CategoryBlog

Imagery and Visualization for Choreography

I have always been fascinated with the process of choreography, actively seeking out connections between pole dance and other forms of movement. For me, the elements of choreography for the pole, aerial, or floor routines, should overlap. Incorporating narrative is important, as well as including motifs and themes. These help the dancer communicate with the audience as well as tie the whole routine together so it is much more than just a sequence of clever tricks and poses.

I recently came across Wayne McGregor from his TED talk and hearing his ideas about choreography just blew my mind!

Dancers from the pole and aerial community talk about “combos”. Thousands of videos are all over social media, linking tricks together in familiar or innovative ways with the change of leg or hand or direction around the pole. Hundreds of questions flood pole discussion groups asking how to link poses – what do I do after a superman? – any tips for my leg hang to ayesha transition?

Creating smooth combos is an essential part of creating a routine, but listening to Wayne McGregor opened up an entirely new way of thinking about movement and what comes together to make a dance.

What struck me is that he didn’t talk about poses, but about movement. Rather than stationary shapes connected with transitions, he uses spatial language and direction to inspire dance. Sometimes he places an imaginary object in the room and asks the dancers to move around it, to trace it’s shape, go under it, or respond to it changing. The eventual dance may have familiar shapes and poses but how they were created and how they flow together becomes a unique collaboration between the choreographer and the dancer.

When we work on a spinning pole we are essentially holding a shape and allowing the motion of the pole to accentuate our movements. The language of pole dance can be limiting as we think about choreography as a sequence of poses – climb, straddle, scorpio, butterfly. Even for floor work, movements can also become quite static, one pose to the next, even if they are choreographed to the rhythm of the music. Naming poses is useful, especially to help us communicate choreography with other dancers, but it should be remembered that this is not the only way to think about movement.

What if there were other elements on stage to inspire your movement? Real props, or imaginary ones, can fill the space and will influence the way you can move around it. If there was a box in the middle of the room, you could leap over it, dance around it, or even pick it up and dance with it!

I first heard Kristy Sellars talk about giving the pole in your routines a character or status, which offers similar possibilities. Think of the pole as a lover, or an enemy, and explore how you might respond to it differently, in the way you touch the pole, walk around it, or dismount from it.

Using these ideas will change the way you enter a pose and move through it, or may inspire a new shape or movement all together. Rather than your combos looking like everyone else’s, your dance will become uniquely you.

I highly recommend watching Wayne McGregor’s TED talk and taking inspiration from his ideas about dance, choreography, movement, and expression. We all have movement habits and it’s easy to let muscle memory and familiarity take over. Adding imagery and visualization to your choreography will help you break these movement habits and dig deeper into your creativity. For those who also feel uncomfortable with freestyle, these exercises can also be a great starting point to exploring new movement and inspiring a new direction for a routine.

I created a simple dance flow with a scarf to explore the prop vs no-prop concept. A small dance was recorded with the scarf and then repeated without it, attempting to recreate the movements as closely as possible.

This clip could be worked on and polished for accuracy, however the point of the exercise needs no more clarity. What amazed me was how the eventual choreography would never have come about without the experimentation with the scarf in the first place. Sure, I could have danced and imagined I had a scarf in my hand, but the result is a completely unique flow that emerged from my body interacting with the scarf in the first place. My body learned “the dance” so to speak and could then repeat it for the second take.

These experiments may never become a final dance, but they do teach us something about the way we move in relation to our environment, and how to inspire new movement through the use of props, imagery, and visualization.

I’d love for you to share your experiments too! Tag me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with your videos!

 

Reflecting on Fundamentals

A lot has changed in my dance practice in the last year. Without access to a pole I am in a position to discover other ways to dance, to move, to create, and to express myself. More recently, however, I am finding that underlying all of my new discoveries on lyra, silks, yoga, chair dance, and even life modelling, is a layer of fundamental movements.

In many ways I am a beginner again. Five years of pole dance prepped my body for other aerial arts but each apparatus requires new techniques and new revision. I’ve found myself in a process of coming full circle and actually enjoying relearning many foundations of movement.

Noel Burch talks about the learning cycle offering four stages of learning. Rather than thinking of learning as a liner process – not knowing —> knowing. the four stages can be viewed in a cycle. This allows you to adapt to new skills and information that may support or refute what you may know already. Your skills in relation to pole dance and aerial arts do not exist in a vacuum, putting you forever in motion of learning, relearning, revisiting, and mastering.

