Originally published Wednesday, January 10, 2018 at 06:05a.m.

If hiking is a fitness goal for the New Year, you may want to consider using trekking poles.

“Trekking poles look like ‘ski poles” and are standard among equipment among hikers,” says Karen Russell, PTA, Community Liaison at Mountain Valley Regional Rehabilitation Hospital. “They’re a great way to provide stability and support on all types of terrain when they are fitted and used properly.”

When selecting trekking poles, hikers have a variety of options. Two poles can be used in tandem for stability, or one pole can be used for flatter terrains. Whether using one or two poles, however, a hiker should find one that allows a 90-degree bend at the elbow when the pole hits the ground. The pole’s weight, adjustability, locking features, and shock absorption also should be considered.

“Trekking poles can help reduce the impact of hiking on knees and leg muscles because arm and shoulder muscles help provide support and relief,” Russell says. “Poles also offer stability and can help improve balance when walking through rough terrain or when crossing streams.”

Studies have shown that trekking poles can reduce the impact strain of hiking on the knees and legs by 20-25 percent. In 1981, Dr. G. Neureuther proved that the use of “ski poles” while walking reduced pressure and strain on the opposite leg by 20 percent. A study in the Journal of Sports Medicine in 1999 showed that trekking poles can reduce the force on knees by up to 25 percent.

Russell says there are additional benefits to trekking poles as well. “When a hiker uses trekking poles, they required a ‘hands above the heart’ position,” she says. “This helps improve circulation and reduce heart rate. The use of the walking poles also can lead to a rhythm that helps hikers breathing to be more relaxed and regular, while increasing stamina.”

To reap the benefits, Russell says, you have to be sure to use the poles correctly. To get the most out of trekking poles, consider:

Alternating poles and legs. Plant the opposing trekking pole with the opposite foot for a natural rhythm.

Double planting. On steep climbs or descents, plant both poles at the same time before taking a step.

Walk naturally. Maintain a natural arm swing.

Negotiating obstacles. When wading through water, plant the pole and make sure it’s secure before moving forward. To cross large rocks, plant both poles on the ground as you step up.

Information provided by Mountain Valley Regional Rehabilitation Hospital.