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Grips and Holds - The Complete Guide for Pole Dancers: Part 2

LOWER LIMB HOLDS


Welcome back to our grips and holds series. In part one we brought you the complete guide for the upper limb hold. And now, just like part one we have created a list of all the pole lower limb grips, with a brief description of the move, a sublist of the specific mobility requirements per joint and a few examples of pole moves that require each hold.


So what’s different? Well this time we’ve listed the holds from proximal to distal body parts (ie. from hips down to feet) as opposed to ordering them beginner to intermediate. AND we’ve also added more detail about the strength required for each individual hold. After we cover the different lower limb holds, we’ll talk more about some things to consider when it comes to our mobility and strength for these grips. Let’s get to it!


Pole Lower Limb Hold Guide


Lower Limb Movement References

We will talk about range of motions and norms later on, but until then, here's a list of 'normal' lower limb ranges for reference when viewing the moves:


Hip Hold: This hold allows you to do all your pretty pole flexible moves. It’s quite a secure hold, albeit painful as well, with the pole sitting into the pocket between the bottom of your ribcage and pelvis (iliac crest) and the adductors of the thigh on the other side of the pole squeezing the two contact points together. Most of the strength challenges with this hold lie within the active flexibility requirements to keep the legs straight and pull the hips into extension or flexion.


Moves: Allegra, Ballerina, Chopsticks, Eagle, Pike, Jade split, Hercules, Bird of Paradise

Mobility requirements:

  • Front leg

    • 110-180° hip flexion

    • Full knee extension

  • Back leg

    • 10-20° ip extension

    • Full knee extension

Strength requirements:

  • Front leg = hip flexion and adduction, hip internal rotators stabilise, knee extension

  • Back leg = hip extension and knee extension


Thigh: Arguably one of the most uncomfortable of all the leg pole grips and where a lot of our “pole kisses” come from. It stands to reason this is because of the extra sensitive nature of the skin on our inner thighs, but there’s also a lot more force being generated by the squeeze from our adductor muscles without the help from our lower legs in contact with the pole. There’s also a component of hip internal rotation to secure us to the pole.

Moves: superman, layback, sit

Mobility requirements:

  • 5-10° hip internal rotation

  • Hip adduction

Strength requirements:

  • Hip adduction and internal rotation

  • Hip flexion

  • Knee extension/flexion (depending on the move)


Knee: the knee is used in so many different holds, from basic to more advanced and where on the knee the pole comes into contact makes a difference to what muscles are recruited, that’s why we’ve broken down knee holds into inner knee and back of knee.

1. Inner knee: There’s an instinct in novice pole dancers to just wrap their legs around the pole when attempting to climb, more like what you would do climbing a rope in gym class, but there’s a lot more finesse required for a pole climb. With small contact points between the knees, the adductors have to work on a longer lever to squeeze the pole. There’s also an important balance of strength between the front and back legs which need to pull and push the pole respectively.


Moves: X grip, climb, crucifix, fireman spin

Mobility Requirements:

  • 10-20° hip external rotation

  • Hip adduction

  • 90-130° knee flexion

Strength Requirements:

  • Hip adduction

  • Hip internal rotation

  • Knee extension (back leg) and flexion (front leg)


2. Back of knee: Also known as the “knee pit”, the soft spot behind the knee makes for a fantastic grip on the pole. This hold is all about that knee flexion, that means hamstrings play a large role, but did you know the calf muscle helps too? The gastrocnemius is a large calf muscle that primarily acts on the ankle to plantar flex it, but because it attaches to the femur (upper leg bone) it also helps flex the knee. So pointing your toes with this hold isn’t solely (see what I did there?) about aesthetics, but also functional too!


Moves: front/back hook spin, stag spin, cupid, genie

Mobility Requirements:

  • Hip extension, abduction

  • Knee flexion

  • +/- hip external/internal rotation dependant on the move

Strength Requirements:

  • Hip extension and abduction

  • Hip rotation

  • Knee flexion


Outside Leg Hang: This move is an oxymoron. It’s simple, yet elegant - it’s one of your foundational pole moves and you need it for many more advanced moves, yet it's a beautiful move on its own. Straight forward, but complicated - it’s one of the first moves you learn as a new pole dancer, but yet it requires a considerable amount of hip mobility and strength. Hip adduction to get the leg to the pole and hip external rotation to lock it in place, not to mention hamstring strength to hook the knee.


