How to really, truly progress

Two steps forward, one step back.

Or in my case, two aerial inverts, oh fuck, I lost my aerial invert.

I’m sure I’m not the only one.

One of the most trying, frustrating thing about this sport we all love called pole is that success can seem so fleeting. And it takes so long to see any measure of success in the first place.

But what’s interesting (and often unique) about pole is that sometimes, it’s less about sheer brute force than it seems to be. One moment a move seems impossible. The next, you shift your hips a bit and lower your bottom hand and you’re in a move almost effortlessly.

And then the next time you try it, it’s gone again. C’est la vie de pole!

But I’ll use my vast experience (5 going on 6 years of fighting for pole moves) to share a few sneaky tricks for moving forward with you.

1. Take private lessons with your favorite teacher.

And pro tip: come with a list of goals. You’re never going to find out in a crowded classroom of two to a pole that you’re tipping back on your invert too soon, but you WILL find this out one on one with an instructor you trust. I even found out I’ve been holding my planks wrong. AND I PLANK LIKE EVERY OTHER DAY. That’s so many cumulative, incorrect planks. Privates are pricey, but do like me and drop a hint for birthday, Christmas, Hannukkah, whatever. And try to focus on the value of getting technique tweaks you can use for life over endless group sessions where you further reinforce bad habits, if you’re hung up on the money. I swear, it pays off.

Note on that “goals” list: if you don’t have a list of nemesis moves you want special help with, try to think about larger goals. For me, that was staying on the pole longer and flowing my tricks together. Yours might be more specific, like nailing leg hands on both sides, or cleaning up favorite tricks, or even developing presence for a performance.

My instructor then had me transition in and out of moves by dropping into a strong hold, instead of just hopping down off the pole. Hard as fuck but wow, so useful once I got used to it–I could invert, fan kick, cradle spin, all sorts of cool stuff from there. And staying off the ground is sort of like breaking the habit of adjusting your goggles to sneak a break while swimming laps. It’s just a good habit to get into, and it builds endurance.

Note #2: expect private lessons to be extremely physically demanding. It’s your teacher’s job to push you, and there’s nowhere to hide. Mentally prepare and eat/drink enough beforehand!! I left it ALL on the pole in my sessions, but damn, I progressed.

2. Skip your favorite teacher.

I mean, don’t stop going to them, still go a lot. But commit to taking lessons with other, different teachers at your studio once in a while. You’ll be amazed how even moves you think you know how to do will take on new nuance when a different person explains them.

Sometimes it takes a fresh approach to nail a move, and a different instructor with her own way of seeing things can be just the one to give you new perspective. Weirdly, I have had great success with brand new teachers. ??? I don’t know you guys, the road has been mighty wavy for me in pole, but I’m okay with that. #whateverworks

3. Condition.

I knooooooow, conditioning sucks. It hurts, it’s hard, and it’s usually not anywhere near as gratifying as banging out tricks. But here’s the good news: it’s cheap (like, watch-a-YouTube-tutorial-cheap), you can usually do it at home, and it will save you countless hours of failing (and potentially hurting yourself) through strength moves. Some types of cross-training can even help your existing tricks look better. Barre definitely helped me FINALLY straighten my knees in poses (hint: you think they’re straight but they’re never really straight. NEVAAAAAAR) and has saved countless trick pics.

And a twice weekly abs class + pull ups with a band at my gym FINALLY got me my aerial invert, for keeps. I’m also #blessed enough to go to a studio that offers literal aerial conditioning classes, and they’ve been a godsend for my nagging swimmer’s shoulder. Again, let me emphasize: conditioning fucking sucks. But it will increase your range of ability and certainly your longevity (ie. time without being injured) overall. Worth it.

Here’s an example of a move I like to do in between pull-up sets to help keep my shoulders in shape. Highly recommend! Scapula pushups are a similar exercise, and require no equipment. Google them!

4. Take a break.

This may see counterintuitive, but I can’t tell you how many tricks I suddenly nailed out of nowhere after a week off. If you’re feeling burnt out, there’s no need to bang your head against a wall. Take a week, and stay active doing other things you enjoy more than failing and hating your life at pole classes. Hike, stretch, ride your bike, swim. Then come back to it. You’ll have a clear mind, relaxed muscles, and possibly, a new approach to a trick that suddenly makes it possible for you.

5. Look after your shoulders.

Okay I know this is part of conditioning, but it deserves its own paragraph anyway. Please god, take care of your shoulders. Like stop what you’re doing right now and buy yourself some therabands, and look up shoulder exercises to do with them.

Then do those shoulder exercises before and after you do anything on the pole. You’ll thank me later.

There’s a ton of research you can read out there about how shoulders are just not really built to take on the kind of stress our hip sockets are, for lots of reasons. But if you happen to just take my word for it that that’s true, baby and condition the hell out of your shoulders, or risk not being able to do ANYTHING aerial when you fuck them up. And trust me, as someone with chronic shoulder stuff (again, likely left over from my years as a swimmer with a janky stroke), you do not want to be dealing with that. Take an extra few minutes and warm them up. Strengthen them. Stretch them. You’re welcome.

Do you guys have any weird methods or motivators for getting progress in pole? Do you have any shoulder exercises you like doing or should I make a quick video of my favorites for y’all?

XOXO

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