Questions to Assess Your Poling

Here are some suggestions for things to think about on your next ski outing:

What’s Your Upper Body to Lower Body Ratio of Effort?

The use of poles allows you to distribute the workload across your upper and lower body, but only if you use them efficiently.

Men can use a higher proportion of upper body strength than women because their ratio of upper to lower body strength is different from ours, but there’s still plenty of power for women to tap into.

You want to balance out the work between the upper and lower body as much as possible. Typically, folks under utilize their poles in diagonal stride and over utilize them in skate skiing.

Can you apply more pressure and be more active in your poling in Diagonal Stride?

In skate skiing, if you feel overly reliant on your poles, take your poles off and work on no-poles skiing on both flats and uphills.

What happens to your poling on hills? Can you distribute the workload more evenly?

Do Your Shoulders Creep Up?

Don’t be a turtlehead.

Some skiers on the World Cup circuit look like turtles. On a cold day, when they’re wearing a big neck gaiter, their heads seem to disappear into their torsos. Sprinters often look like this too.

It’s one of those things, like heels coming off the binding plate in double pole, that people fixate on and try to emulate.

Even if you know better than to try to deliberately ski like this, your shoulders may unconsciously creep up.

Periodically do a self-assessment. Have you tensed up in your shoulders and neck? Can you pull your head back into better alignment?

You’re not sitting at a desk anymore. Time on the ski trails is a great opportunity to combat poor posture habits.

Do You Push or Pull, and in What Direction?

I’ve heard debate over whether you should think of the pole stroke as a push or a pull. I don’t think this is a productive way of thinking because push and pull are terms that need a frame of reference.

We pull towards something and push things away. If my hands start somewhere up near my shoulders and finish somewhere in the vicinity of my hips, did I pull my hands towards my hips or push my poles away from the spot in front of my shoulders?

To me, the more important issue is the overall direction of the pushing or pulling force. I think of it as predominantly a downward directed force. I think people get into trouble with their poling when they think of reaching ahead and creating more of a backward force.

Look at the bar on the right pillar of this cable machine. You can move a larger stack of weights if you get under the pulley, keep your arms close to your body and push or pull downwards.

You can’t move nearly as much weight by standing away from the machine, reaching forward and pulling backwards. When standing with our weight forward and our hands just ahead of our shoulders, we are stronger pushing or pulling downwards because we can engage our core muscles better and keep our elbow and shoulder angles closer to their strongest positions.

There’s no doubt you can generate more force in this situation if you push or pull in a downward direction, but of course, for the force to move you forward it needs to be directed backwards. That happens naturally as your body moves forwards and the pole angle changes.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying poling is 100% a downward force, I’m sure in reality it’s a blend.

When people think of poling as reaching ahead and pushing or pulling backwards, they tend to grind out their pole finish excessively. You’ll see their elbow joint collapse before it extends and their hands wiggle around a bit.

This is one of those topics where you will undoubtedly hear a variety of opinions. You’ll have to decide what cues and ideas work best for you.


How do you think Double Poling Works?

6 thoughts on “Questions to Assess Your Poling”

  1. Kim: Thoughtful interesting piece that engages the reader to consider his technique and coaching. I’ve come to expect this. Cheers.

  2. Once again, Kim, a very articulate way of getting across the basics of a movement using only words. Not easy to do! I have found that a good way to get the “feeling” for proper double poling is to have the skier simply stand still and compare holding the arms out high and straight vs in tight, with elbows bent when beginning the “piston-like” DPing action. You can really feel the power of the latter compared to the former.

  3. “I’m not saying poling is 100% a downward force, I’m sure in reality it’s a blend.”

    Pole force is always aligned with the axis of the pole. The relative fraction of vertical (or normal) to horizontal (or tangential) force is going to be rise over run of the pole inclination. The force will be 100% downward if you plant the pole vertically, but the finish line is in front of you, not up in the sky. So don’t do that. (Though I’m tempted to think that some extra long noodly poles could be used efficiently with a vaulting motion, the new FIS length restriction will thankfully spare us the indignity of seeing someone try it in a race.)

    Lately, I’ve been thinking about elbow angle in terms of not just the push phase of poling, but the recovery as well. Plenty of people pay extra to have holes cut out of their ski tips to reduce swing weight and then pole with their arms straight. Getting the elbow to 90deg right after push-off and keeping it square all the way through the forward swing is going to greatly reduce shoulder torque.

    • Hi Art, Thanks for your comments. What I was trying to convey in this article wasn’t so much about the actual direction of the force. I understand it’s aligned with the axis of the pole. I’m talking about the direction of muscular effort.

      This is one of the biggest differences I see between most of the “masters” level skiers I see on the trails vs the younger generation of racers. The first push back and emphasize the “end” of their pole stroke. Younger skiers/racers push more downward and know how to shorten their pole stroke according to the terrain.

  4. I understand what you are saying Kim! being one of the old folks I had a tendency of considering the poling driving force as a pushing action which explained why I used to bend forward so much when I double polled! After video analysis I changed my view and have a more powerful pulling action when I double pole! I don’t really push but stay dynamic until my pole tips leave the snow behind me! It would be a shame to cause a drag and slow myself down after the big pull! My position when I double pole which is now more on the ball of my feet then before had more of an impact on the glide I get from my double polling!


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