“The Four Stages of Learning suggests that individuals are initially unaware of how little they know, or unconscious of their incompetence. As they recognize their incompetence, they consciously acquire a skill, then consciously use it. Eventually, the skill can be utilized without it being consciously thought through: the individual is said to have then acquired unconscious competence.” (Wiki)

Let’s think about this in relation to a pole class. The first time you ever walked into a studio you were probably in a state of unconscious incompetence – unaware of the skills and concepts you were about to learn. After a few classes and watching some inspirational dancers, you may progress to conscious incompetence – that overwhelming feeling where there is so much to think about when doing pole moves, everything feels way harder than it looks, and the inevitable question, “when will I ever straddle?”

Gradually, through persistence and regular training, some skills become less difficult. You feel consciously competent – pole dance offers you so much joy and you find endless street poles to show off your new tricks!

The fourth part of the cycle is unconscious competence. An area where things have become familiar allowing muscle memory to take over. You can spin, invert, and dance with a sense of grace and letting go.

Learning does not stop here though. In my case, I took up lyra and silks and although I still remember how to straddle, I have had to consciously revisit the basics. Assuming that my pole dance experience was going to let me just start doing crazy advanced aerial hoop tricks was quickly leading me down the road of developing bad habits.

For instance, knee hangs. Very similar to our trusty outside leg hang in pole, but also very different. What muscles should I be engaging to hold me up? When placing my leg, where should the contact points be?

Interestingly, instead of be being frustrated as I waver between conscious incompetence and conscious competence, I have found that I am really enjoying the process of relearning. And my body is thanking me for it, remaining injury free, and continuing to become stronger and more flexible. I am also learning how to make moves less painful as I revisit how to engage my glutes, and hamstrings rather than just trust that my bent knee will stop me from falling to the ground.

I have found support in instructors like StudioVeena who stress the importance of learning proper technique and focusing on fundamentals. Veena’s Teaching Manual is a fabulous resource for both students and instructors.

She states –

“As instructors we need to remember that every level of pole dance can be fun, improve physical fitness, and provide emotional freedom and expression”

Returning to the basics does not just have to be repetitive drills and boring shapes. Learning about muscle engagement, correct alignment, contact points, and how to use your breath should all be part of each and every move you learn on the pole, or other apparatus. Taking your time to learn slowly, also offers you space to listen to your own body. How did your shoulders respond to that pole hold? Do you need to work on coordination and balance to refine your fireman spin?

My journey into training my goofy side was probably the first step I made towards revisiting the basics. So many pole holds and spins were now muscle memory (unconsciously competent), but to successfully complete the move on the other side meant re-entering the cycle and starting again, albeit with a bit more strength and a lot more knowledge.

Where do you find yourself in the learning cycle? If you have just completed a course or term in a pole studio, you may be resting a the top of the cycle – unconsciously competent. Enjoy it! Fly with freedom and relish in your new skills and learning. But also be aware that as a new term starts the process of learning will start again. Frustrations may brew as you feel like a beginner again but strong foundations are your key to further success!

Nutrition for Pole Dancers and Aerialists

Since moving to Cambodia, my training schedule and format has changed dramatically. It rarely drops below 30C here, even at night, meaning that even a simple walk up and down the Riverside turns me into a dripping mess.

Joining the circus to train on lyra and silks in a large warehouse with no air conditioning also has it’s challenges. By observing and listening to how the locals train and manage the risks of dehydration, I have learned a lot about how to maintain optimum form during my training sessions, and to recover adequately afterwards.

It’s common practice to consider carbs and protein intake when thinking about how to prepare for, and recover after, a workout. But if you find yourself finishing your aerial dance sessions utterly exhausted, or taking longer to recover than your peers, or even if you feel sluggish mentally and emotionally days after your workout, your diet could be lacking in trace elements that support your body and it’s functions.

Trace elements such as zinc, magnesium, potassium, iron, and selenium occur in many foods that you may already be eating. Depending on how intense your training sessions are, and the unique make up of your body, you may need to consider adding more or less of each of the ones described below. Ensuring that you are eating nutrient dense foods before and after your aerial or pole session will support your energy levels throughout the workout and your recovery afterwards.

