Updated: May 20
Jan 25th, 2021
It’s the start of a brand new year, and pole dancers from all over the world are now beginning to create a giant checklist of epic goals they want to conquer for the year.
Storytime: For many years, MY ultimate goal was to just aerial invert and pass my studio’s intermediate level. It took me FIVE years of on and off pole classes (and physio school) to realise I needed to set some S.M.A.R.T. goals. Using these goals as my guide, I was able to figure out exactly what I needed to do off the pole and tailor my strengthening program accordingly to achieve the goals on the pole. Once I recognised this and put my plan in action, everything just came together. Kind of like slotting in that last piece of a jigsaw puzzle! Success! I finally nailed that aerial invert and levelled up at my studio.
And then, I fell for one of the most common mistakes pole dancers experience: I overtrained. As a result, my pole progress plateaued (regressed actually) and I eventually got injured. All of this because I didn’t PLAN my training. So today I’d like to share with you the key ingredients required to smash your goals AND prevent overtraining and injury.
Most of you already know about the first ingredient to a successful training program:
1. Setting some SMART goals (More information can be found on goal setting in our New Year Resolution blog here)
BUT.. what you likely don’t know yet is how to actually plan your pole year to get the most out of your training schedule! So today we are going to work on those final ingredients which are:
2. Learning how to create a needs analysis
3. Using the needs analysis to create a training program tailored specifically to your goals through a process on periodisation
So, if you’re interested in what I have to say, grab your books and calendar out and let’s start planning for SUCCESS! It’s time to nail those goals!
Step 1: Goal Setting
I know it can be overwhelming because like most polers, especially those taking time out to read this blog, you’re probably a high achiever and want to do ALL THE THINGS. But in order to unlock your potential, you will need to start off by setting some goals.
It could be getting that handspring or aerial brass monkey, or putting that handspring into your comp routine. Whatever it is, make it SMART- that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. For example: Be able to do a true grip Ayesha on my dominant side in 6 weeks.
And in order to kick your pole goals, you should complement your pole training with other forms of exercise that will aim to improve your flexibility, strength, endurance and/or power required to master that trick or goal. This is known as cross training.
But before we all start rushing off to a gym and pump out every exercise we can get on, let’s learn how to best tailor our cross training to replicate the demands of our goals.
Step 2: Needs Analysis
Once you have your goals in mind, you can start thinking about all the different components of that exercise that you may be currently missing and the exercises you can train to finally achieve that trick/goal.
This is known as a needs analysis. The idea behind it is that you break down the needs of each individual goal or trick you’re wanting to work on to then address those needs in your exercise program.
For example: to work on your Ayesha you will require 180 degrees of true shoulder flexion. If you don’t have this range of motion then you will want to work on this off the pole through cross training methods such as strengthening. This newly strengthened skill will then transfer onto the pole.
Question: Why don’t we just keep working on the trick on the pole in the hope that one day it will all just click? Why do we need to do things off the pole?
Well to put it bluntly, pole is hard. And unless you had extremely strong overhead body strength prior to pole then the chances are you won’t just magically build the required strength for advanced level moves overnight.
‘Hmmm...a needs analysis you say? That sounds tricky!’ Well.. it is! It’s a part of a Physiotherapist’s special skill set to break down complex movements into its foundational movements. This is not something that is expected of an aerialist without a good understanding of the human body.
So if you’re lucky, Simone may have already done the hard work for you! Have a look at some of her published blogs on the anatomy of a Straddle (invert), Front split, Spatchcock and Ayesha to determine the individual requirements of these tricks if they are on your goal list. If your goal hasn’t been anatomically broken down by Simone yet, never fear, try breaking it down into the movements yourself or you can book an appointment with Simone online where she can help work with you on your goals. Also, you can check out Simone’s “Cross Train for Success” blog to learn more on creating needs analysis and effective cross train.
