The human body wasn’t born with trekking poles attached, so why should we use them when walking on scenic trails or even challenging hikes?
However, the proponents of trekking poles for hiking swear that these devices are a better way to move about on mountain trails — even flat family-friendly trails.
I say otherwise, not just because have a personal-training background, but because I’m an avid hiker and trail runner — of all kinds of terrain.
There is a particular group of foothills where I used to do a lot of hiking. I never used any trekking poles.
It was “all me.” I like the idea of ambulating in the wilderness on all sorts of exciting terrain without relying on an external agent to get me around.
Trekking pole enthusiasts might argue I’m foolish for not using these devices, but my perspective is that trekking poles are crutches and will prevent the growth of agility and neuromuscular coordination.
About that particular group of foothills, there is one giant foothill that’s a pretty steep climb of lumpy tundra.
After getting to the top the first time, I hiked well beyond it on a number of trails, then returned and proceeded to descend the steep tundra.
There was a slight problem. The way I ambulate downhill is to lower my center of gravity and lead with a foot, so that I’m not facing forward (which increases the chances of pitching forward and falling).
Instead my knees are pretty bent and I’m facing three-quarters rather than straight ahead down the hill.
I started out with my left foot leading and everything was second nature.
I then switched to my right foot and immediately detected that the neuromuscular coordination of my right foot and leg didn’t match that of my left.
Had I decided to tackle the issue by relying upon trekking poles, my right side would have remained in that state: not matched to my left side.
Not that I was a klutz, but this was a situation in which a trekking pole user would have put some weight-bearing on the stick to create more stability.
I decided to descend the remainder of the foothill with mostly my “weaker” side. This would stimulate it to grow more neural connections.
Next week I climbed the same foothill, did my running on the flatter trails at the top, then returned to descend.
I didn’t have trekking poles, because my plan was to descend, once again, with mostly my “weaker” side.
When I proceeded on this side, I immediately noticed an improvement from last week. The body responds marvelously to a new training stimulus.
The third time, a week later, descending on my right side felt nearly the same as the left side. And a week after that, voila! My right side matched my left side!
Using trekking poles would have outright prevented this improvement. By not relying upon an external agent, I forced my nervous system to adapt.
This is a prime example of how trekking poles create a barrier to developing or improving coordination and optimal strengthening of joints, connective tissue and nervous system signaling.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.