Many dance forms have historically struggled to gain recognition and respect before they were widely accepted. Dance forms such as Ballet, The Waltz and The Tango came under severe critical scrutiny. Ballet, as classically conservative as it is viewed today could be considered to be the pole dancing of its day. Any dance that highlighted the feminine form or physical contact was often viewed this way. In the 16th and 17th centuries the only physical contact or self-expression that was accepted in public was the occasional handshake or blush. The Tangos, the Latin sensual dances were very often linked to brothels
Throughout history, evidence of cultures using a pole to perform, entertain, entice and titillate can be found. It is from these roots that we believe Pole Dancing and Pole Fitness have evolved.
Pole performance can be traced back thousands of years to Africa, China, and India.
Early stories tell of African tribal rituals in which betrothed women would dance provocatively around a wooden phallus. The dance was designed to show their future husbands how they wanted to be made love to. In other parts of the world, the Maypole Dance, which dates back to the 12th century, incorporates dancing around a pole as part of a pagan celebration of fertility.
Chinese Pole history dates back prior to the 12th century, where acrobats would place a wooden pole of 3 - 9 meters high into the ground and perform a series of acrobatic moves for the emperor. Chinese acrobats would display climbing, sliding down, stretching and holding positions using acute strength and skill. Performers of this time would regularly have burn marks on their shoulders which represented a form of identity and respect for their art.
The “ Indian Pole” referred to as Mallakhamb or Malkhamb, is a traditional Indian sport in which a gymnast performs in concert with a vertical wooden pole or rope. The word Mallakhamb also refers to the pole used in the sport. Mallakhamb was originated in Maharastra, India, during the 12th century, as a form of training for wrestlers. The athletes climb up a wooden pole and perform various poses and feats very much like today’s Pole Fitness. In India this art is about feeling and understanding the strength and balance of one’s body. It is becoming increasingly popular in recent years, trying to gain recognition as an official sport.
Pole dancing itself has been said to originate in the height of the American Depression, where travelling Fairs would go from town to town entertaining the crowds in tents, featuring erotic Hoochie Coochie Dancers. The phrase Hoochie Coochie originates from the suggestive hip movement performed by the dancers, who would dance with the pole holding the tent in place.
Earliest recorded pole dances were in Oregon, US in 1968, and following this, the pole dance craze is believed to have kicked off in Canada in the 1980’s.
Fawnia Dietrich initiated the first ever instructional pole dance video in 1998. In 2000 Sheila Kelley opened the S Factor in Los Angeles. When Oprah Winfrey featured Sheila on her show in 2003, the world was introduced what is now called to Pole Fitness.
The rest of the world quickly followed, with Pole Dancing and Pole Fitness Classes, Studios, Academies, Competition and Training spaces opening in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia and South America.
Every year passing we see a tremendous growth in the pole industry. There are three main streams emerging:
The pole has made its way into mainstream culture, into households and into the gyms. This valuable, creative form of exercise is here to stay!
Thank you for reading :)
Proper body alignment is not only the foundation for each pole move but also the most mechanically efficient and safest position for the body to maintain, while moving around the pole. With good foundations, we can safely create and prolong momentum for spinning, sustain static holds and beautiful poses, move gracefully from one move to the next one without jeopardizing joint integrity or safety. Not to mention that exercises also become easier and more fluent.
More than often we see students “hanging” off the pole while spinning, shrugging their shoulders up in other to sustain a move, wrapping their wrist around the pole, “jumping” onto a pole hold, even kicking forcefully in order to achieve momentum. Unfortunately, these habits tend to stick around if not caught and corrected in time, and then passed onto more advanced pole levels where serious injuries have higher chances to occur.
During beginner levels, joint safety and proper body position instruction will ensure safe and adequate learning, avoiding injuries and creating “bad pole habits”.
- Keep emphasis on proper body position on every class, even through advanced levels
- Never allow students to “hang off the pole” in order to achieve a spin: Hanging is referred to as a position where the shoulder is pulled away from the socket while supporting the entire weight of the body hanging underneath, over-stretching the ligaments. This is not only an incorrect way to spin, it is also very unsafe. Students who struggle within this scenario must take a step back and practice basic “Pole Holds” until proper strength is gained and adequate shoulder position is learned.
- Watch for the wrist: An overly tight pole grip can easily cause the wrist to wrap. This is very common amongst beginners, for fear of falling and compensating by holding on too tight. One useful tip to ensure adequate grip strength when wrist wrapping is to keep the thumb on the same side of the pole as the rest of the fingers (Cup Grip). Wrist strengthening and stretching exercises should be practiced regularly.
- Watch for shoulders “going up”: Often, new beginners will tense up the upper shoulder muscles, neck and even the jaw muscles when required to do a hold or sustain a pose. This will likely cause neck pain, stiffness to the Upper Trapezius and Levator Scapulae muscles, and even headaches. Instruct students to relax shoulders down and and back, focusing on activating the upper back muscles instead, (Latissimus, Rhomboids and Lower Trapezius) to hold the body weight of the floor.
