For anyone involved in the pole dance community, you would have had a thousand involved conversations about flexibility and stretching. Studios everywhere offer conditioning classes to compliment your dance practice, and most people’s pole goal list is dotted with dreams for flat splits and bendy backs. After a few months of dancing you may have also amassed a stash of foam rollers, thera bands, and spiky balls to support you on your journey to flexiness!
Coming from a yoga background, I already felt I understood the benefits of increased mobility. But it wasn’t until I started pole that I really focused on stretching and learning about muscle groups and how I could work towards my flexibility goals.
StudioVeena was my first inroad into dedicated stretching in 2013. She still offers tutorials for front and middle splits and back flex and encourages foam rolling as part of a warm up to increase blood flow and support muscles relaxation. The tutorials are between 20-30min, the perfect length to fit into my schedule. After riding home from work, I was already well warmed up and could foam roll and then stretch before dinner. Doing this nearly everyday, I was making amazing gains on my front splits.
I also purchased Delavier’s Stretching Anatomy book, which offered 130 stretching exercises covering the entire body. The diagrams and clear details about how each stretch targeted different muscles really helped me articulate to myself how each stretch was benefiting my body. I could also begin to see how different stretches related to different pole moves, discerning how a strong and stable Butterfly pole pose would require strength and mobility in my back muscles, chest, shoulder, hips and glutes.
It was around 2014 that I started to learn about the difference between dynamic stretching and static stretching. My yoga classes and the StudioVeena series at the time were using static stretches. Cleo had just released her Rockin’ Legs N Abs DVD and I was excited to spice things up.
As well as a being a high intensity warm up and cardio challenge, Cleo worked through exercises for dynamic flex with lots of high front kicks, side kicks and back kicks. The women on the DVD are incredibly flexible and strong and inspirational in their range of motion. It was a great full body workout, but I have found that I don’t use it as much as I had hoped.
Sometimes dynamic stretching gets a back rap, the concern that if you bounce through a stretch or kick your up into a split without the proper strength to hold it there, you risk injury.
Personally, I am very careful with dynamic stretching. It’s important to remember that pole, like yoga, is a body work practice, and you need to listen to your body. After tearing both hamstrings, my physio advised that to reduce the chance of re-injury, I should take it slow with my tendons. If you have grown up with dance and ballet, your muscles and tendons may respond differently. I’m a massive advocate for “it’s never too late to start” but please remember that if your body is older and you don’t have a background in physical activity, diving in to the Rockin’ Legs N Abs video may be too dynamic for your body to handle.
It’s been a long road to recovery after my hamstring injuries. Physically it has taken nearly two years for my hamstrings to feel like stretching again. Emotionally it has also taken nearly two years to work through the fear that I might tear them again too. Attending a flexibility class or even just stretching at home used to bring up a lot of anxiety about damaging my body and I would get flash backs from the moment of injury. Thankfully, time away from stretching my splits allowed me to focus on other goals – back flex, strength tricks and dance flow have been the main focus on my dance practice for the last 2 years.
I still dream about the splits, and my feet touching my head in a back bend! Recently, a friend told me about the Easy Flexibility series and after doing one video with her I bought a split stretching series. I was pleased to find the videos offering a balance between static and dynamic stretches and stemming from an awareness of anatomy that made sense to me. It is also refreshing to be able to complete a video and not be sore the next day. I have been able to get back into a routine of stretching everyday which is great to make progress towards my flexibility goals but also supports range of motion and general well being.
Last month, Indi Pole Wear also released a stretching guide for pole dancers
outlining a sequence of 22 stretches for back and hip mobility. The stretches are familiar (cobra pose, pigeon etc) but also show how you can use a chair or pole to correct form or increase the stretch. The authors also comment on how important your breathing is to promote a relaxed stretch. I’d recommend the sequence to anyone starting out on their stretching journey but like all tutorials that can be used without the spot of a trained instructor, be aware off what your body is telling you in each exercise and take it slow.
Stretching can be a wonderful practice to do on your own, even meditative and insightful as you engage with the process and movements of your own body. But when pushing yourself to get flexier, if you don’t have a teacher to correct your form or remind you to breath, you do run the risk of injury.
There will be a summary of this story in the Cross Training Series, including tutorials of my favourite stretches, as I genuinely believe stretching is beneficial for your pole practice. But I hope that this story inspires you start or return to stretching, either in a class at your studio or at home with one of the methods I have used. If you have a great stretching practice I’d love to hear about it too! Please comment below or get in touch with me through Instagram or Facebook.