Let’s look at each mineral, how they work together, the effect it has on your body and which foods will offer you these benefits *

 

Zinc supports the function of over 200 enzymes in your body, including wound healing. If your pole kisses are beginning to build up, adding more foods with zinc in your diet could help them heal. Zinc also works to strengthen the villi in your intestines, increasing the surface area of your digestive tract, allowing your body to absorb more nutrients.

Where to find zinc – Brazil nuts, pecans, kelp, beans, cashews, chickpeas, whole grains, dairy foods, egg yolks, liver, red meat, seafood, oysters, dulse flakes.

 

Calcium is important for bone health and muscular growth as well as cardiovascular health. Your levels of vitamin D affect how much calcium you are absorbing from your food so make sure you get a little bit of sun every day too – what more of a reason do you need to take your pole outside or to the beach?!

Where to find calcium – almonds, brewer’s yeast, Chinese cabbage, kale, broccoli, salmon and sardines (with bones), dairy products, fortified foods such as cereals and tofu.

 

An important mineral that works in conjunction with zinc and calcium, supporting strong bone health. The trio (zinc, calcium, copper) also help transport red blood cells around the body – read: more oxygen delivered to your muscles.

Where to find copper – Cocoa, peas, raisins, almonds, barley, beans, beetroot, broccoli, oysters, liver.

 

Required for strong and flexible joints, skin, and bones. Silicon also supports the health of your heart. By ensuring foods with silicon are part of your diet everyday, you set yourself up to be able to train from a strong and healthy starting point.

Where to find silicon – alfalfa sprouts, beetroots, brown rice, oats, capsicum (peppers) apples, cereals, raw cabbage, peanuts, carrots, onions, cucumber, pumpkin, fish, whole grains, almonds, and oranges.

 

Supports strong healthy bones, nerves, and muscles. This element is also responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. If you find you are craving sweets or a high energy hit after a workout, adding foods rich in manganese could help you curb the cravings and stabilize your blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Where to find manganese – avocados, nuts, pulses, tea, whole grains, seeds, pineapple, and seaweed.

 

Selenium is an important antioxidant used to support the immune system, heart health, and thyroid function. Deficiencies in selenium can weaken the cartilage in your joints, something you want to avoid given how much pressure we put on our joints through during aerial training. You don’t need a lot so it’s safest to get this trace element in whole food form.

Where to find selenium – Brazil nuts, grains, brewer’s yeast, egg yolks, garlic, whole grains, broccoli, dairy products and red meat.

 

Low iron is the classic diagnosis for someone who has low energy and finds it hard to recover after a workout. Iron is responsible for transporting oxygen to the blood. When you are pole dancing, or engaged in any other workout, your muscles need oxygen to function. This is also why learning to breath properly doing a workout is essential.

Where to find iron – Green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, eggs, fish, red meat, poultry, liver, fortified foods, nuts, peas, whole grains.

 

Essential for thyroid function and regulates the function of every cell in your body. Due to soils having naturally varying amounts of iodine, you may need to find supplements and iodized food to ensure you are getting enough.

Where to find iodine – Kelp, iodized salt, seafood, saltwater fish, corn, prunes.

 

Supports strong bones and muscles and assists in metabolizing calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. Boron is also believed to reduce the symptoms of arthritis as well as support cognitive functions such as hand-eye coordination and short term memory, all skills that aerialists need to be safe and successful.

Where to find boron – apples, dates, oranges, plums, sultanas, kiwifruit, carrots, grapes, pears, whole grains, avocado, soybeans, chickpeas, hazelnuts, peanuts, lentils, onion,  and potatoes.

 

Find yourself drinking gallons of water but still feeling thirsty? Get half way through a routine and have to stop due to muscle cramping? Your body is probably in need of electrolytes such as sodium. This mineral maintains the body’s water balance and is one of the key ingredients in sports drinks. Skip the sugars, though, and get sodium from these other sources.

Where to find sodium – olives, miso, celery, shrimp, ham, salt.

 

This mineral supports nerve and muscle health and is also an electrolyte like sodium. It can also help to stabilise blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Insufficient potassium can lead to muscle weakness and dehydration.

Where to find potassium – Coffee, bananas, whole grains, molasses, parsley, mushrooms, pumpkin, fish.

