Should Men and Women Double Pole Differently? – Cross Country Ski Technique

Should Men and Women Double Pole Differently?

There’s a long list of physical differences between men and women. Women are not simply scaled down, weaker versions of men.

On average, we differ in:

  • Body proportions,
  • Ratios of upper body to lower body strength,
  • Relative upper and lower body mass,
  • Body fat percentages,
  • Centre of mass locations for the whole body and for different body segments.

A 2012 (1) study compared the performance of elite male and female cross-country skiers in a variety of endurance activities. Men reached higher peak speeds in all activities, but the gap widened with greater upper body involvement. [The differences were not totally explained by differences in V02 peak or fat free body mass.]

Men were proportionally faster as follows:

  • 20% for Double Poling
  • 17% for V2-One Skate (Gear 3)
  • 14% for Diagonal Stride
  • 12% for Treadmill Running

Female cross-country skiers are impressively strong and getting stronger every generation, but there’s no amount of weight training that will reshape women into men.

Men have proportionally greater upper body strength and relatively longer legs, as a percentage of overall height. (Yes, it’s true. I was surprised too.) (Taken from Ref 2)

I have to wonder, given the significant anatomical differences…

Does it make sense for men and women to double pole with the same technique?

Should we look for ways to adapt double poling to capitalize on a woman’s relatively greater lower body strength and different body proportions? What would that look like?

A 2017 (3) study might provide some clues. Researchers measured the contribution of different muscles to double poling in elite male skiers. They wanted to know how the work of double poling was distributed across the body as speed increased.

They tested the men at speeds varying from aerobic to maximal intensity (from 65% to 100% of maximal heart rate).

The major finding was that the contribution from muscles in the arms didn’t change with increasing speeds, but the work done by the muscles in the trunk and legs increased with increasing effort and speed.

So the muscles in the arms maxed out right away, even at the lower speeds. The increasing speed was supported by more work in the core and legs.

Should women look for ways to involve more lower body strength in their skiing? More movement of the hips might also lead to greater vertical movement of the centre of mass, which is energetically very costly. Would it be worth it?

Should we even think of THE centre of mass, or should we consider the upper body and lower body centre of mass independently?

It’s well accepted that skiers will naturally have different technique because we differ morphologically, but would it help to think specifically about gender differences in technique, particularly with regards to double poling?

Given the ever rising importance of double pole technique, I think this question is worth asking. I hope we see a study soon that provides some answers.

I’m inclined to think women would be better served with double pole technique that involves less trunk incline and more flexion through the hips and legs because of our proportionally greater lower body strength, but that’s pure speculation.

Maybe it’s a wash and all our differences combine in such a way that we should all double pole with similar technique. How can we know without testing?

I’d be interested to read other people’s thoughts in the comments below.

References:

  1. Gender differences in endurance performance by elite cross-country skiers are influenced by the contribution from poling.
  2. http://mreed.umtri.umich.edu/mreed/downloads.html#anthro
  3. Changes in upper and lower body muscle involvement at increasing double poling velocities: an ecological study.

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