Ok, so you’ve got your goals, and they’ve been broken down now with your needs analysis, so what’s next? Well training of course!
But how do I learn new tricks, improve my flexibility AND strength AND go to work and have a social life you ask? Well, we have to start looking at the calendar and plan our training around weddings, holidays, rest periods and of course comp season. In order to do this, we can use a system called periodisation to help.
Step 3: Periodisation
This is a process used when creating training programs to optimise results, prevent overtraining and reduce the risk of injury. It involves breaking down the year into cycles (macrocycle, mesocycle and microcycle) and prioritises your training goals.
Traditionally, periodisation is used to progress your training over the course of the macrocycle and progress from foundational strength/motor control/endurance to strength and finally to speed and power, depending on your goal requirements. However, we can also use this concept to work towards our trick related goals. Within each macrocycle, there should be a specific goal or focus to work on. Let’s break down these cycles in a bit more detail now:
Macrocycle: this is the longest cycle, lasting usually 3 months. A macrocycle should have no more than 1-3 main goals per cycle. For example: achieve a true grip Ayesha, achieve the splits, compete in a local competition etc.
For example: If you were to split your year up into these cycles, it would look a little like this.
Mesocycle: this is a medium cycle lasting approximately 3 weeks within the macrocyle. Each mesocycle has a specific strength/fitness purpose and our exercises progress in line with the cycle’s purpose. I.e Over the four weeks we progress our exercises from basic motor control style exercises to endurance, strength and finally power (as required). The mesocycles focus on 3-4 main goals that make up the macro goal.
Microcycle - this is the smallest of the cycles, lasting approximately a week. In this cycle we break down the goals to the finest of details. These smaller goals will pave your way to achieve those medium goals in the mesocycle which will all contribute to nailing that bigger goal you set in your macrocycle.
Want to see this in action? Sure! Check out an example of one macrocycle below:
Step 4: Planning your Phases
As mentioned earlier, during the mesocycle you should be aiming to progress from 1. endurance/foundational strength/motor control to 2. strength then 3. speed and power depending on what your goals are. There are 4 different phases:
1. General Preparatory
Focus: Endurance, foundational strength, motor control
This phase ensures that we have a strong foundation of motor control and movement before commencing any strengthening. For example: If you are cross training with a gym work out, make sure your exercises are:
LOW in intensity eg. Light weights, easier/simpler exercises
HIGH in volume eg. High repetitions 3 sets of 8-20 reps
2. Specific/Specialised Preparatory
Here you will be working on specific strength required to achieve your goal. In order to achieve strength, our workouts must be
HIGH in intensity eg. heavy weights
LOW in volume eg. low repetitions 3-5 sets of 5-8 reps
With 90 secs REST between each set to ensure you allow your muscles enough time to recover.
For some, you may only need to focus on endurance and strength because your goals don’t require speed and power as such. For more advanced polers, you can consider adding in speed and power into your workouts. Focus: Speed and Power
In order to train speed and power, we must begin to introduce plyometric exercises such as jumping, landing and powerful upper body exercises. During this phase, technique is paramount, therefore we need to ensure the exercises are:
HIGH in intensity - these exercises are often advanced and are challenging. May vary in weight.
LOW in volume eg. low repetitions 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps
Faster tempo eg. explosive/powerful movements
Lots of rest time!! This is to ensure we have recovered and rested from the previous sets to allow “perfect” technique for the following exercises
If your goal was to achieve a trick, then view this phase as the point where you want to be at your peak performance. For example: achieve the true grip Ayesha for grading.
Thus, your workouts during this phase should follow the rules below:
Maintain intensity as per previous phase
Low volume to prevent fatigue ie. 1-4 sets of 1-4 reps or reducing days training
Finally, once you’ve reached the peak of your performance, you will want to taper down and recover before the cycles all start again.
Here your training will look as follows:
Very low volume
Very low intensity
Step 5: Finally Let’s Plan!
