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.

The Hopper

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.

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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.

-Weight Distribution-

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.

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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:

  1. Reposition the skier, and/or,
  2. 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.

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Practical Takeaways

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:

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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.

9 thoughts on “How do you think double poling works?”

  1. You might be interested in looking at and commenting on this instructional video available on youtube They cover the double pole at 3:54 and describe it several times as a “pull” rather than a “push”. It seemed very counter-intuitive to me, but I did try to incorporate that concept into my double pole technique video Chris reviewed in December. He called me out on this “pull” and commented he had seen other skiers doing the same.

    [Editor note: Jim is a member of our subscription site: XC Ski Nation and is referring to a video of himself skiing he submitted for technique feedback.]

    • The “pull” quote lives on, but I’m not a fan. The double pole technique demonstrated in that video is several generations out of date.

  2. A Reductionist view results in the parts being subdivided into discrete units of operation. While this may help to envision the movement, the movement is really a whole body (and mind) exercise. All of your mechanical ideas of pivot points and levers are all a part of the process, and describe a Newtonian process of physics. I will try to explain the Double Pole technique using the concepts of Tai Chi and Qigong.

    In Tai Chi, the bones rise to heaven and hold us up and in position, while the muscles relax and sink into earth. The movement is a dynamic blend of yin and Yang. The Double Pole technique is a classic Tai Chi principles of effortless force. The arms swing and float up and forward w/o effort, and the body straightens forward while still keeping the power in the abdomen. The bones are holding us in perfect position while the muscles relax and keep us rooted/grounded. All of this happens through a point directly behind the center of the ball of the foot (bubbling spring) and the point in the abdominal area, in the lower Dantien, called the Sea of Chi. This connection between the Sea of Chi and the Bubbling Spring is where the effortless power comes from, and the movement of chi. As the energy in the Sea of Chi drops into the Bubbling Spring, the arms fall down. This perfect position allows the body to work seamlessly with the surrounding chi, and the chi flows thru the body and down into the snow. As the arms fall down, the body bends forward and arms extend down and backwards, accentuating in the free release of the arms and hands backwards and the total relaxation of the body into the feet. The chi is drawn into the body in the upward/forward movement, and then released thru the body in the downward and back motion. As the process starts up again, it happens thru the Sea of Chi and the Bubbling Spring. It is a whole body positioning and movement, with as little muscle (yang) use as possible. The rise and push forward happens thru the feet and the belly, rather than the energy being pulled up by the shoulders.

    • This is really cool… in addition to skiing I have also been a climber for many years. I remember one woman I know giving the perfect description of climbing.. “Like water flowing upward.”. Your post is reminiscent of that..

  3. I wouldn’t consider the pole a lever, because it is not transmitting any torque. It’s acting more like a strut that can only transmit linear force along its axis. At any point in the stroke, this force can be decomposed into two components: normal (which is lifting you up) and tangential (which is pushing you forward).

    At contact, the tangential component of the force is almost zero. Longer poles and lower hands bring the pole tips back at contact, which allows you to apply more tangential force earlier, but not much. Mid-stroke, the tangential component is growing while force is still being applied by body weight. This is where power is coming from. By the end of the stroke, the poles are closest to horizontal, but force is coming almost all from shoulder torque, so power output starts to go down again.

    Ideally, all of this happens at more or less constant speed. With your feet as your reference frame, (really, it should be center of mass, but feet are easier to follow) the pole tips should be moving at the same speed as the ground at contact. Slower, you’re braking, and faster, you’re trying to accelerate body mass right at the point where it’s least efficient to do so.

    Engineery stuff aside, the thing that jumps out at me most in that last video is that the skier looks like he’s pushing his hips back against an invisible wall. I don’t know why, but when I try to think about doing that, everything else just falls into place.

  4. I’ve been trying to practice double-poling up hills that feel a bit “too steep” for it (I think this is around a 5-7% grade for me) and I notice that unless I “hop” a bit in order to get as far forward as possible, I can’t really make any forward progress at all. Is there a more graceful way to go about this?

    Since I don’t have classic technique judges watching me, it seems to work pretty well in the current, post-ice storm conditions in Montreal to double-pole until the track-setting ends and offset skate up the steep parts :)

  5. Kim, the last two ski’s after work I thought about using my high side pole as a lever while using V1-Offset going uphill, it definitely seemed to add a little extra oomph. I also noticed Heidi Weng seemed to be using her pole as a lever when she was V1-Offsetting in one of her races. Will keep that thought/cue in mind the rest of the season.

  6. Wow! Such a nice coverage of double poling! You don’t leave much for me to add. I can only pin point what from experience made the difference for me! Proper positioning with never putting much weight on the heels and never really sitting down while keeping an ankle flexion! Be gentle on first pole impact on the ground then apply as much pressure you can on your poles by bracing your core with the arms kept lock at 90 degrees, a very slight leg bend helps increasing the pressing on the pole. If I feel that I am pushing myself forward rather then pulling myself forward while double poling I am likely not dynamic anough and I will increase my tempo, this is specially true while double poling going up-hill. Chris really helped me by explaining that the point of poles plant is always the same so if the glide decrease a lot going up-hill you need to reduce the length of push to be able to bring back your poles ahead of you at the same point of contact each time. There is still room for improvement but working on those points made so much of a difference for me that I double pole most of the time when classic skiing or kick double pole. I use diagonal striding on very long steep up-hill where I am not strong anough yet to double pole the whole way to the top. Often in training I use my skating equipment in tracked trails to force myself to double pole and only skate when there is no tracks left on the up-hills! I had to relearn how to use my legs while skating as to not loose such an improvement in my double poling, I keep my boots much more under and behind me while I initiate my skating movement. A more efficient double poling lead to so many improvements in my skiing technic. That is about it. X-country skiing has never been such a nice gliding activity for me.


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