When I returned to my local pole studio after lockdown in 2020, I went from being a once a week attendee at casual classes to full blown addiction (we have all been there…). I wanted to be at the studio or practice on a pole 6 days a week. I wanted to learn the new tricks, be able to do as many freestyle classes as possible and nail my laybacks!
However work, life and what my body could tolerate as a new pole enthusiast caused me to reflect and consider (with my physio brain in action)– how can I improve my strength and cardio fitness without spending every day at the studio and causing an injury? I felt like I had a good routine with gym, and had maintained a running and road cycling routine during COVID lockdown – surely it could help with my pole skills?
We have previously written a detailed article around the value of cross training to improve strength for pole, and coming into the holiday season I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to provide a rundown on cardio cross training for pole – pun intended.
What is cardio cross training?
Lets start by diving into what happens to our body when we participate in cardio fitness. To start – it helps to understand the cardiovascular system.
Our cardiovascular system is the circulatory system that comprises of our heart and blood vessels throughout the body as well as the blood that flows through it. The role of this system is to move oxygen and nutrients around the body, and removing blood waste (such as carbon dioxide). The respiratory component is our lungs – the means by which blood is oxygenated and carbon dioxide is removed. Therefore – the cardiorespiratory system is the system by which our heart and lungs support the body. So all the huffing and puffing that we do during a routine – that is our cardiovascular system working– our hearts pumping blood around the body and lungs making sure the blood is full of oxygen and getting rid of the waste.
So then what is cross training? We have gone into depth previously about this term however as a refresher - the definition of cross training is the action or practice of engaging in two or more types of exercise in order to improve fitness or performance in one’s main sport.
With these definitions in mind - what does running, cycling and pole have in common?
They all require an element of endurance (aerobic) and anaerobic fitness, and in simple terms require us to get our hearts pumping whilst breathing deeply. You may have noticed in your skills training session that you feel like you got your heart rate up for short periods, but were not huffing and puffing afterwards. However after doing a routine or freestyle dance session you are absolutely shattered? Often at pole we will condition ourselves for tricks and hope that we have the endurance to get through – and this is where the value of cardio cross training kicks in.
How much cardiovascular fitness is required for pole?
Across the pole and aerialist spectrum as health professionals we are starting to see more studies and evidence around the physical and psychological benefits of pole. Dr Joanna Nicholas completed a PHD in 2019 specifically looking into various elements of recreational pole dancing and identified that 60 minutes of a pole class can be classified as moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory exercise. Joanna also identified that exercise and energy intensity levels were greater in routine-based training rather than skills training.
So what does that mean for us? If a pole class fits into the moderate-intense cardio category (otherwise known as aerobic exercise) – then adding cardio exercise into our cross training off the pole can very much so help us improve on the pole. Very similar to weights in the gym, or a stretch class.
But it doesn’t have to be a full 60 minutes of exercise. The aim of improving our cardiovascular fitness is not only to be able to adapt to an increased heart-rate but also aid in our bodies ability to tolerate a higher lactate threshold. If we consider a pole routine at your local studio – it will on average go for 2-4 minutes (longer if you are in an elite class).
Our cross train for success article found here highlights the different energy systems in detail, but lets quickly dive into a recap as it provides a foundation when considering the type of cardio cross training you might consider incorporating into your off the pole program. The three energy systems are:
A single case study by Ruscello et al published in 2017 identified that a 3.5 minute routine produced peak lactate levels equivalent to very high intensity exercise, meaning the routine used more of the ATP-CP and Anaerobic system. This means that 30 minute run you were considering adding in may not be the type of cardio cross training you need for pole.
So what DO you need from a cardio cross-training perspective? It simply depends on what your specific goals are. If you would like to improve your endurance to participate in a dance class, exercising over a longer period of time would be appropriate. Or if your goal is to nail the latest combination trick you have learnt in class without running out of steam, a high intensity style training designed to increase your heart rate for shorter burst would be best to aid in those quick or challenging tricks without lactate slowing you down.
What type of cardiovascular exercise is right for me?
Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong answer. It is important to consider what your body is used to, but also what you are motivated to do outside of the studio. Some of us prefer to swim, others may prefer to cycle. You might be surprised who is already going along to the 5am Spin class, or who loves trail running or exploring local hiking spots on the weekends.
The key part is to start somewhere. You could grab a bike and find a new track - can be on flat ground keeping your heart rate at a steady level (helping with endurance), or challenge yourself and go find some hills that will give you quick bursts of an increased heart rate . For those that feel inspired to start running – start with some walk runs and build yourself up (the couch to 5km is an easy app to get you started). You would be surprised how being able to run for 20 minutes can improve your endurance in a freestyle class.
For those of you that have found a cardio type you enjoy doing outside of pole, think about how you could change it up to improve your pole fitness. Do you need to add in some sprints into your run sessions or hill repeats on the morning ride to challenge your lactate threshold? Or add in a nice long swim to build endurance.
How do I know where to start?
Now that you are swimming with information – it is time to get started on working on your cardio cross-training off the pole! This allows you to focus on strength, flexibility and skill acquisition at your pole classes, and also means if you need to spend some time away for pole (due to work/family commitments/travel) you can continue to work towards those goals.
If you are worried about injuries (past or risk of injuries) or not sure what type of cardio is best for you (because lets be honest – we all have one that we DON’T want to do), then make an appointment with a health professional to discuss your concerns.
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 keep poling.
Until next time, train safe.
The Pole Physio
· Nicholas, J. (2019). The psychological, physiological and injury-related characteristics of recreational pole dancing. (Doctoral Dissertations). The university of western Australia, Perth, Australia.
· Ruscello, B., Iannelli, A., Partipilo, F., Esposito, M., Pantanella, L., Dring, M. B., & D’Ottavio, S. (2017). Physical and physiological demands in women pole dance: A single case study. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 57(4), 496-503.