Now that you understand the structure, let’s create a training program on how to achieve a true grip Ayesha.
Is this feeling too complicated? It doesn’t have to be. A good aerial physiotherapist or strength and conditioning coach will be to help create the best training program for you.
Rest and recovery
Wondering why there is a whole phase dedicated to rest and recovery? Well that’s because rest is so incredibly important!!! I cannot stress this enough. Rest and recovery are a necessary part of training. In fact, I would argue these are the most important part to schedule in your macrocycle. But I request one thing: please stop considering rest as being lazy. It’s not. Scheduled rest is a part of active recovery and is a requirement at all exercise levels, including in professional athletes.
The concept of rest and recovery is actually taken on board quite well in most sporting communities, but I have to say that the uptake and understanding in pole/aerial is poor.
In fact, we recommend a full 2 days of rest per week off the apparatus and off strengthening for artists trying to strengthen and acquire new tricks. Yes - 2 full days!
Unlike other sports that have an off season to de-load, aerial does not, which means we are effectively training all year round! It’s not healthy for our bodies to do this! And this is one of the many reasons why we also recommend a FULL week off training every 8-12 weeks on top of the usual 2 x days rest per week. Yes, that means no touching the pole for a whole week during this period!
Before you freak out, a week’s rest does not mean no exercise at all. It just means no training your aerial speciality, whether that be pole, hoop, silks etc. You can still explore other means of training such as yoga, pilates, flex or strength for that week. But it is so important to give your body a break from that apparatus completely.
Why do we need a full week off you ask??? Three main reasons: burnout, injury and a pretty awesome and well-known concept called supercompensation.
Burnout and Injury
This is pretty straight forward and easy for most to understand. If you overtrain or train a normal amount but go for long periods without rest then you will burn out. It’s inevitable. And the process of burn out is the start of a pretty nasty cycle towards injury. So give yourself a rest. But if that’s not enough of a reason to convince you to take a week off then this is:
This refers to the process the body goes through when adapting to a progressive exercise program. To learn a new trick, build new muscle, and increase our baseline strength our body actually needs to break down first. Sounds counterintuitive right? And this usually occurs in the first 2-3 days after a workout.
By day 3 post work out our body has not only recovered its baseline strength but actually begins to produce a higher amount of strength known as supercompensation. And during this supercompensation period we are actually far more likely to achieve the tricks that we would otherwise be able to do due to this sudden increase in our strength.
But if you overtrain before this period begins when your body is at its weakest then you risk overload, burnout and injury. And this is why it’s so important to schedule in rest days after heavy exercise: to allow for muscle/protein recovery and force/strength production. In fact, touching the apparatus less can actually lead to more frequent strength gains when you train.
So why do we need a full week off every 8-12 weeks? Because there is no such thing as a non-heavy day for pole/aerial artists. When we are up in the air, we are lifting our body weight x 20-50+ times during a training session and to be fair, that ain’t easy. Ever tried deadlifting your entire body weight x 20-50 reps at the gym? No? Funny about that…
This is why we take a full week off aerial. To give our body a chance to actually catch up and recover properly. Do not let your body risk burnout. I can assure you that 97% of pole injuries I treat are secondary to overload. So do yourself a favour and prioritise rest over training.
We have only scratched the surface today with everything you need to know about creating your ideal training programme, but it’s a good start! This is a complex topic and is something strength and conditioning coaches study for years before they even get the hang of it. So while we hope this helps you plan your year a bit better, we would encourage you to get in contact with a Physiotherapist for specialist assistance, and they can guide you through designing a program that is as specific to your goals as possible.
Also keep an eye out for part 2 of our creating a pole programme series to learn how to best create a training program in preparation for a pole/aerial comp! Stay tuned!
Want to set up a tailored strengthening program specific to your pole goals but not sure where to start?
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 'poletential'.
Until next time, train safe.
The Pole Physio