PART THREE: UPPER EXTREMITY GRIP STRENGTHENING
In part one of the Grips and Holds Blog, we covered specific mobility and strength requirements for upper body grips/holds and the importance of being able to meet those requirements.
Now, in part three, we will cover ways to improve your upper body mobility and strength to help you reach your pole grip goals!
If you think of a doctor prescribing medication, the prescription slip will tell you the name of the drug, the dose, how often to take it and for how long to take it. Well exercise prescription is just the same. We want to know what exercise, how much to do, how often and for how long.
What: When it comes to choosing what exercises to do, it’s important to use the principle of specificity. It’s quite simple really, the body will make muscular adaptations specific to the exercises performed - ie. If you want to improve grip strength, work on grip strength exercises!
If you’re struggling with a certain grip or hold, break down the components to practice in a controlled manner incorporating the joints involved and, where possible, mimic the positions of the movement goal.
How much? The common school of thought is to perform certain repetition ranges depending on strength goals on a continuum from as low as 1-5 repetitions for strength gains, 8-12 repetitions for hypertrophy (growth in muscle size) and 15+ repetitions for endurance. New emerging evidence suggests using a variety of loading zones to optimize muscular adaptations, meaning feel free to play with different repetition ranges (Schoenfeld et al., 2021).
A good starting point with a new exercise is to choose a moderate loading range (8-12 repetitions) and a manageable weight that feels challenging, especially towards the end of the set. You want to think to yourself, “Am I stopping this set because the weight has become too heavy or simply because I reached the number of repetitions I set out to do”. Remember, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you!
As for the amount of sets to perform there are some common beliefs that with heavier weights/lower repetitions that you should perform more sets (ie. 4-5 sets) and fewer sets when working lower weights/higher reps (ie.2-3 sets). Once again, the aforementioned research is showing that the amount of sets does not make a significant difference on muscular adaptations. Arguably what is more important, is your willingness to perform the reps and sets for consistency to see improvements in strength. Therefore, if time or motivation is a limiting factor stick to a range that is do-able; typically three sets is a nice easy number!
How often? This will vary person to person depending on other fitness activities and busy schedules, but a general rule of thumb is to work on some strength and conditioning exercises 2-3 times per week to be able to see improvements. These sessions can include pole classes, workouts in the gym or at home, or pole practice on your own, but even better is all three!
For how long? How long you choose to do a certain exercise program will depend on your goals. If you’ve reached your goals, then you can move on to something new. For some this may take a few weeks and for others a few months. In either case, consider the principle of progressive overload. Essentially, it takes a certain amount of time for a body to make adaptations and if the body is not further challenged with changes to variables such as load, frequency and intensity of your weight training then progress will plateau. If you’re happy with where you’re at in your strength journey, then keep working on your routine for maintenance so you don’t lose all those great gains!
Upper Extremity Flexibility
Foam rolling is a great tool that can assist you in improving your flexibility, but not on its own. It can seem like a quick fix with improvements in feelings of muscle stiffness after only a minute of rolling, but don’t get complacent because research shows that these changes only last 5-10 mins. The tactile input from the roller dampens signals from the brain that are firing to that muscle in a phenomenon known as neuromodulation. Using a foam roller creates a window of opportunity in which it feels easier to move your body into newer ranges of motion for you to then work on passive and active flexibility exercises to help make those improvements stick!
Active and Passive Flexibility
To improve your upper body flexibility, it’s important to have a combination of active and passive movement strategies. If you’re not sure what the difference between active and passive flexibility is, go check out our previous blog that will give you all the answers.
Upper Body Passive Flexibility:
Floor bicep/shoulder stretch
Pole or table lat stretches
Door frame pec stretch
Shoulder Internal rotation stretch on pole
Shoulder extension stretch on pole
Upper Body Active Flexibility:
Wrist Extension and Flexion Liftoffs
Child’s pose Lat liftoffs
Shoulder external rotation liftoffs (door frame or pole)
Prone shoulder internal rotations
Prone shoulder external rotation liftoffs
Grip Specific Strengthening
There are a ton of different grip and upper body exercises out there and it can get overwhelming trying to choose the most suitable for your pole practice. That’s why we’ve carefully curated exercise ideas based on the specific demands of each grip to help you get started. For more strengthening ideas, check out our previous blog series “Get a Grip”.
True Grip - It’s our beginner grip, but it’s important to challenge your true grip strength at all levels since its the base grip for many advanced transitions and tricks. This grip requires all those forearm muscles for finger flexion, thumb opposition, ulnar deviation and pronation.
Plate Pinches - grab a small to medium wight plate and hold it between your thumb and fingers to work on finger flexion and thumb opposition strength
Towel Wringing - take a (dry) rolled up and towel and practice “wringing” it out in both directions to work on wrist flexion and extension strength
Block Walks - take a yoga block or book and “walk” your fingers around the edge like a spider to help with finger strength and ulnar deviation
Broomstick Rotations (close) - hold a broom (closer to the bristles) and flip/turn it end over end to work on forearm pronation/supination strength.
Barbell Finger Rolls - take a barbell (or dumbbell) and allow it to roll out along your fingers and then flex them back
Wrist Roll ups - tie a string between a dowel and a weight and roll up the string through wrist flexion and extension
BB levers - hold a barbell by your side and tilt it forwards and backwards to work on ulnar and radial deviation strength
Broomstick rotations (far) - hold a broom stick farthest away from the bristles then rotate it back and forth.
Forearm Grip - Another grip to continue strengthening throughout the pole journey whether you’re beginner or advanced since it’s so crucial for our climbing; this grip requires our push muscles.
Kneeling Forearm scapula presses
Forearm plank scapula presses
Stronghold - More pull focused muscles, by continuing to strengthen this grip as a beginner to get your floor straddle and your aerial straddle if you’re advanced.
Banded Lat pull down
Bent over rows
Half Bracket - The first of the push and pull strength grips.
Sidelying press ups
Bent Over Row
Advanced Grip Exercises:
Full Bracket - the second push and pull grip, but with both arms extended means a lot more push and pull needed.
Side Plank + Row
Cup Grip - Take one heavy dumbbell or kettlebell and carry it at your side but make sure you’re thumb isn’t wrapped around to challenge this grip.
Armpit Hold - exercises for this grip can vary depending on if your arm is in front of your body (eg. teddy) or behind your body (eg. yogini)
Prone shoulder extensions
Brass Monkey/Shotgun Grip - shoulder presses work great for the vertical push required for this grip.
Kneeling Kettlebell Press
Goofy Grip - A tricky grip on the pole and a tricky grip to mimic with exercise - just take a dumbbell and make it goofy!
Banded or DB shoulder External rotation @ 90 degree flexion (elbow supported)
Kneeling Kettlebell Corkscrews
Band internal rotation pull downs
Twisted Grip - this one is a pole physio special!
Overhead “break the bar
Front plank + row
Tabletop - work on that behind the back rotator cuff strength
Break the bar in shoulder extension
Elbow - Get creative with your traditional bicep or hammer curl
Forward lean hammer curl
Lots for you to work on to help improve your upper body grip! Feeling like you're in need of tailored grip and/or upper body strengthening for pole dance?
The Pole Physio has online appointments available now and are ready to help you build this strength with tailored exercises! 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 'pole-tential'.
Until next time, train safe.
The Pole Physio
Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Van Every DW, Plotkin DL. Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports (Basel). 2021 Feb 22;9(2):32