 

Supports bone health, cell renewal and your metabolism. Phosphorus is also needed to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate) a molecule which provides energy to our cells. It is rare to be lacking in phosphorus but if you find you have a low appetite or muscle pain it may help to add some of these foods to your diet.

Where to find phosphorus – asparagus, corn, pumpkin seeds, bran, pulses, leafy green vegetables, eggs, beans, lentils, pork, dairy products,

 

Essential for healthy bones and the functioning of nerves and muscles. Magnesium is also a relaxant and can be used to soothe aching muscles. Add some Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulfate) to your bath or start taking magnesium supplements to support recovery after a workout.

Where to find magnesium – Eggs, green leafy vegetables, shellfish, dairy products, nuts, whole grains, almonds, wheatgerm.


Sign up to my newsletter before the end of July and receive a workout meal plan that incorporates all of these essential nutrients. Simple and clean recipes that will maintain your health and vitality and support your pole progress!


* This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

 

 

Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual – Review

For one of the most beautiful aerial arts, fabric, tissu, or silks, is one of the most complex. A student of aerial fabric needs to be strong in their upper body and core, similar to other aerials arts, but also needs to train their brain and spatial awareness skills to think about how the knots and fabric are keeping them safe and supported in the air.

Many students report that their initial instruction comes from a “monkey-see, monkey-do” class structure. However, for a student to excel and eventually learn to create and compose moves on their own, it is essential they work from a basis of proper technique and understanding.

Rebekah Leach, a pioneer in the aerial arts, has created a set of manuals for aerial fabric, aerial hoop. aerial yoga, and rope, to ensure students and instructors can do just this!

This review looks in detail at the Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual (4th Ed)  published in 2011. The Intermediate Part 1 and Part 2 versions are also available to purchase as paperback and digital download from her website and on Amazon.

What you need to know
The Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual contains

  • over 250 step by step photographs including close ups of knots
  • over 40 poses, tricks and transitions on the fabric
  • amazing explanations of knots and wraps using clear language
  • conditioning tips
  • teaching, spotting, and safety advice

With chapters based on moves and transitions from basic climbs to single and double footlocks, students and instructors can easily see how moves can be connected together and even begin to play with their own variations once comfortable in each position. The progression of moves also introduces the student to the hip lock (aka the hip key) and various climbs inviting students to develop strength and techniques that will support them in their aerial dance journey.

For students:
Although being a fan of aerial fabric dance for many years, I have only started training on the apparatus recently. My background in pole dance and lyra offered some familiarity in going upside down and being off the ground, but nothing prepared me for the complexities involved in tying knots with my feet and learning how to control my body as it spun and sway in the air!

 

Currently, my instructors (who speak only a little English) work from a modelling approach, completing the move or sequence themselves and then spotting carefully while each student in the class attempts the same pose. If your circumstances are similar, of even if you are learning on your own, you may find that this manual fills in many gaps in your training and understanding.

Rebekah Leach borrows language from ballet to clearly explain the direction of wraps – en dedans and en dehors – supporting the mind-body connection that pure modelling cannot achieve. Studying the manual outside of class and revisiting how knots and footlocks are created, offers essential theory to my practice. Her notes about weight distribution, exit strategies, and common mistakes, revise concepts taught in class and have even made great talking points for me to discuss with my instructor.

From a safety standpoint, the advantages of such an approach are obvious. To really understand what is holding you up and why, you need to learn how to see the knots in your mind and be able to follow the direction that the fabric is wrapped around your legs or body.

The clarity and quality of the photographs in the manual are really impressive! Each movement sequence used to create knots and transitions have been broken down with photos at every step. Close attention has been paid to make note of how to position your feet, or keep the fabric running along one side of your body, to support your progress in replicating the moves and ensuring the fabric ribbons don’t slip from where they are meant to be.

One of my favourite parts of the book is also how the author notes how to practice the pose on the ground first! If it’s just for balance, coordination, or to train strength and flexibility, this is such a great training tip for beginners, allowing you to feel what the move is like before attempting it in the air without all the nerves of danger and physical exertion. In a similar way, Rebekah Leach also regularly refers to the concept of “exit strength” making note of how important it is to have the strength to return to the ground safely as well as the technique. This idea may not come naturally to beginners who will also benefit from learning resting poses in the air.

