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.

7 thoughts on “Should Men and Women Double Pole Differently?”

  1. I’ve thought about this too but mainly from observation of the marathon skiers. Have a look at one of the best long distance double polers – Britta Norgren. Her technique looks much different compared to what the men are doing.

    Reply
    • Hey Tyler
      I found a video of her on Instagram double-poling but I couldn’t really see how it was different from men. She does use her legs a lot. Is that what you think is different?

      Reply
  2. Her we go again. Stop the gender specific crap and focus on body differences. The aim is to take to your advantage what your body can give you. Many women have extremely strong upper body so they should take advantage of that fact and not start restricting themselves in the way they double pole because they are women; this would be the dumpiest thing I ever heard. Some women have extremely strong core muscles so again they should take advantage of that fact. So my take on that is people should double pole based on their physionomie rather than their gender. That is my opinion on that one. Same thing apply for men. There is anough body differences as it is. gender should not be in the mix. Are we going to get into skiing like a man or skiing like a woman? It does not make sense. Women skiers that want performance but are overweight should be treated the same way as men in that condition which is to be looked in the eyes and told if you loose that extra weight you will be faster. Another thing that is not gender specific! And we can go on and on……. Accept the way you are and use it to your advantage and forget about gender as a difference. (Do I win a t-shirt to stick my head out like that or my head will be cut because I am too pragmatic and direct like my wife keep telling me when she ask me what I think of her dress.)

    Reply
    • Marc – you’re missing the point. I agree that individual variations are important, but that’s thinking at a micro level (one skier). I’m talking about examining this question at a macro level. If everything about technique was specific to the individual, there’d be little point to looking for larger trends and general truths.

      Sexual dimorphism is not a cultural construct, it’s a biological reality. Double poling technique has the largest gender gap and I think it’s worth thinking about why and whether there are any practical implications. The majority of scientific research is done on double pole technique and the overwhelming majority of research is done on men. We would be wise to pause before translating those finding to female skiers.

      Reply
      • But the biological reality is that you’re comparing groups defined by overlapping distributions of morphological attributes. From a scientific perspective, you can’t draw any conclusions about sexual dimorphism unless you’re controlling for all other factors.
        For example, the differences between men and women in both VO2Max and specific power output are around 20-25%. So one could easily argue that gender doesn’t matter, and neither does morphology, or even technique; at the macro scale, double poling speed all comes down to W/kg.

  3. There are certain basic fundamentals that have to remain in place for both genders. Pole placement enabling thrust to go strait back. Elbows out to the side utilizing bone structure for support instead of the triceps, which cause early fatigue. Movement of pole tips forward as ski speed accelerates. At maximum speed; poles should be placed at a comfortable position ahead of the bindings.
    As for body form, core strength, etc. those factors apply to both men and women and individuals are continually working to find optimal use of body structure. It is absurd to make a category statement regarding gender. Look at Theresa Johaug who doesn’t match the physiology of women you have described. She double poles as well and as fast a tempo as any male. Pound for pound she is probably the best skier in the world. Now, take Jessie Diggins for example. No skier has more determination than Jessie, but few skiers have more flaws in technique with greater success than Jessie. Her pole placement is never consistent and she loses speed and power because of that. Clearly her greatest strength is in her legs. Each skier must examine their physical strengths and utilize them. Even on the men’s tour, there are all sorts of modifications and those should not be ignored.

    Reply

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