Many people ask me what’s involved in growing in the art of pole practice. They are curious about what exercises will help them master it. They also ask about schedule, intensity, additional disciplines, relaxation techniques, etc. In this article I will give you a detailed explanation about my pole practice and the way I see it.
First, let’s talk about beginning to understand the pole way. I’m basing this on people who don’t have any sports or professional dance background such as myself.
The first year, I did my pole classes almost every day and normally 2-3 hours per day. My progress was good, but at the same time I was getting little injuries from time to time. The most common types were spreading muscles of forearms, shoulders and upper back. It didn’t stress me much as it lasted for a week or two and passed without any consequences. I was getting injuries due to intensive training before my body was ready for it. This was happening even though the level of pole tricks was super basic (in 2008-2009).
Compared to what we have today it was very slow. We got new tricks (new for the whole community) every few weeks or months, and the most advanced would now be intermediate level. The pace allowed us time to work on every movement, and to develop muscles for the next level of tricks.
Today the situation is completely different. New people come to the pole world and see professionals with a high level of expertise—many of whom come from sports or dance. They want to get to the same level as soon as possible. So, they get crazy excited and push beyond their limits. Yes, they grow fast but get many more injuries.
So let me start out by saying all professional pole dancers had a long history of years of pole practice. And many advanced practioners have a serious sports or dance background. My advice is take your time! Respect your body and treat it with love. Go step by step, work on stability, quality of execution, and prepare your muscles for the next level of loading. You really can practice almost every day if you want, but it should be careful measured practice, not one that kills your body. If you can’t practice that much it’s fine. Three good times a week is really enough for steady growth. Less is also fine, but it probably will take longer to achieve the same results. So, build your schedule considering your realistic opportunities to practice.
Next, I would like to discuss training itself and additional disciplines. I will tell you about parts of my training and what else I do besides pole. I like to start from a warm up. This is one of the most important parts of any practice, it prepares your body for training and prevents injuries. My warm up can vary. When I teach a class, warm up is approximately 20 minutes. I need to feel my muscles in tonus and pretty stretched and my skin a bit sweaty. My warm up at my own practice is 30-90 minutes depending on temperature (I like heat) and how deep my stretching will be on that day. It’s okay to use different warm ups as long as they prepare your body.
I would recommend taking classes from different teachers to find options and complement your warm up. This is what I still do even though I’ve been pole dancing eight and a half years. Never stop learning and discovering new approaches and techniques.
My warm up also depends on what I want to do on that day and how my body is feeling. It can be an active and dynamic warm up with jumps and squats. It can be a dancing warm up in contemporary style or it can be exotic floor work. it can be yoga style, or lazy stretching, or even handstands. You need to learn to feel your body and to use different warm up techniques for different moods and conditions of your body.
For me a good warm up is already complete training since it takes one to one and a half hours most of the time. My warm up always includes stretching (not always deep) even if I’m going to work on power. Even short but regular stretching increases your flexibility, and it activates your muscles. I do stretching almost every morning before breakfast. It can be from 15 minutes to an hour and a half. And I do deep stretching approximately once a week. So, this is your additional discipline number one—Incorporate a good warm up routine into your practice.
Warning! Skipping warm up, or being late to class is the fastest way to get injured!
Now let’s talk about training itself. After warm up I do some spins to feel my hands sticky and maybe also dance around the pole. Then I do some pullups on shoulders (no bending elbows) and full pull-ups with elbows. I can do it spinning or static. It helps me to activate my shoulders and it increases strength. I can do a few handstands and handsprings to involve the rest of my muscles and check my body control. This part can be about 5 minutes just to finish my warm up. I can stay here for half an hour, an hour or even more playing on the floor, keeping my clothes on, flying, spinning, dancing, and balancing. I do it more often when it’s cold and I don’t want to take off my clothes.
