Friday, October 14, 2011
Building strength for pole: from global to specific
If you are a pole dancer or other aerialist, chances are you want to get stronger. Not to invent statistics, but I'm pretty sure less than 0.001% of aerialists don't want to be stronger. This applies especially to polers, who often enter and, at first, advance in the field with much less strength than those who focus on traditional circus apparatuses.
There are a lot of ways to gain strength, but it helps to have a gain plan. (That was a Freudian slip for "game plan," but I like it and I'm keeping it.) You can advance to a point by just doing random exercises-- it's better than nothing-- but you can plateau quickly and stop seeing results if you don't know what you're doing. So I'm going to get you going by explaining four ways you can go about gaining strength, from the general to the specific.
1. Heavy lifting multi-joint exercises
Exercises can be thought of in terms of what joints are bending. Dumbbell curls, which work your biceps, involve bending your elbows. Leg curls involve bending your knees. If you want to be efficient, doesn't it make sense to work more joints at once?
If you want to get strong-- not build bulky, heavy muscles, but just lift more weight-- you should be dedicating a good amount of your strength training time to lifting heavy. After all, you're pretty heavy, and you want to be able to lift yourself.
The traditional powerlifts are the bench press, the deadlift, and the squat. There are other variations and personal favorites, but those are the most standard. You can start doing any of them at light weights, but unless you already have perfect form, you should probably get a personal trainer to help you for a session or two. You can get away with a lot of mistakes at 20 pounds that could cause serious injury at 200 pounds. Whether you get a trainer or not, make sure you have a spotter, especially for the bench press. (If you can't get a spotter, you can use a Smith Machine, but it takes away the stabilizing effects of the lift, which you definitely want for pole dancing.)
Advantages: Good for efficient and balanced strength gain.
Disadvantages: Heavy weights can lead to injury if you err on form or try to lift too much; need a spotter.
2. Do muscle group-specific exercises.
Let's say you feel you have good strength overall, but you feel like a specific muscle group is lagging. Your abs have no problem with inverting, but your arms get tired from climbing and holding your weight up, so you want to work on your biceps. You might decide to take a more traditional "gym rat" approach: do extra "arms," "upper body," or just "biceps" workouts. 3 sets of barbell curls, 3 sets of machine curls, 3 sets of pull-ups-- or whatever your favorite workout of the month is.
Advantages: Variety; you can focus on your problem spots.
Disadvantages: You have to be careful not to create imbalances: if you work on your abs, you have to work on your lower back, too; You want to make sure you're gaining strength and not bulk.
3. Specifically targeted exercises
This zooms in on your needs even further than targeting muscle groups. In this level of granularity, you are finding or designing exercises that imitate the stunts you are working on. For example, let's say you want to work on shoulder strength, for all those inverted moves that involve putting weight in your bottom arm. That can be anything from the caterpillar to the twisted grip handspring. If you were on the "muscle group-specific exercises" level, you'd be doing shoulder presses. For "specifically targeted exercises," I like to have my students to handstand walk-ups. That is, kneel facing away from the wall or pole, place your feet on the wall or pole, and start walking your feet up and your hands in until you're in a handstand position, hold, then walk yourself back down. Not only are your shoulders getting a workout, but you are upside-down, you are balancing, and most significantly, you are briefly holding your weight in one arm at a time, which is what you will be doing in your stunt.
Advantages: You can tweak all kinds of exercises to make them more appropriate to your specific goals.
Disadvantages: You'll need a lot of creativity. You'll be creating your own exercises a lot of the time, and not every move will be easy to plan for.
4. Just do the move.
If you are pretty close to succeeding at a strength trick, there's a lot to be said for just doing the trick over and over and trying to get it. Each move is not just a matter of brute force, but of practice. Otherwise every powerlifter could execute every pole move perfectly on the first try. Experimenting with a power move, when you are already strong, can be more effective than hitting the gym. I got my flagpole straight and solid not by doing extra pecs and delts at the gym, but at repeating it in front of a mirror over and over and being picky about my form.
Advantages: You're training your strength and your stunts at the same time-- two birds! one stone!
Disadvantages: You have to be close to succeeding at the move in the first place, or else you'll just frustrate, and possibly injure, yourself.
Which level of granularity you choose-- from the global to the local-- will depend on your needs, your timeline, and your personal preferences. You can pick one of the above tracks and stick to it, or change it up and keep your muscles guessing. Either way, I suggest coming up with a "gain plan." Gain strength, gain repertoire, and gain the knowledge of how to make your body do what you want.
Photo from EzeeDictionary.com forums.