Hiking is great exercise, but all that climbing up and down can result in some sore muscles. Add some trekking poles, however, and that soreness could be lessened, a study found.
Researchers from the United Kingdom took 26 men and 11 women who were physically active to the highest peak in England and Wales for a day hike. About half the study participants used trekking poles on the ascents and descents, while the rest used no poles and acted as a control group. Otherwise, the groups were similar - they hiked together, so times were comparable. Everyone also carried a day pack and ate the same food.
Average heart rates for the two groups on the ascents and descents were about equal. But differences showed up for rates of perceived exertion, a measure of how hard people think they're working, based on monitoring functions such as heart rate, perspiration and breathing.
Those with the trekking poles had significantly lower RPE than the control group on parts of the ascents, while there were no differences in RPE on the descents.
Those with poles had less muscle soreness than those in the control group. The pole group also showed a reduced loss of strength and a speedier recovery right after hiking, as well as one and two days afterward, compared with the control group.
In the study the authors speculated that the lower RPE scores in the trekking-pole group may be chalked up to the fact that the poles provided more stability and less load on the lower limbs during the ascents. Less muscle soreness might be attributed to the poles redistributing the load on the lower limbs to the upper body.
The study appears in the January issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.