Next, I go to the tricks I planned to work on. I repeat everything a few times I try to combine the tricks with other tricks— trying different entries and endings. I can switch to another thing to change the working muscles and then return to the previous one. When I prepare for competitions I repeat each trick 10 times. When I feel it’s right, I repeat every combo 10 times. It would be nice to repeat all the routines 10 times, but it never happens. If I’m not training for a competition I repeat less.
Then I can do some old tricks and combos just to refresh the feelings and maybe change something, reverse it, make it harder, or easier, change from dynamic to fluid. If I do flexy tricks it’s normally no longer then one to one and a half hours. At that point my back gets tired. With splits I can work longer. If I do strength, dynamic, sticky stuff I can train two to three hours. Sometimes I switch to dance, stretching or rest and then return to the pole again.
Some days I just do beautiful shapes, easy things and old goodies with music. Or I just dance and don’t climb on the pole or touch it. From time to time I do some conditioning on the pole—for example 5-10 times different deadlifts, planks, holding positions etc. It’s advisable to do it on both sides.
Some days I’m on the pole for only half an hour but very intensive and efficient. Other days I can train 3-7 hours maybe less intensive with breaks for eating, talking, and chilling. In workshop and pre-competition days I can train up to 10 hours, but only 2-3 days in a row and it feels exhausting. Some days I just lay on the floor and do nothing because my body says—not today—and I listen my body, because this is my home.
To sum up combine different kinds of pole training. As you advance you get more harmony in your body and more complete sets of pole skills. And you also don’t get bored doing the same things every time.
You can also diversify your workouts with other activities. My additional training incorporates stretching as I already said and dance, mostly exotic or pole choreography, and sometimes non-pole dance—contemporary, high heels, jazz, funk, ballet. But unfortunately, very rarely due to travel. Dance helps to improve your lines, execution, coordination and expand the variety of movements you do.
I also started to practice handstands because it helps with balance, body control and strength. I do swim when I have a chance. It’s good for the spine, deep muscles, cardio-vascular system, respiratory system, joints and stress resistance. I love to swim as much as possible. I also take acrobatic lessons to improve my acro-tricks on the pole and to work on double tricks and to have fun.
Actually, any sport, dance, yoga and other activities help you to feel, understand and develop your body, as well as increase your stamina and activate the muscles you don’t use on pole. You just need to find yours, something you really enjoy doing.
The last and very important part of your workout is a cool dawn. Especially if you have injuries. First off, when you do any tricks you tense your shoulders, forearms, back, neck and other muscles, and you need to stretch in the end to avoid getting cramped muscles. It is not the stretching you do for flexibility, but more relaxing, tweeking, kind of self-physiotherapy. I recommend you visit a good therapist and ask for some good exercises to use after your workout or watch a video with a good “after practice set”.
You can also work with rubber bands to work out some problem muscles and strengthen weak areas. I also recommend you take a class or watch a video dedicated to complex exercises for your specific situation.
This part of practice can be preventative and healing for your injuries if you select the appropriate set of exercises with a qualified physician.
One more topic to talk about is a relaxation. Never forget that your body needs rest. It can be one day, a few days, a week or even more depending on your situation. Your body needs time to recover and digest all the information. Sometimes tricks get even better if you don’t do them for a while. Of course, if you rest more than train you are gonna go very slowly. But if you don’t rest at all you are gonna break down. Listen to your body. Take some days off when you need it. You can also aid your body with massage, sauna, hot bath, physiotherapy, good sleep, healthy eating and walking in fresh air. I need fresh air every day. I take massage ones a week when possible. I eat clean and drink a lot of water.
The only thing I can’t do is consistently follow my daily schedule (wake up, eat, practice and go sleep at the same time every day) because of a great deal of traveling. Those short periods when I can follow my daily schedule, I feel so much better. I have so much more energy and less effort doing the same things. I would really recommend you develop yours and consistently follow it.
This is my way to work out and some tips that may help you.