Beginning OCR – To Pole or not to Pole? – Pros and cons of Trekking Poles


I have had a friend ask me about this, and I have pondered it for a while.  I have my own knee-jerk opinions on the matter based on personal experience, but for fairness’s sake, I felt compelled to research the topic in more detail and somewhat impartially.  I wanted to be able to give a more informed and rounded response to this question about any advantages or disadvantages walking poles present for the OCR. 

As I understand it, trekking poles are a great tool for the inexperienced OCR, one who is still preparing both mentally and physically for this type of challenge.  The obvious physical benefit is that they relieve some pressure off of the lower body and transfer some weight to the upper body.  Another advantage is that the use of poles helps to build confidence in going uphill and downhill with the added precaution and steadiness that walking poles provide.  A security blanket, if you will.  Confidence is the battle with the mind that we must win to successfully conquer an obstacle course.  Gaining confidence by using poles is the first step in winning the mind game that hills play by increasing stability as you go up and down the mountain. 

For the inexperienced OCR, using poles will naturally allow a person to go further than he would likely go if he were not.  Leg fatigue is delayed due to the transfer of force that the poles provide.  Again, this is not just a physical support, but mental as well.  In addition to these benefits, trekking poles also lowers the risk of falling by adding limbs to the body, so to speak J

However, there are some drawbacks associated with use of poles for the OCR.  A decent pair of trekking poles are roughly one hundred dollars, which may be money allocated to the wrong place in your budget.  Poles are not permitted for use during these events, so it just doesn’t make sense to incorporate a literal “crutch” into the workout routine.  Furthermore, even though leg fatigue is postponed or prevented, the chance for whole body fatigue increases instead of just the legs tiring.  There are also many people who do not use the poles properly, and they can become more of a hindrance than anything else.   

In my opinion, unless a person is a complete novice or starting from ground zero in terms of confidence, I see very little benefit of the use of poles for the training of OC racer.  If the goals are to increase your leg strength going uphill, increase your balance or to get a full body workout, I am sure most of us can find other ways to do this without bringing unnecessary (and probably illegal) equipment into the equation. 

Sandbag - Adding weight for lower body strength
Sandbag – Adding weight for lower body strength

The most challenging obstacle courses are the ones that have hills or mountains incorporated into the circuit and our job is to get up that hill any way we can.  Our best chance is to develop powerful legs to pull us up there.  If you want to get an upper body workout while you hike, or want to increase the stress on your legs while you run, carry something up that hill.  Last time I checked, the rock or log on the side of the trail is cheap or, hmmmmmm, free- and disposable!- to be used to increase your leg strength and increase your cardiovascular endurance as you take your hike through the mountains.  


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