Moves: Gemini, Jasmine, Marley, Broken doll, Cocoon

Mobility requirements:

  • 90-110° hip flexion

  • 30-40° hip external rotation

  • 30° hip adduction

  • 90-110° knee flexion

  • Opposite leg in extension

Strength requirements:

  • Hip flexion

  • Hip adduction

  • External rotators stabilise isometrically

  • Knee flexion

  • Gastrocnemius, soleus and tibialis posterior for plantar flexion

  • Opposite leg hip extension and knee extension


Inside Leg Hang: You may think the inside leg hang is just the same as the outside leg hang since it’s a foundational move, but this hold is more challenging. It requires more hip mobility into external rotation and with increased range of motion we need increased strength and stability!


Moves: flatline scorpio, cocoon

Mobility requirements:

  • 90-110°hip flexion

  • 30-40° hip external rotation and abduction

  • 90° knee flexion

  • Opposite leg in extension

Strength requirements:

  • Hip flexion

  • Hip adduction and internal rotation

  • Knee flexion


Brass Monkey: Another foundational hold that can be cool in itself, but also lead you to other moves or even open up the world of flips! However, the challenges we face with this hold is that our hips are extended more which changes the mobility and strength requirements compared to leg hangs. And there’s the additional scare factor of being completely inverted and staring at the ground!

Moves: Brass Monkey, Brass Monkey Bridge

Mobility requirements:

  • 10-20° hip extension

  • 30-40° hip external rotation

  • 30-50° hip abduction

  • 90-110° knee flexion

Strength requirements:

  • Hamstrings and gastrocnemius flex knee

  • Glute maximus and hamstrings keep hips extended

  • Hip abduction to maintain hip position

  • Hip external rotators

  • Isometric hip adduction for grip

Side Saddle: Get out your sticky spray or shaving cream because this hold requires a lot of skin contact. It’s basically an inside leg hang with a lot more hip internal rotation and knee flexion strength if it's a side superman or Russian layback or more hip flexion for a martini sit.

Moves: Side straddle superman, Russian layback

Mobility requirements:

  • 90° hip Flexion

  • Hip adduction

  • 30° hip internal rotation

  • 110° knee flexion

Strength requirements:

  • Hip flexion

  • Hip adduction and internal rotation

  • Knee flexion


Remi: This hold is basically just sitting cross-legged on a pole. It requires a significant amount of hip flexion and rotation mobility to allow the legs to basically intertwine around the pole. Don’t forget about those ankles, we need good ankle plantar flexion to tuck under one leg and opposite ankle dorsiflexion to hook the pole. After all those requirements, you also need a good amount of tolerance to pain. This hold just doesn’t ever feel good, but it looks cool!


Moves: Remi sit, Remi layback, Remi bridge

Mobility requirements:

  • 120° hip flexion

  • Hip adduction

  • Hip internal and external rotation

  • 135° knee flexion

  • 20° ankle dorsiflexion

  • 50° ankle plantar flexion

Strength requirements:

  • Hip flexion

  • Hip internal and external rotation

  • Hip abduction and adduction

  • Knee flexion

  • Ankle dorsiflexion and plantar flexion


Heel Grip: Using only the back of the heel (achilles tendon) as a contact point on the pole, this hold allows you to create aesthetically pleasing long lines like a ballerina. And just like a ballerina, you need the flexibility in your ankle plantar flexion movement to point the toes as well as isometric strength to keep the rest of the leg straight.

Moves: Extended butterfly, Chiropractor

Mobility requirements:

  • Full knee extension

  • 50-75° plantar flexion

  • Ankle eversion

Strength requirements:

  • Plantar flexion

  • Knee extension


Ankle Grip: Depending on your skill level, you could call this more of a hook than a grip. Using the anterior-medial (front-side) part of the ankle joint, this hold allows you to hook your foot with the pole in front to create more long lines and is one of the only times in pole that it’s okay to not point your toes!

Moves: Bow and Arrow, Starfish

Mobility requirements:

  • 15-20° dorsiflexion

  • Ankle inversion

Strength requirements:

  • Dorsiflexion


Foot/Toe Grip: Using your feet on the pole requires a lot of ankle mobility and all the little intrinsic muscles of the foot to grip the pole. Position of the ankle depends on the direction of the foot. Climbing up requires ankle dorsiflexion and if the foot is pointed down to stabilise a bottom leg (eg. starfish) then plantar flexion is needed.