- Do not allow students to kick or swing the body aggressively around pole in order to get momentum: demonstrate how momentum can be properly created with a Basic Momentum Test:
~ GVE ~
The Pole Industry has seen a tremendous growth in the past decade alone and it is continuing to gain popularity as more and more women (and men) become interested, not only in participating, but also in teaching Pole Fitness and sharing their passion with others. Pole Fitness studios are opening all around us, at a fast pace, and consequently the demand for certified Pole Fitness instructors is on the rise. With the urgent need to supply this increasing demand, the quality of instruction and service provided is often affected.
Unfortunately, we see the industry flushed with instructors with little or no fitness, gymnastics, dance or even teaching backgrounds. This scenario not only puts students at a very high risk of injuries, but it also reflects poorly and unprofessionally amongst the Fitness Industry and related sports. Teaching is a whole skill and talent on its own: a proficient Pole gymnast does not always have the ability and knowledge to safely and adequately instruct others. Teaching is well beyond a beautiful demonstration, but being able to clearly describe, break down and relate moves in a safe and effective manner, as well as begin to be able to identify difficulties and to provide helpful feedback to students. Some of the signs of inadequate instruction and lack of educational background , commonly seen at Pole studios are:
Pole Fitness Instructors fall into the same category as professional fitness instructors do; as such they must hold a current fitness credential from a recognized institution, have current First Aid and CPR, plus a specialty module on Pole Fitness instruction. Furthermore, to obtain final designations some institutions do request a minimum of 30 to 50 hours of supervised instruction to ensure some degree of experience. Pole Fitness schools or academies must also be chosen carefully when deciding to invest time and money into proper education: CEC’s (continuing education credits) upon completion, approved by a national / provincial Fitness Association is one way to screen for quality training of some degree. Affiliations with Pole Fitness Associations, proper evaluation methods, adequate class structure with sufficient time (theory / practical modules) are also important things to look for.
As fitness professionals, studio owners and pole dance lovers, it is very important to maintain high standards of education and instruction, not only within ourselves but amongst our instructors, so that the industry will also continue gaining the respect and credibility it deserves. As Pole students, caution needs to be placed when choosing the right learning environment to avoid injuries, creating bad habits and an overall poor pole experience. For all of us: “good teachers are costly, but bad teachers cost more!"
Thank you for reading ~ GVE
There is a familiar phrase constantly heard across Pole Fitness studios: “practice on your left!” “spin to the other side! Do students really understand the meaning and importance of this instruction? Do they follow the advise? Is it only a matter of developing skill or is there deeper reasoning behind it? Muscular imbalances are not to take lightly: they can affect our physical appearance, balance, and overall health.
What are muscular imbalances? Muscular imbalance is defined as “ a deviation in normal facilitation or inhibition of muscle resulting from a physical, mental, or chemical stressor and often leading to further related imbalances and joint dysfunctions that may take months or years to manifest”. The human body requires a balance in strength and flexibility between the muscles surrounding bones and joints for it to function properly. Inappropriate strength training and repetitive motion (poling on one side only) can easily cause unwanted muscular imbalances. Natural predispositions (genetics) can also create a tendency for specific muscles to be stronger or more elastic than others. Pole gymnast are well aware of which side is the “good side” when it comes to Pole Fitness: exercises are often much easier to preform on one side of the body, hence there is a natural tendency to emphasize practice on that side only.
What are the consequences of muscular imbalances? By having one side of the body much stronger than other, the body is pulled away of its natural midline creating an “ inappropriate or poor posture”. Not only this affects the way we physically present our selves (visible muscle development and posture), but it can also cause chronic muscle soreness, develop a spinal curvature, subluxations (misaligned vertebra that leads stress and irritation of nerves), blood vessel constriction ( cutting off blood supply to cells = less oxygen and blood supply), nerve constriction (pinched nerves), and list goes on. Poor posture has even an effect on the way we digest our food! Simply said, a body with muscular imbalances does not function properly: it’s athletic and daily performance are compromised. Moreover, when muscle strength and flexibility around a joint are not well balanced, tendency to injury considerably increases and so do the chances of being “forced off” training for weeks, even months.
So how are muscular imbalances to be avoided? The most obvious answer comes back to the same repetitive phrase “ practice also on your left!” meaning on the non-dominant side, and in equal training frequency and strength as the dominant one. Additionally, attention needs to be given to flexibility imbalances and muscles should be elongated always after workouts and during daily routines. When having a lot of difficulty performing an specific move on the less dominant side, the instructor should provide an alternative cross training exercise option, to ensure balance in muscle development.
Trainers: Always make time on your class to practice exercises and spins on both arms / sides of the body. Remember that most out-of-class practices are usually on dominant side only! Emphasize the importance of having a well balanced body in all its aspects and educate your class.
Students: Exercise train smart and make time during practice to teach the “weak side” to become strong and coordinated, avoiding potential injuries and becoming a better athlete overall.