 

For instructors:
Even if you are a seasoned aerial fabric instructor, each year or term your students will arrive to class with different skills and learning abilities. Rebekah Leach has laid out the Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual as a curriculum for a term of classes with references to how to know if your students are ready to progress or attempt certain moves.

Sharing her teaching expertise, Rebekah Leach offers instructors guidelines of how to structure the entire class, from warm up to cool down, and how to maintain the motivation of students who may not be ready for aerial poses or to go upside-down.

Most importantly perhaps, the author’s notes on spotting and how to catch common mistakes, supports best practice in focusing on how the student entered a lock or wrap, how to verbally direct a student to unwind or de-tangle themselves, and where to support a student when physically spotting transitions and tricks.

I also love that Rebekah Leach has included reference to pioneers in the field, and innovators of certain poses, inviting instructors to broaden their knowledge base and find inspiration from other aerial artists.

One of my favourite quotes from the Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual is

“Each skill is like a word which builds sentences to tell a movement story”

Something that comes through in each tutorial, is the author’s passion for unique expression. From a solid foundation in understanding how the wraps work and support the dancer, one can then explore movement with the fabric as a form of self expression. The emphasis on proper technique is strong, but not without vision for what can be achieved even from students at the beginning of their aerial fabric dance journey.

Get your copy of the Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual from Rebekah Leach’s website and begin your own exploration into aerial fabric dance!

Saturday Laturday!

At some point, pole dancers and aerialists will begin to see their upper back and shoulders becoming stronger and larger. Racer back tops and sleeveless dresses are now the norm as we cater to our growing lats, shoulders, biceps, and traps. Our bodies are stronger because of pole, yet many women question if their growing lats are something to be proud of or something to cover up.

So, in the spirit of embracing strong women, it is with great pleasure that I introduce #SaturdayLaturday! Show off your lats to the world and support women growing stronger – inside and out!

Just like #sundaybumday, and in the spirit of training safer and stronger, let’s look more closely at our lats, how they work to support us upside down, and how you can keep them injury free.

In the diagram you can see that the lats are the muscles that wrap around the middle and lower spine, extending up through the armpit. They insert on both shoulder blades and the upper arm at the humerus.  Their full name is “latissimus dorsi” which basically translates to “broad muscles of the back” – latissimus = broadest, and dorsum = back.

The lats connect and support movement through the spine, ribs, sacrum, and shoulder blades. Every time you lift you arms above your head and engage your shoulders, sit tall with good posture, or twist and bend your torso, your lats are put to work. Having strong lats will stabilise your scapula and upper back and also aid in shoulder stability. The lats pull your arms down towards your body and help with rotation. Try this: hold our your arm out straight and make a “thumbs down” action rotating from your shoulder. You should be able to feel your lats working in this movement. If you are familiar with a twisted grip mount in pole dancing you will also see the similarities and how your lats work to rotate your arm and shoulder for you to turn your arm and grip the pole.

Bodybuilders use exercises such as chin ups, pull ups, and pull downs  to strengthen and train their lats. Your inverts, shoulder mounts, and any work on silks and lyra, are going to engage your lats as well. Hence, the surprise when someone snaps a pic of you at the beach and you realise how much your back has changed because of pole!

Aerialists and pole dancers spend lots of time pulling with their arms overhead. Having strong lats will help with these movements and will give you better posture. But if the lats are too tight, you may be at risk of rotator cuff injuries as your shoulder overcompensates. Tight lats also make it virtually impossible raise the arms full over head in a backbend, and may even reduce your ability to create a stable base for a headstand (ref).

If alarm bells are going off in your head as you realise tight lats may be stopping you from reaching your flexibility and aerial goals, then read on!

One way to counter tightness and care for your lats is to foam roll them. Lay on your side with your bottom arm outstretched and the roller perpendicular to your torso. From here you should be able to roll forwards and backwards as well as side to side, being careful to not roll over your ribs. Regular foam rolling will help soothe and soften the lats.

When stretching the lats, ensure that your pelvis and ribs remain stable. If you raise your arms over head from a standing position and you find your ribs popping and lower back arching, your lats will not be stretched effectively. “Stabilise the origins” of the muscle by keeping your pelvis and tailbone tucked under and your core engaged. When you raise your arms, you should feel a stretch at the back of the armpit.

