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Anatomy of a Bird of Paradise

I remember my first-time hearing a fellow poler mention a bird of paradise (BOP) at the studio. Naturally my mind gravitated towards the flower and wondered how on earth they could translate a gorgeous wonder of nature to pole. They must have sensed my confusion because they quickly explained the move and I’m sure my face changed from a look of puzzlement to a look of awe because it certainly didn’t disappoint! And since then, a BOP has always been a dream move to achieve.

BOP: The ultimate feat of inversion, strength, and flex. Not a move for the faint hearted. Many have tried to conquer it and failed due to the extreme nature of flexibility and strength required, which is why we’re excited to bring the movement to you today in our latest blog in its broken-down anatomical form to help you achieve this move in all its glory. Let’s get into it!

To BOP we require a few key things:

  • Full shoulder flexion/abduction range of motion

  • End of range shoulder flexion/abduction strength

  • Active and passive shoulder stability

  • Thoracic rotation

  • Strong elbow hook (bicep curl)

  • Strong finger grip

  • Active hip flexion, abduction and internal rotation strength of the held leg

  • Full standing or floor mount/split (passive flexibility and neural mobility)

  • Active hip extension and external rotation strength of the free leg

Shoulder Flexibility

One of the biggest areas we see polers get undone when it comes to learning their BOP is their shoulder flexibility. If they don’t have the range of motion, they won’t get the desired elbow hook and either their BOP won’t eventuate, or they end up hurting the upper back/ribcage for overcompensating. So before thinking about trying out your BOP, test your flexibility. If you don’t have the movement required, then it’s important to work on both the passive flexibility and active control away from the pole.

End of range shoulder strength

The next area we see polers come undone is that they have the shoulder flexibility required, but they struggle to get their arm in place arms around the pole. This is often due to a lack of end of range strength. They’re often using their other arm to pull it into place, but may struggle to keep it there and maintain a solid hook. With a BOP we want to position the pole close to the base of the neck/over the upper trap. This allows for an optimal elbow hook. A BOP works the shoulder in a unique way that we’ve often not had to utilise in pole before, so working on some drills that mimic the strength required at end of shoulder flexion/abduction is very helpful.

Shoulder stability

Naturally it goes hand in hand to say that when we require extreme flexibility of our shoulder pole dancing, we also require extreme amounts of active and passive joint control too at our ends of range. In a BOP our deltoid and rotator cuff muscles work together as a force couple to actively stabilise the shoulder in its socket (glenohumeral joint). In addition, our upper trapezius and serratus anterior muscles are working to upwardly rotate the scapula to allow for full shoulder range of motion. Remember – we need both the scapula and the glenohumeral joint to move to allow for full range of motion. This motion is controlled by the small but mighty stabilising muscles. Let’s not forget about our passive structures too that also contribute to our shoulder stability at extreme ranges of motion. Without our glenohumeral ligaments and labrum, our risk of shoulder injury such as dislocation skyrockets. So, make sure you’re caring for your body in the short term so it can give back to you in the long term!

Thoracic Rotation

As you may have already gathered from our discussion on shoulder flexibility, we require a certain amount of thoracic rotation to BOP well. If we don’t have that rotation flexibility, then our shoulders are placed under duress and may be forced into extreme ranges that can increase our risk of injury. It’s also not unheard of for our body to try use some funky movement patterns to compensate instead. So, for the health of our shoulders and ribcage, we want to ensure that both areas are playing their part. Every individual’s anatomy and movement patterns will differ slightly but it’s fair to say that we require at least 45 degrees of thoracic rotation and in the ideal world we should have close to 70 degrees. The more thoracic rotation we have, the less stressful it can feel for other areas of our body. Working on this movement away from the pole is a crucial part of prepping the body for the trick.