Thanks for reading! GVE
Cross training refers to an exercise program that involves different activities other than the sport-specific related ones. While it is crucial for vertical gymnasts to train at the Pole, there are numerous benefits that can be achieved from cross training off the bar.
The principle of specificity of training states that adaptations to our bodies are strictly related to the activity undertaken. In other words, if you want to be a better runner, you run; if you want to be a better swimmer you swim; and of course, if you want to be a better vertical gymnast, then you POLE. However, cross training can improve overall athletic performance and ensure all that the body parts are functioning well and meant to last.
Successful Pole gymnasts should cross train because:
Without a doubt, proper technique and preparation (practice) are paramount to becoming a successful vertical gymnast, but we can only work within the limitations of our own physical fitness. By developing a sport related based workout for strength, power, flexibility and / or anaerobic capacity, we can help our bodies reach the finish line much sooner.
When looking at Vertical Gymnastics in particular, we notice that anaerobic energy pathways are highly targeted, with strength and power much more important than aerobic endurance.
Caution needs to be placed during strength training, since following the wrong resistance training program can actually be detrimental to performance. Bodybuilders train specific muscle groups whereas athletes must train movement and the whole body to work in unison.
While focusing on learning a new skill and technique, muscle conditioning is needed to ensure this is done properly. Breaking bad habits and relearning can be very difficult and time consuming.
When choosing the right exercises for cross training, movements should ideally mirror the sport’s movement. At the beginning stages, all pole athletes will benefit from building a general strength base; once closer to advanced or competitive levels, muscle conditioning should be closely related to Pole specifically. Nevertheless, as previously mentioned, general cross training will ensure agonist / antagonist muscle balance is achieved, assisting in performance and preventing injuries.
Frequency: beginners are usually recommended to start with muscle conditioning twice a week for cross training, plus Pole training twice a week to adequate rest is given for muscle recovery. More advanced gymnasts may benefit from training five, six or even seven days a week close to competition times, focusing more on Pole than muscle conditioning. Breaking down cross training into split routines may be a good option in these circumstances.
During off training days there are still many exercises that we can focus on, to improve our Pole skills: flexibility, choreography and floor work are the best options to work on during our “resting” days. Pole is a wonderful sport, hobby, art form, etc, that allows for many interpretations of what training is; whatever it may be to you, just remember to not allow “training obsession” to take over and to keep it FUN: this I find to be a key ingredient for success!
Thank you for reading, GVE Team
Pole Fitness is a highly physical sport where all major muscle groups are used to move the entire body up and around the pole. While often exposing the joints to stresses cannot be avoided, sore elbows, swollen wrists and painful shoulders should not be a regular component of Pole training.
Generally, overuse, lack of strength, and improper body positioning are the main causes of injuries and discomforts amongst vertical gymnasts, with wrist strain, carpal tunnel and rotator cuff injuries being the most common major injuries related to Pole. When landing on the feet from inversions, lack of control and core strength can also cause back problems and injured ankles.
There are many ways to avoid or minimize Pole injuries, such as warming up and cooling down the muscles, using proper form and technique, balancing overall muscle strength and flexibility, and having adequate rest and nutrition between workouts.
Cold muscles will increase the risks of potential injuries so always make sure to include an 8-10 minute warm up in your training sessions. Warming up also has many other benefits, such as mental and physical preparation for the workout, improving nerve conductivity that will achieve better training results. Cooling down and stretching after Pole will help you recover from the workout and prevent injuries by returning the muscles to their normal resting length and improving joint flexibility (tight muscles can tear more easily).
Proper body positioning, technique and muscle recruitment will not only make Pole exercises and moves safer and pain-free, but also more graceful and easier to perform.
It is VERY important to achieve optimum strength and flexibility balance between all muscles and joints of the body. Since Pole exercises are usually easier to perform on the most dominant side of the body, there is always a tendency to focus practice on that side exclusively. However, this will create muscular imbalances that can have serious adverse effects in one’s overall health and cause injuries. Always exercise on both sides of the body to allow rest and ensure proper muscular balance.
Many vertical gymnasts display a tremendous desire to quickly excel at Pole, and at times, it is found to be addictive. Pole should be treated as a whole body-weight training exercise, where a period of 48 hours between workouts is generally required to achieve positive adaptations in the neuromuscular system and progressive improvements in strength and endurance. As a result, it is recommended to take a day of rest between intense Pole training sessions.
Pole Fitness is a very enjoyable, highly physical and energy demanding activity, thus a possible cause of overtraining. Having quality foods and a balanced diet that will nurture exhausted muscles and bones back to training form is fundamental to be able to learn, perform and become more skillful at Pole.
Above all, the human body will always allow us to challenge ourselves smart, by signaling if we are doing something wrong (as pain), to slow down, or simply to STOP. It is our choice to pay attention and listen, correct our technique, or take the day off. One way or another, if we ignore the “red flags” our bodies will inevitably make us stop and shut us down...often by means of injury! Know your limits and train “with” your body, not against it.
Thank you for reading ~ GVE