Updated: May 21
Whether you call it a straddle, invert or even a chopper, this trick is one of the first moves in a pole dancer’s repertoire that makes you feel like your finally on your way to becoming an aerial artist.
Whilst a straddle is considered a basic trick in the aerial world, there is nothing basic at all about being able to flip your centre of gravity on its head! And not only is it a proud moment when you finally achieve it, but the straddle also opens up a whole new world of pole tricks that can only be accessed upside down. Not to mention your non-pole friends’ minds will blow when they see you do it!
Commonly, students can feel stuck trying to conquer the dreaded straddle, sometimes even taking years to achieve it. They just keep practicing it over and over again hoping that one day things will just *click*. But let me tell you, there’s a better and much quicker way to achieve it. Quite simply it comes down to understanding where your body is lacking in strength.
And unfortunately the body mechanics of pole has been poorly understood and documented until now! So allow me to break it down for you step by step to help you understand and achieve all the movements involved.
**Quick mini disclaimer ** - Before continuing please note that the purpose of this blog is not to teach you how to straddle but to break down the mechanics of the movement to help you achieve it quicker and perform it better. I have specifically left out instructions on how to best setup and initiate the movement of the straddle for this reason.
Our instructors are the best people to teach us how to perform these tricks, so I’ll leave the instruction to them! And just like any pole dancer out there, I’m still well & truly on my own individual pole journey & learning lots along the way from my teachers. In the meantime however, I am enjoying combing my passion & knowledge for physio & pole by passing this information on to other avid polers out there through the form of these blogs!
So let’s break it down…
To complete a straddle, aerialists are required to pull up into the body with the arms and legs simultaneously, making themselves into a ball to then tip backwards. To make it easier to understand let’s break the movement down into 4 different stages as shown in figure 1. Each of these stages can then be further described in separate areas of the body: upper body, trunk and lower body.
Make sure you keep referring back to this drawing when trying to understand the anatomy of a straddle.
To be able to initiate a straddle and lift the body off the ground into a straight hold (stage 1), the upper body needs to be actively engaged in a vertical pull. How do you engage your shoulders you ask? Well, try to think of an active pull through your lower trapezius (lowest part between your shoulder blades).
Once you can achieve multiple good quality knee tucks (stage 2) whilst keeping your shoulders correctly engaged, you’re ready to attempt a straddle. Same goes for an aerial straddle. A strong aerial tuck = a good starting point for an aerial straddle.
As you reach the frogs leg stage of a straddle (stage 3) and you begin tipping back through the straddle, the arms should remain by the side of your body allowing for a horizontal pull and the elbows slowly extend to bring the pelvis up to the pole. The triceps and lats should be working really hard concentrically in this position to keep the arms by your side whilst the biceps are helping us lower into the straddle through an eccentric action. Throughout this stage it’s important to keep the shoulders engaged as we spoke about in stage 1.
A full tip back and extension of the arms will place us into our straddle (stage 4). To be able to sustain good invert technique once there, retract the shoulder blades together and keep the chest area open. And don’t forget to keep your shoulders away from your ears as shown in Figure 2. An active pull through the lats and biceps in this position will keep the hips up against the pole and prevent collapsing of the shoulders.
It’s also important to note that the movement into a straddle should not involve your neck being thrown backwards. Whilst I understand it’s tempting to place the head backwards to help shift the centre of gravity to be behind us, this can result in a neck injury and you probably won’t get your straddle due to incorrect muscle engagement. As per figure 1 the neck should be kept in line with the spine the whole time. And when you hit your straddle (stage 4) your head should facing directly behind where you started (horizontal gaze across the room) and not down to the floor. Instead of looking backwards, focus on pulling through the arms and getting the hips up to the pole to help shift our centre of gravity backwards.
Trunk If you’re able to keep a strong upper body position during a straddle and are still not achieving the full invert, then it’s likely that it’s your trunk strength letting you down. This is where things can start to get a bit complicated and is what most beginners struggle with the concept of.
The secret to a perfect straddle is achieving correct engagement between all the muscles. Every joint of the body has stabilising muscles. In the trunk these are commonly referred to as the core muscles and are made up of a few different layers (figure 3). In addition to the stabilisers, each joint is accompanied ‘movers’ which are muscles that help us perform the movement required.
Key concept: When we are moving into any pole trick we want to perform the movement with proximal stability. i.e our abdominal muscles need to stabilise effectively before we start to move the limbs otherwise we risk injury.
Quite simply put, if the trunk is not being adequately stabilised at the start or any part of an invert, the straddle won’t be achieved. In fact the big ol’ mover muscles will try to take over and do the job for us. In a straddle’s case it’s the latissimus dorsi (lats) and iliopsoas. These muscles have an anchor into a spine and pelvis and will contract and shorten in the hope to help us straddle. In reality though, they will pull the spine into extension which is the opposite movement we want to straddle.
For beginners this is one of the most common errors we see. Instead of initiating the movement from their stabilising abdominal muscles, they use their lats instead to perform the movement which can flare the rib cage and anteriorly tilt the pelvis (as shown in figure 4) whilst they try to throw themselves backwards – eeep! Please no throwing of your bodies – only controlled movements in optimal pelvic positions!