You can see how tight your lats are, and have a great lat stretch by trying this exercise on the floor:

Lie on your back on the floor with your arms by your sides. Feel where the back of your rib cage touches the floor, taking special note of the point of contact that lies closest to your waist. Turn your palms up, then lift your arms up and overhead to the floor, or as close to the floor as they will go without you bending your elbows or separating your arms wider than your shoulders.

For most people, this movement will make the lower ribs lift off the floor in back and jut out in front. Now return your arms to your sides and repeat the same actions, but this time, as you reach overhead, press the lower rib cage—the point closest to your waist—firmly into the floor to prevent it from lifting up at all. This will probably create a sensation of stretch on the outer sides of your armpits and make it harder to reach the floor. The stronger the stretch and the greater the restriction of movement, the tighter your lats are. (ref)

Here are some simple stretches to include after your pole dance or aerial session to balance out your training and give your lats some love –

1- Assisted Squat – Use stall bars or a high bench to offer resistance as you hold on with your hands. Start with a neutral pelvis (pictured) and then sink your hips down towards the floor. Tuck the pelvis and feel free to let the back round and relax, gently swaying from side to side to increase the stretch.

2- Elbows on chair – Use a rolled up towel or something to hold on to, to keep your arms from rotating back in. Sit on your knees in front of the chair and rest your elbows on the chair edge (roll up a blanket or yoga mat to make this more comfortable. Sink your hips down and lower your chin to your chest to feel the stretch.

3 – Eagle Pose – Doing this pose seated on a chair will ensure that you keep your pelvis and ribs in alignment, focusing the stretch on your lats without arching the lower back. Wrap your right elbow inside your left and curl your wrists around so your palms are facing each other (or as far as you can go). Lift your elbows towards the sky until you feel the stretch behind your armpits. Take a few breaths and then change sides.


With all the technical talk out of the way, it’s time to show off your lats! Join the #SaturdayLaturday movement, show off how strong and proud you are of your body and give your lats some love for all they do in your dance practice!

Use the hashtag #SaturdayLaturday on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and lets share the love for our lats!

Cross Training For Pole – Part 7: Push Ups

It is one of the oldest and most traditional exercises out there – Push Ups! Do you know why the humble push up has stood the test of time? Because push ups simply work! Push ups target your arms, chest, core, glutes, and many stabilising muscles, and they can be tailored to any fitness level. They are one of the most efficient body weight exercises that you can do.

So many pole dancers ask about strength training and are seeking advice to nail their nemesis moves. If you are looking to invert for the first time, do a one handed spin like Emily Laura, or smash out a handspring on demand, I highly recommend adding push ups to your cross training program. Even just a few a day, when performed with proper technique, will support your progress in achieving your goals.

Below I outline a few push up variations and explain how they target different muscles in your upper body. I tried to gather information from as many sources as possible – personal trainers, physios, yogis, body builders, crossfitters, you name it! If you are trying out these at home, please film yourself or watch your form in a mirror to ensure that you are completing the exercise correctly. Just like any other exercise, doing push ups the wrong way may put your body at risk of injury.

Standard Push Up Guidelines
The aim of a push up is to lower and raise you body as an entire unit. If you cannot hold a plank position and maintain stability through your core and lower back, it is highly recommended that you perform push ups with your knees on the floor. You can also start with push ups standing against a wall (facing the wall and pushing out), or with your upper body raised on a table to allow you to begin to train without your entire body weight involved in the exercise.

When performing a standard push up, on your knees or planking on your toes, the position of your wrists under your shoulders should not change. By stacking the joints you increase stability. As you lower down, your elbows should track close to you body. Think about this like entering Chaturanga in yoga, don’t let your elbows wing out to the sides. Alignment is key and learning to do a push up properly will ensure you don’t injure yourself later on.

If you experience pain, aching, twinging, or otherwise, during a standard push up, you may like to read Eric Cressey’s article about changing the position of the feet to alleviate stress on the shoulders.

It needs to be remembered that a push up is a whole body exercise. Yes it will strengthen you arms and chest, but a successful push up requires you to think about your entire body. Squeeze your glutes and keep your back flat by hollowing your abs, keep your eyes focused ahead of your hands, not looking down. You are aiming to form a straight line from your head, through your neck, along your back and to your feet.

