Purpose: In sky- and trail-running competitions, many athletes use poles. The aims of this study were to investigate whether the use of poles affects the force exerted on the ground at the feet (Ffoot), cardiorespiratory variables and maximal performance during uphill walking. Methods: Fifteen male trail runners completed four testing sessions on different days. On the first two days, they performed two incremental uphill treadmill walking tests to exhaustion with (PWincr) and without poles (Wincr). On the following days, they performed submaximal and maximal tests with (PW80 and PWmax) and without (W80 and Wmax) poles on an outdoor trail course. We measured cardiorespiratory parameters, the rating of perceived exertion, the axial poling force and Ffoot. Results: When walking on the treadmill, we found that poles reduced maximum Ffoot (- 2.8 ± 6.4%, p = 0.03) and average Ffoot (- 2.4 ± 3.3%, p = 0.0089). However, when outdoors, we found pole effect only for average Ffoot (p = 0.0051), which was lower when walking with poles (- 2.6 ± 3.9%, p = 0.0306 during submaximal trial and - 5.21 ± 5.51%, p = 0.0096 during maximal trial). We found no effects of poles on cardiorespiratory parameters across all tested conditions. Performance was faster in PWmax than in Wmax (+ 2.5 ± 3.4%, p = 0.025). Conclusion: The use of poles reduces the foot force both on the treadmill and outdoors at submaximal and maximal intensities. It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that the use of poles "saves the legs" during uphill without affecting the metabolic cost.
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