So before we even think about lifting off the ground we want to ensure we are engaging the stabilising muscles. Now you may have heard your instructor yell in class ‘tuck your pelvis in’, ‘flatten your ribcage’ or ‘zip up through the stomach’. These are little cues we commonly use to help us change our pelvic tilt and activate our abdominal stabilisers or anti-extension muscles.
See, when we straddle, our pelvis is required to tuck into a posterior tilt (figure 5). This allows for optimal abdominal muscle engagement and will help us lift into a straddle. One way to work on abdominal activation is to work on controlling your pelvic tilt. Sitting in a chair try to roll your pelvis backwards slightly until your tailbone is touching the chair. This is our posterior pelvic tilt position and you may feel your abdominals even engage. Although it may feel exaggerated when sitting down, this is how our pelvis should tuck in when we go to straddle.
Now roll the other way so the tailbone is lifted from the chair. This is an anterior pelvic tilt. You’ll likely notice it’s harder to engage your abdominals in this position and can even feel ‘pinchy’ on the lower back. This is the position we don’t want to be in when attempting a straddle.
If you’re having difficulty getting your straddle due to abdominal strength, try this exercise first off the pole. It can also be done laying down on your back whilst holding onto a pole. Keep tuned because I’ll be releasing a special off the pole straddle strengthening blog with exercise progressions shortly!
From our straight leg hold (stage 1) to our knee tuck (stage 2) and beyond, our hip flexors (primarily quadriceps and iliopsoas) have to work hard to drive the knees up towards the chest and to maintain them in that position.
To transition from the frog legs position (stage 3) we need to actively engage through iliopsoas and quadriceps to straighten our legs as we tip our weight backwards into our straddle. To achieve a straddle position our body is required to hold an inverted position with our legs apart into a wide ‘V’.
Please note: It’s important to work on the timing of the transition sequence from stage 3 to 4 and not straighten the legs until you’re over your centre of gravity/close to the top of the straddle.
Make sure once you’re in a straddle (legs straight), you use a combined movement with the legs where the hip flexes, abducts and externally rotates. Without this combined movement we would just fall out of the straddle.
This requires the use of our iliopsoas, tensor fascia latae, glute maximus, glute medius & the rotator cuff of the hip. You can strengthen these muscles as shown by Mischka in the video to the left.
And remember everything is a work in progress. Strengthening these muscles when you’re in a straddle position achieves a gorgeous end result but it takes time. Straddling with bent vs straight knees?
Pole dancers will always opt for bent knee straddles when starting out. This is why we encourage a knee tuck as shown in stage 2. Naturally bent knees reduce the lever on the lower back so are easier to perform, whereas straight legs increase the leverage on the stomach meaning greater force is required to keep them straight when straddling. If you’re ready for a challenge, try substituting the knee tuck for a seated V instead. When this becomes more comfortable you are ready to try a straight leg straddle as shown in Figure 6.
There are a few different muscles around the hips that help lift them into a bent knee straddle such as the quadriceps, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae and iliopsoas. However if you’re trying to work on a straight leg straddle, iliopsoas is the main muscle that performs hip flexion movement when the knee is straight so it’s a great idea to work on the strength of this muscle separately to achieve a straight leg. This can be done using our standing combined movement exercise.
There’s a lot in a kick..
Ah the joys of finally conquering the floor straddle and then learning that you now have to take it aerially…
Momentum isn’t available to us when we are first learning this movement in an aerial position, which cuts out a major cheating strategy people tend to use when first learning on the floor. If possible, I would highly encourage not including a swing kick/jump or momentum when first learning to straddle from a floor position. It’s much safer for your body, and looks far more controlled and appealing to the eye. Not to mention judges love this stuff when it comes to competitions and you will progress to getting your aerial straddle much quicker this way!
When learning how to straddle, or even if you already have your straddle, it’s important to practice simpler variations frequently to work on improving your trunk’s ability to stabilise and co-ordinate the movement. This could be as simple as working on your standing tuck or your deconstructed straddle in stages.
If you’ve been struggling to get your straddle for a while, feel free to chat to myself about booking a pole based appointment to figure out what part of your straddle is letting you down. From here I can provide a tailored strengthening program to help you get your straddle in no time at all!
And don’t forget to remember the key concept when it comes to all things aerial:
“creating stability through each joint, particularly your trunk, will help develop fundamental strength building blocks for your body to learn new wonderful tricks & skills. With strength you will safely and quickly progress through the world of pole”
Well that just about wraps up the anatomy of a straddle blog. Got a burning question??? Then leave me a comment at the bottom of this page or via @thepole.physio instagram or facebook page.
And don’t forget to tune in tomorrow and every day after that this week as I will be bringing to you a breakdown of different exercises on & off the pole that you can use to work on each part of your straddle & straight leg straddle!
Working on trying to unlock your straddle & need some help?
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Until next time, train safe!
The Pole Physio
A straddle 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.
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