How to Smash Your Pole Goals
October 10th, 2020
Love pole? Want to nail tricks quicker but don’t want to compromise your body and risk injury? Then it’s time to cross train!
What is cross training & why do we do it you ask?
Well per definition, cross training is action of undertaking another form of exercise with the aim to improve a component of fitness or performance in the main sport being undertaken. And there is an endless list of reasons why we cross train! Some of my favourite reasons why are:
Improved strength, flexibility, motor control and cardio which all lead to performance enhancement (i.e. reach your pole goals faster!)
Injury prevention (risk reduction) and/or injury rehabilitation
Improved balance, proprioceptive awareness and co-ordination
Gain individual greater insight into the different ways our body can move
Provide physical and mental off/rest days to pole whilst still making other fitness improvements
Enjoyment – for a different challenge!
A part of being an amazing poler is understanding how and when to supplement your pole training. Are you now starting to wonder what type of cross training will benefit you the most? Well choosing the activity(ies) to help will ultimately come down to what your focus and pole related goals are.
Now you can keep things simple and choose an activity that you feel your body lacks to try to generally improve a point of your fitness. Or if you’re like me and wanting to see huge amounts of progression in shorter periods of time, then you can play it SMART by working towards some goals. If you don’t have any already, I would encourage you to set some pole related goals. Yes, I mean right now! Write them down in nice large letters and display them somewhere you can see them whilst you’re poling.
I always have at least 6 things I’m working towards on my goal board at a time. And you want your goals to be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed. For example: nail my shoulder mount is not a SMART goal. However, achieve my cup grip shoulder mount on both shoulders within the next 6 weeks is a SMART goal.
Once you have your goal then you need to perform a basic needs analysis on the goal you’re wanting to achieve. A needs analysis is a quick break down of the trick/goal to determine what muscle groups, types of muscle contractions and energy systems we need to train to get this trick.
A needs analysis? That sounds complicated you say!
Not going to lie, you will need some knowledge to do this with how our body works and the demands of pole. That’s what I try to help you with through these blogs. But if you don’t have that knowledge you can tap into my knowledge, your physio, instructor or physical trainer’s knowledge of body movements, muscles and energy systems. But once you’ve got this sweet knowledge in your hands, hey presto, you know what you need to cross train. We will delve into each of these components later on in this blog.
Goal #1 – Cup Grip Shoulder Mount on both sides within 6 weeks
So we can then break our earlier goal down and figure out the physical demands of shoulder mount. And we all know this is primarily strength, particularly of the biceps, lats, rhomboid, traps, hip flexors, abdominals and hip external rotators. So based on this information it would be advisable you cross train using weights or resistance to strengthen the same muscles and movements you would use for a shoulder mount. You would choose a weight that would also replicate the intensity of the trick with strength associated reps (i.e. 3-5 sets x 6-12 reps).
Goal # 2 – Flatline Jade Split within 3 months
However, if your goal is to improve your current jade split to have a flat split within 3 months, then you’ll be needing to cross train both active flexibility and strength. And if your goal is to compete at Miss Pole Dance Australia 2021 – well you’re probably going to need a bit of everything: cardio, strength, and flexibility. Starting to get my drift? You want to cross train for your individual needs, goals and also have some good old fashioned fun at the same time. Because let’s face it, if you don’t enjoy it then you probably won’t do it!
What type of cross training will help me get the most out of pole?
Different types of exercise will have different benefits, so it’s about tailoring your cross training for you. Be SPECIFIC and determine your goals and needs first to outline what you’re actually wanting to achieve.
But regardless of specific goals, I am definitely a big advocate for weight training for pole and would encourage all pole dancers to undertake some form of resistance training to work on their strength imbalances. As shown from the small example list below there are many different reasons why you might want to cross train one particular activity.
Strength training (gym, pilates, HIIT etc), – improve pole performance, improve strength and power, injury prevention
Dance (ballet, heels etc) – improve cardio, general dance conditioning and toe point
Flexibility training (yoga, active flexibility programs etc)– improve active strength/conditioning and mobility
Aerial (lyra, silks etc)– cross over in strength requirements of pole
The world is your oyster when it comes to cross training, and there are so many different ways to get your #crosstraingains.
Target your weaknesses and injuries
As you continue along your pole journey, you may begin to notice a real imbalance between different sides and also muscle groups. Why? Whilst we attempt to train everything evenly, we still do have a preference for one side (the ones of us who don’t train both sides know who we are!). And pole is predominantly a pulling sport, so we become very strong with certain shoulder and back muscle groups whilst we begin to neglect others.
