Does Using Hiking Poles Build Arm Strength?

Building Arm Strength through Nordic Pole Hiking


In a previous article we looked at how hiking poles can reduce back pain.

Does using these poles also build arm strength?

For years fitness professionals guessed at what strength-training benefits came from using Nordic hiking poles, but now more research is proving that yes, they actually do lead to increased strength.


Walking with poles helps distribute weight through arms, while reducing pain and impact on lower body joints like the ankles and knees. This is important, as lower-body joint typically take the brunt of most impact, given that they support most of the body’s weight.

Hiking with poles however, distributes and lessens that impact. It gives arms added pressure to push through, making upper body muscles work more.


In a study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science, the use of hiking poles lead to a significant increase in hand grip strength and arm curl.

The participants were tested for regular exercise, using the sticks,  over 12 weeks, and saw a nearly 20% increase in arm curl strength. The participants were both young and elderly. Many age groups.

Essentially, their arm bearing strength went from lifting 50 lbs to nearly 60 lbs in under 3 months. Leading to more calorie burn and higher metabolism.


Walking with poles was found  more effective than normal walking in improving upper extremity strength.



From fitness trainer Carol Michaels of Carol Michaels Fitness in an interview with Mother Nature Network explains, “walking with poles is a simple and effective exercise because it combines walking with an upper-body workout. “


She goes on to say

"Because of this combination, pole walkers benefit from using the chest, triceps, biceps, shoulders and abdominals with the leg muscles."


Nordic walking originally started as a summer program to train cross-country skiers in preparation for winter. Strength training of the biceps and triceps using walking poles can lead to stronger arms, shoulders and an upper body.


Another fitness professional explains: “It mimics crosscountry skiing, which is the toughest, most calorie-burning exercise there is and gives you the fullest range of movement of any sport. The poles encourage you to take longer strides. A bigger movement means bigger results.”4


In fact, it’s not just arm muscles that improve. Walking with poles targets arms, particularly the triceps or bingo wings, as well as abdominals, waist, chest, bottom, hips and thighs.”


Using most kinds of trekking poles, nordic walking sticks, or ski poles give your upper body weight-bearing stimulus. And that is needed for building and improving arm strength.


Are you looking for a natural strength training workout, without added difficulty? With little to no added perceived workout stress, you can add up to 20% more calorie burn and muscle building, simply by walking . . . with poles.



In addition to strength training, and building muscles, the use of hiking poles can lead to leaner, more toned arm muscles. Because the resistance is not overly large, arms will enjoy a gentler strength training workout. The natural “pull” that arms use for walking poles is just enough to build muscles in a lean way.


How to walk with trekking poles:

  • Keep your arms at 90 degrees while standing straight. This is the optimal height.
  • If going uphill, having a taller pole setting may lead to more exerted power in the arms, leading to more strength training and muscle building.
  • Consider using your pole and a stretching tool or for stationary exercise, such as pulling up your body weight, and various leans. Be sure it is thick enough to handle your body weight, like EarthTrek Pole or similar.
  • Straps: If your pole has straps, firmly wrap them around your hands to use as resistance at certain times. This will give relieve from your hand grip. Alternate between “pulling” your hiking pole with the straps on some striding, and gripping the handles tightly at other times. This will balance hand rest, with building grip strength.
  • Include with your walking, lightweight shoes, and easy-fitting clothes.
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Consider using new rubber tips and feet on your hiking pole, to reduce impact to your armswalking-pole-tip-feet


  • Have fun and explore new trails!


Building strength, burning calories, simply by doing easier walking, while having fun in the outdoors, . . . now that is a workout for everyday people.





Mike Cutler, avid trail blogger and tester for EarthTrek Gear (, lives in Reno, Nevada, and enjoys exploring trails in the Sierra mountains with his family.





  1. Acute effects of walking with Nordic poles in persons with mild to moderate low-back pain
Int J Exerc Sci. 2016; 9(4): 507–513.
Published online 2016 Oct 1.




  1. Effects of Nordic Walking on Body Composition, Muscle Strength, and Lipid Profile in Elderly Women
Author links open overlay panelMin-SunSongRN, PhD1Yong-KwonYooPhD2Chan-HunChoiPhD3Nam-ChoKimRN, PhD4


5.      Nordic Walking could give you shapely arms and a pert derriere (and you don't need any snow)
UPDATED: 21:12 EDT, 6 February 2010
Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Photo by Frame Kings on Unsplash
Photo by Harlie Raethel on Unsplash

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