European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 119, Issue 7, pp 1557–1563 | Cite as

Do poles save energy during steep uphill walking?

  • Nicola GiovanelliEmail author
  • Michele Sulli
  • Rodger Kram
  • Stefano Lazzer
Original Article



In trail running and in uphill races many athletes use poles. However, there are few data about pole walking on steep uphill. The aim of this study was to compare the energy expenditure during uphill walking with (PW) and without (W) poles at different slopes.


Fourteen mountain running athletes walked on a treadmill in two conditions (PW and W) for 5 min at seven different angles (10.1°, 15.5°, 19.8°, 25.4°, 29.8°, 35.5° and 38.9°). We measured cardiorespiratory parameters, blood lactate concentration (BLa) and rating of perceived exertion (RPE). Then, we calculated the vertical cost of transport (CoTvert). Using video analysis, we measured stride frequency (SF) and stride length (SL).


Compared to W, CoTvert during PW was lower at 25.4°, 29.8° and 35.5° PW (\( -\) 2.55 ± 3.97%; \( -\) 2.79 ± 3.88% and \( -\) 2.00 ± 3.41%, p < 0.05). RPE was significantly lower during PW at 15.5°, 19.8°, 29.8°, 35.5° and 38.9° (\( -\) 14.4 ± 18.3%; \( -\) 16.2 ± 15.2%; \( -\) 16.6 ± 16.9%; \( -\) 17.9 ± 18.7% and \( -\) 18.5 ± 17.8%, p < 0.01). There was no effect of pole use on BLa. However, BLa was numerically lower with poles at every incline except for 10.1°. On average, SF for PW was lower than for W (\( -\) 6.7 ± 5.8%, p = 0.006) and SL was longer in PW than in W (+ 8.6 ± 4.5%, p = 0.008).


PW on steep inclines was only slightly more economical than W, but the substantially lower RPE during PW suggests that poles may delay fatigue effects during a prolonged effort. We advocate for the use of poles during steep uphill walking, although the energetic savings are small.


Energetics Vertical km Trail running Pole walking 



We are grateful to all the athletes who participated in the study. We also thank Gloria Plett, MD, for her assistance during the testing.

Author contributions

NG, RK and SL conception and design of research; NG and MS conducted experiments and analyzed data; NG, RK and SL interpreted results of experiments; NG and MS prepared figures; NG drafted manuscript; NG, MS, RK and SL edited and revised manuscript. NG, MS, RK and SL approved final version of manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MedicineUniversity of UdineUdineItaly
  2. 2.School of Sport ScienceUdineItaly
  3. 3.Locomotion Laboratory, Integrative Physiology DepartmentUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA

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