Cross training is a great way to target your weaknesses and address any pain you may be experiencing. For example, if you’re lacking abdominal motor control and strength you may need to work on this off the pole through physio rehab to assist in improving your back pain and shoulder mounts on the pole.
Let’s get SPECIFIC
I mentioned this word earlier, because the more specific your cross training to your goals, the more you will achieve out of it. This can be done by training the muscle groups specific to the pole trick as well as training the energy system involved.
Train your muscle group
In an earlier blog that broke down the anatomy of the straddle and we were able to determine that for an invert our body would need a vertical pull through the arms initially that changed to a horizontal pull as we tipped backwards. These movements heavily involved our latissimus dorsi, biceps, trapezius and rhomboids. Access the ‘Anatomy of a Straddle’ blog here.
So if you wanted to improve the upper body strength in your inverts, a great way to strengthen the horizontal pull would be to include a bent over row or inverted row in your gym program, whilst a lat pulldown would be a great way to train the vertical pull.
Train your muscle action
Another great way we can cross train is by training a muscle action off the pole. Our muscles can concentrically (shorten), isometrically (stay the same length) or eccentrically (lengthen) contract as shown in the figure.
Taking our invert example from earlier, our biceps are required to lengthen eccentrically when we tip backwards to our invert. So instead of focusing on concentric bicep curls, we can instead load up our bicep eccentrically at the gym to replicate the similar demands of the invert. Incorporating these movements into a program can then help translate to strength on the pole. Although don’t forget there’s still nothing quite like working on these movements on the pole! That’s as specific as you can get!
Train your Energy System
We have 3 main energy systems to call upon during exercise for different purposes as shown in the table below. These energy systems all come into play at different times of a workout and during pole. The graph below demonstrates our energy contribution over time during exercise.
There’s not a great deal of research out there yet about pole in the medical world, however research from by Dr Joanna Nicholas in 2018 demonstrated that a 60-minute pole dance class is equivalent to a moderate intensity cardio workout (blood lactate between 2.8mm-3.7mm). And these 60-minute classes will require production of energy from our aerobic system, interspersed frequently with our anaerobic and ATP-CP systems to perform strong, explosive and powerful movements.
Whilst a singular case study done in 2017 by Ruscello et al. showed a peak blood lactate of 10.7mm after competing in a 3.5-minute routine, classifying it as very high intensity cardiovascular exercise. In comparison to the energy system usage in the class, this routine would have used very little of the aerobic system, but instead mostly focus on use of the anaerobic and ATP-CP systems.
What this all means is we can train our energy system specific to pole too. I.e. if you’re wanting to compete then you’ll need to build up your cardiovascular fitness to be able to withstand higher lactate thresholds. So instead of a nice slow jog for 60 minutes to improve your pole, you could instead work on 400-1000m sprints or 3-4-minute bouts of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with recovery in between to replicate the time of a pole routine. Training this level of specificity to your energy system will put you in good stead come comp time. But if you’re working more endurance then a slow jog may be the right thing for you.
Does it always have to be this complicated?
Not at all. You can choose to do yoga, Pilates or cross-fit purely because they make you feel good about yourself; regardless of whether you think they will specifically help your pole or not. But if you want to get a bit more out of your exercise, targeted cross training is the way to go.
If it sounds too complicated or you don’t know where to start, chat to myself about setting up a tailored program, related to your strength deficits and pole goals. And once you have a ‘off the pole’ exercise routine up and running you’ll be feeling more confident on the pole in no time, injury free and ready to smash through some of your nemesis moves. Wanting to work on pole conditioning using the pole? Then this is also possible too.
Want to set up a tailored strengthening program specific to your pole goals but not sure where to start?
Then get in contact with myself via my ‘Contact Simone’ page to book an online appointment. Strengthening programs are be provided in accordance with best practice and evidence-based treatment. Until next time, train safe.
The Pole Physio
Disclaimer: This information is not tailored to you as an individual and do not constitute as medical advice. If you have medical or injury concerns, then please individually consult with a medical professional. Online physiotherapy consultations can be set up with myself via the Contact Simone page if you would like me to address any of your concerns, or alternatively book an appointment with your general practitioner.
Nicholas, J. C., McDonald, K. A., Peeling, P., Jackson, B., Dimmock, J. A., Alderson, J. A., & Donnelly, C. Y. (2018). Pole dancing for fitness: The physiological and metabolic demand of a 60-minute class. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 33(10), 2704-2710.
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.