsion part of the double pole cycle.
If you maintain the integrity of your core, you will more effectively transfer power from the upper body into the poles and down into the lower legs and skis.
2. Get forward, not high
I’m not saying excellent skiers don’t get high and fully extended. They do in certain situations, such as high speed sprinting.
I’m saying most skiers would be better served by working on getting forward before they try to get high.
Getting forward is easier if you stay compact and maintain some bend at the ankles, knees and hips at all times.
3. Move your skis forward
Never get so engrossed in your technique that you lose sight of the principle goal: the skis should accelerate forward with each pole stroke, carrying you down the trail.
That’s kind of the whole point.
Here’s an example of double pole technique:
What to look at
The arm swing and pole push are eye catching, but try to look beyond those.
- Do you see how his weight rocks backwards and forwards over the foot?
- Can you imagine of the pole as a lever, pivoting forward as much as it pushes back?
- Can you think of his body as segments connected by pivot points, working in unison without loss of energy?
When the system works well, there’s little waste and you don’t have to muscle your way forward. You can see a quiet economy and efficiency of movement. Every movement feels like it feeds into another, equally important movement.
Double poling doesn’t have to feel like it’s powered by your arms and upper body. It can feel like a coordinated whole body effort, with everything working in concert and every part of your body playing a role.
How do you think double poling works?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Note: In our membership site, XC Ski Nation, we have several video courses about double pole technique, which explain the technique in-depth with slow motion demonstration video of World Cup and Olympic skiers. Double poling is used across the widest range of terrain and is filled with interesting nuances.