If you are on your knees, your abs and legs are working less hard, but it is still no excuse to let them sag! Your entire body from your knees to your head should move as an entire unit, with no dipping, curling, or sinking through the back.

 

 

Lastly, remember to breathe. Standard practice says to inhale on the way down and exhale as you push the floor away from you and rise up. Going down is often easier than coming back up, but working with your breath will help you engage your muscles and find strength to straighten your arms. The quality of the push up is way more important than how many you can do. Start small and with proper technique and you will be able to do more reps in no time!


Push Up Variations

– Wide Arm Push Ups
When done correctly these types of push ups will target your pecs and chest, rather than allowing your triceps to the bulk of the work. Place your hands wider than your shoulders and lower down until your elbows reach a 90 degree angle. Be wary of your elbows reaching over your wrists which will place unnecessary pressure on the joints. I like to put my focus on my chest, and think about my whole torso lowering and rising up within a box made my elbows. You can perform these on your knees as well, with the same emphasis on keeping a flat back and neutral neck as outlined above.

– Single Leg Push ups
Taking one leg off the ground, even just a few cm, will greatly increase the load on your abs and stabilising muscles. The temptation with these types of push ups is to rush. Take it slow and pause between changing legs so your form does not diminish in the transition. A good tip is to place your feet a little wider than you would normally to help with balance.

– Single-arm Medicine Ball Push Ups
You can use any prop like a yoga block or kettle bell to do these too. The change in angle will allow you to target you arms, pecs, and shoulders and may offer insight into how one side of your body is stronger than the other. Try not to allow the torso to rotate or twist during the exercise, remaining stable in the core and lower back.

– Elevated Push Ups
If you are looking to increase the challenge, try placing your feet on the edge of a couch or a bench. Your body will be angled down towards your hands, increasing the amount of your body weight involved in the exercise.

– Spiderman Push Ups
Start with a normal push up set up. Lower down keeping your elbows tracking close to your body. As you rise up raise one knee towards your elbow on the same side. Place it back. Lower down again, and on the next rise, lift the other knee. You will find that this exercise engages the core in a new way and will also work the legs as you balance through each knee lift.

– Dolphin Push Ups
From a downward dog position, bend your elbows to lower to your forearms to the floor.  The aim is to lower and raise both arms at the same time. Focus and breathe, it’s harder than it looks! If you find this too intense on your legs, feel free to bend your knees but try to maintain a long line from your hips through to your neck.

– Diamond Push Ups

Place your hands close together directly underneath your chest, making a diamond shape with your thumbs and forefingers. Watch your form and make sure that you are not leaning back which will make the exercise easier. Keep your elbows tucked and lower slowly until your chest touches your hands. This exercise will target your deltoid muscles (pictured in the diagram) and also engage your core as you balance over a smaller base. When performed with correct technique, this variation is also said to have best results for training your triceps.

– Superman Push Ups

From a standard push up position, lower down keeping your elbows tracking close to your body. As you rise to the top of the movement, lift your right arm off the ground at the same time as lifting your left leg. Aim to raise them straight out, front and back, at the same level. Pause at the top and maintain stability through the core. Replace the hands and feet to reach a plank position and then repeat a push up and superman on the other side. Be wary of your hips and torso wanting to rotate at the top of the movement and focus on keeping your hips stable.

– Tiger Push Ups
Think about the two positions, downward dog and upward dog. If you are familiar with yoga you may already flow from upward dog to downward dog during a Sun Salutation. A tiger push up is doing this in reverse.

Start in a downward dog pose. While bending your elbows and dropping your upper body towards the floor, push forward with the chest and rise up to an upward dog position. You may or may not need to roll over the toes also. In the upward dog position, imagine a string pulling from your tail bone to bring your torso back through your arms and then up to starting pose. Try not to let the elbows flare, maintaining stability for your shoulders, elbows and wrists.

 

If you feel like each of these variations are easy, you can move on to handstand push ups, one arm push ups, and dynamic variations like clapping in between reps! There should be more than enough to keep you moving and motivated each day.

The great thing with push ups is that you will improve and see results very quickly. One week you might only be able to do 3 or 5, but very quickly you will find yourself doing 8 or 10, creating moments for feelings of success and motivation! Try one of the variation above and then return to your standard push up in the next training session and see the results for yourself!