Moves: Starfish, Chinese Climb

Mobility requirements:

  • 15-20° dorsiflexion

Strength requirements:

  • Intrinsic foot muscles

  • Dorsiflexion


Mobility Considerations

What is normal range of motion?

Range of motion (ROM) is the degree of available movement in a specific direction for a joint. There is a widely accepted “normal” range of motion for joints that has been established in the literature by taking the mean of all the measures after assessing hundreds of peoples joints in a clinical or laboratory setting. Being that these are average measurements, then these don’t necessarily equate to what is normal in populations with greater than average ROM, such as dancers or circus performers.


A recent study by Alfuth et al. (2021), compared the range of motion in the lower limbs of non-dancers to ballet dancers and found, not surprisingly, a few key differences. Namely, hip flexion and ankle plantar flexion were significantly greater in the dancer group compared to the non-dancers. I’ve included a chart of the ROMs they found in the study for your reference.

This study is helpful in that it gives a better reference point to what are potential norms for people on the above average spectrum of joint mobility. It can give us goals to aspire to when we’re working on our flexibility to achieve a specific move. However, it’s important to note that ROM will vary from person to person and joint to joint because there are many factors that can affect joint mobility with inherited and acquired influences.


Why is joint range of motion important?


If you’re lacking ROM, then it makes daily life tasks harder. For example, simply bending over at the waist to tie your shoes requires 120 degrees of hip flexion, or sitting with one

leg across your thigh to put your socks on requires 120 degrees of hip flexion and at least 20 degrees of both hip external rotation and abduction. If you don't have sufficient ROM for these tasks, then you will have to find an alternate method or you may hurt yourself trying to force the movement. In the pole world, a lot of moves require a much greater than average joint ROM and if we don’t meet those requirements, then we may not be able to perform the move or we may put ourselves at risk of injury.



In a new pole specific study done by Nicholas et al. (2022), they found that the hamstring, second to the shoulder, is the most commonly injured body part in pole. Commonly it was injured from front split moves in which the hip was taken to the end of its available hip flexion ROM. Injuries in muscles like this occur, because normally a muscle can extend and recoil in its comfortable joint ROM, but just like an elastic band, if you stretch a muscle too far with too much force, it eventually snaps. This is an oversimplified explanation, so for more on this topic, known as the stress-strain curve, check out our other blog titled Active vs. Passive Flexibility found here.


Nicholas’ study is important because not only does it identify common injuries, it highlights the importance of screening for adequate ROM and strength in outer ranges.


How do I measure my ROM?

Measuring ROM can be done actively or passively. With active ROM, your muscles do all the work independently to create the movement. In a clinic setting, a health care practitioner will often measure this range with a goniometer and reference against normative values. On your own, you can use external markers or photos to reference your progress. Passive ROM is where someone else moves your joints or you use an external source to create the movement (eg. belt or strap). Measuring this way can help a health care practitioner feel joint restrictions known as “end feels”. On your own, passive ROM can tell you about the quality of movement; for example, is the movement smooth and easy, or difficult/uncomfortable. For examples on how to measure your ROM at home, check out our instagram posts!


How do I improve my ROM?

Flexibility is the ability for your muscles, nervous system and other soft tissues structures to lengthen to perform the joint ROM. Therefore, through flexibility training, we can increase both the ease at which a joint moves through its ROM and also increase the degrees of ROM. For more on how to do this, check out the blog I mentioned above.


Strength Considerations


The Hip

In our first pole grips and holds blog, we highlighted how crucial hand grip strength is for pole, but here in part two we want to shine the spotlight on the hip!


The hip is like the shoulder in that it is a ball and socket joint, but the key difference is that it is much more inherently stable with a deeper socket to sit in and many more muscles that act upon it. Similar to the shoulder, the hip has a rotator cuff that laterally (externally) rotates the hip. More importantly, these short local muscles act to stabilise the head of the femur in the acetabulum (the ball in the socket). From there, the other big mover muscles can direct forces through the hip adequately. This type of local muscle activation followed by more global is how the body likes to feel stability proximally before distally (ie. central vs. extremity).