Elbow hook

One of the fun things about this move is that we require not just one elbow hook, but two! Elbow range of motion is rarely a limiting factor in these hooks, but the strength can be. Our biceps are primarily responsible for this movement along with the smaller flexor muscles of our forearm. A special shoutout to the supinators and pronators of the arm that allow for forearm rotation and to brachioradialis that assists the biceps in flexing the elbow.

Finger grip

And lastly for the upper body, we need the strength of our fingers! Once our shoulders have the range to bring our hands together, they need to clasp and hold on for dear life! The group of muscles used here are our wrist/finger flexors. You want to a strong clasp for your BOP and not a semi open hand position where you are holding on by the tips of your fingers. Holding on by a semi open hand increases the risk of a tendon or pulley injury which are not a fun injury to have! Often they require surgery and can take months to recover from. So do yourself a favour and don’t take your hooked leg off the pole until you have a strong clasp of the hands.

Split Line Flexibility

It goes without saying that a BOP is a split line, but it’s a bit different than a front split. The line of our BOP is much closer to a standing mount. Now that’s clearly not an easy task and there’s a lot that goes into it. A BOP should not be attempted unless you have the flexibility required of a standing or lying mount. To perform a BOP/standing mount split we require a combined 180 degrees of passive hip flexion and abduction (top leg) and small amount of hip internal rotation to create an illusion of bendier lines. This requires good hamstring flexibility, nerve mobility, internal rotation strength and active stability of the hip joints. Consider this a reminder that splitty moves on the pole require the same split off the pole first!

Hip Flexion and Hip Abduction Strength (Leg Being Held)

When setting up for a BOP we are supported with one leg hooked on the pole whilst the other leg travels towards our face/armpit to create the first part of our open split line. The motion of bringing that hip towards us in known as hip flexion, and whilst gravity is assisting us in this position, we do require active strength to bring our hip towards it’s end of range. For a BOP we encourage a minimum of 130 degrees of active hip flexion, combined with abduction (movement to the side), but we work with our patients to ensure their strength gets them as close to 180 degrees of active flexibility. A standing leg mount is a wonderful way to work towards a BOP before taking this movement onto the pole.

Hip Extension and External Rotation (Free Leg)

And last but not least, we require active hip extension and external rotation of our free leg. Hip extension is controlled by our large glute and hamstring muscles whilst our external rotation is controlled by the deeper muscles of the hip (gluteus medius, obturator externus, piriformis, gemilli, obturator internus).


Whilst screening for our BOP doesn’t directly replicate the demands of the movement, it is a helpful way to determine whether our bodies are up for the challenge. Screening ensures we aren’t putting our body into positions it isn’t ready for yet. And in turn helps to reduce our risk of injury!

To screen for our BOP we would encourage:

  • 180 degrees of shoulder flexion and abduction

  • End of range shoulder flexion/abduction strength

  • Active and passive shoulder stability

  • Thoracic rotation > 45 degrees

  • Strong elbow hook (bicep curl)

  • Strong finger grip

  • Active hip flexion and hip abduction strength > 130 degrees of the held leg

  • Full standing or floor open splits

  • Active hip extension and external rotation strength of the free leg

Have you been struggling to nail your Bird of Paradise but not sure why? Or are you noticing you lack the flexibility required to BOP?

Online telehealth appointments can be booked with the Pole Physio via our ‘Book Online’ page that can be found here. Assessment and tailored rehabilitation are provided in accordance with best practice and evidence-based treatment to help you unleash your 'poletential'.

Until next time, train safe.

The Pole Physio


Please Note:

  • Any artwork on this or other pages of is copyrighted and is not to be reproduced without written permission per the terms of use and conditions.

  • A BOP is an elite level trick and conditioning should ONLY be undertaken if your instructor has deemed you ready to work on this trick. This information is general advice only and we are not liable for any injuries that may occur during training.

  • This page has been created to provide wonderful knowledge with the pole community and sharing of this page to pole friends and pole related Facebook groups is actively encouraged.

1 Comment

4 days ago

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