Another important factor in hip mobility and strength is the core. The core and our hip muscles work together to provide active stability and mobility to our trunk, hip and pelvis. But most importantly they help to generate a huge amount of force to get us up the pole! Head to our blog “Breaking down core stability” found here to learn more about the core.


Strength: Push, Pull, Squeeze and Rotate


In part one of this blog, we also discussed how a lot of our strength in our upper limb pole grips is achieved from a balance of opposing muscles, ie. push and pull. In our upper body grips, we need the top arm to pull and the bottom arm to push. For our lower body grips, it’s the same but different. The push and pull is more of our front leg moving in opposition to the back leg. Think of a climb with the front calf and knee pulling inwards and the back shin pushing against the pole. Another example is the jade split, we’re actively kicking both legs in opposite directions, pulling the front leg towards us and pushing the back leg away. These opposing forces is the key to strength and mobility of the lower limbs in pole dance.


Another important strength action we need for our lower leg grips is a “squeeze”. In our climbs, sits, leg hangs and hip holds, to name a few, we need our inner thigh and hip muscles to squeeze our legs together.


Hip rotation is also a key muscle action that helps us secure our holds. Like in a pole sit, internally rotating the hips locks our thighs to the pole. In an outside leg hang, we need the external rotators to be able to hook our leg to the pole.


Here’s a list of the primary movers of our legs:


Hip

  • Iliopsoas is the muscle that gets most of the attention for flexing the hip, but with its attachments in the lower spine, it also flexes the trunk.

  • The rectus femoris of the quadriceps attaches across the hip and assists with hip flexion, especially when the knee is fully extended.

  • Gluteus maximus is a powerful hip extensor muscle. It works closely with the hamstrings to keep the pelvis and trunk upright/extended like in a brass monkey.

  • Adductors are a group of muscles located at the inner thighs. These four muscles act to move the leg in towards the midline of the body - aka they squeeze the legs together! With their attachments to the pelvis, they also play an important role in supporting the pelvic floor muscles which make up our core.

  • Internal rotation of the hip comes primarily from the adductors, tensor fascia latae (TFL) and glute minimus. When the hip is flexed, as it often is in pole, the glute medius assists as well.

  • Several muscles contribute to hip external rotation (ER). The hip “cuff” as mentioned consists of 6 muscles of which the piriformis is probably the most commonly known. Gluteus maximus also plays a role in ER.

Knee

  • The quadriceps (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius) of the thigh act to extend (straighten) the knee

  • The hamstrings (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris) at the back of the thigh work to flex (bend) the knee.

  • The gastrocnemius (calf muscle) also plays a small role in knee flexion due to its attachments on to the end of the femur.

Ankle

  • Tibialis anterior is a prime dorsiflexor of the ankle and the toes are moved into this position from the extensor hallicus longus and extensor digitorum longus.

  • Many muscles produce plantar flexion including the gastrocnemius, soleus, plantaris and tibialis posterior for the ankle.

  • The toes are pointed with activation of the flexor hallicus longus and flexor digitorum longus


The takeaway here is that when it comes to strength in our lower extremities for different grips and holds, it’s important to strengthen all muscles involved and strengthen in different planes and different lengths. And don’t forget the trunk and core too!


That’s it! We did it! We covered all the different upper and lower extremity pole grips and holds. Now what? Well we’ve talked about how important our mobility and strength is in pole, so let's work on these areas so we can reduce our risk of injury and look good doing it - stay tuned for Part 3 of our Grips and Holds Guide!


Are you struggling to conquer a nemesis grip or move? Or just finding it hard to build up your grip strength?


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


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References

  • Alfuth, M., Luetkecosmann, J., & Knicker, A. (2021). Comparison of Plantar Sensitivity, Dynamic Balance, and Lower Extremity Joint Range of Motion Between Experienced Female Ballet Dancers and Female Non-Dancing Athletes: A Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 25(4), 238-248.

  • Nicholas, J., Weir, G., Alderson, J. A., Stubbe, J. H., van Rijn, R. M., Dimmock, J. A., & Donnelly, C. J. (2022). Incidence, mechanisms, and characteristics of injuries in pole dancers: a prospective cohort study. Medical problems of performing artists, 37(3), 151-164.

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