Making REAL Progress Part 2:

I’ve been having a series of breakthroughs out of nowhere lately, and I have some thoughts on finally making progress!

This is especially shocking to me because lately I’ve been feeling like I’m throwing everything I have at pole (getting up a little earlier to do 15-20 minutes of conditioning before I jump in the shower, abs/pullups/shoulder training on my lunch break, pole, flex, floowork or barre classes in the evening and on weekends. But the progress has been sloooooo0w.

Until suddenly it wasn’t. Suddenly the dots started connecting and trying (and failing) at a Jamila for several frustrating weeks meant nailing a violator on my first try in three years (an experience so traumatic in 2013 that I haven’t attempted it until now haha); struggling to get my outside leg hangs with that little leg shimmy (you know the one) suddenly got me aerial inverts, monkey climbs, and straight leg inverts (which barre REALLY came in handy for–that is serious quad work, holy crap).

Moves I thought were impossible for me are now (marginally) accessible and make some sense. And I’m feeling crazy inspired to tell you all immediately: DO NOT GIVE UP, because it might be just around the corner.

And it’s not linear. You don’t do X amount of work and get Y result within a set amount of time. I work out sometimes just to deal with anxiety, or out of habit. I stopped expecting it to pay off immediately quite some time ago. But damn, the results come when you least expect them. It’s just so important not to quit.

So here’s my continued list of progression tips:

1. Whatever you do, hang in there.

Learn to love the work. You never know when a jump forward in your skills is going to happen, but it probably WON’T happen if you aren’t hitting the studio, conditioning, and/or crosstraining. Take a break from one thing for a while if you get burnt out but don’t go inactive. I skipped pole classes for a week but kept doing my Core XTREEEEEEME (extra e’s mine) and barre classes, and then when I went back to pole I felt great and got a new trick.

I saw a girl in my level 2 class a few weeks ago who was brand new to the level. And she was struggling and clearly looking defeated and embarrassed to be struggling. And I just wanted to freaking hug her, because leveling up and 1. no longer being the best in your class in the lower level, and 2. suddenly being the worst in your class and everything’s hard and hurts is no small thing.

Also, at my particular studio (and in many, I’m sure) level 2 is miles away from level 1. The two almost have nothing to do with each other. In level 1 you spin, in level 2 you’re doing upside down. It’s almost cruel how big that jump is.

But anyway, mad props to this girl because in her freestyle–ie. the time to do easy fun stuff that you’re good at–she attempted a chopper and leg hang she JUST LEARNED, and bailed out, and looked so frustrated with herself. I wanted to give her a medal right then and there just for trying, because that’s the whole point.

Side note: I almost NEVER attempt upside down stuff at the end of a 1.5 hour class unless there’s a gun to my head.

(Hasn’t happened yet, but hey, this is New York).

So, retroactively:

2. Keep Trying and Failing at Hard Things.

Because failing at them is practice and conditioning too. And give yourself props for freaking TRYING and being willing to wipe out in front of Level 3 girls who are straight chilling in Level 2 classes because they don’t have your balls. #respect

3. Partner Up With Someone Better Than You

Last night I monkey climbed (ie. chopper, outside leg hang, aerial chopper, outside leg hang, drop exhausted to the floor). I didn’t know I could. I tried it because the girl I was partnered with (who also happened to be really friendly and chill, which is essential) did it first.

[Monkey climb see, monkey climb do! (hehe)]

Now normally I like to hide in the back and partner with somebody who’s doing their first Level 2 class so I can feel helpful and not totally clumsy.

But, this has definitely not been me to push myself (duh). Don’t be like me. Share a pole with someone who’s pushing herself. This is especially effective if you’re a competitive person! Your pole buddy can also give you helpful tips, like mine did, because she’s probably been there and already worked out the kinks with moves she’s mastered.

4. Record Yourself

I know I’ve said this before, but it’s so important for getting better. Pole can be hard when it comes to seeing yourself. We’re often spinning or upside down, so it’s hard to catch a good look at yourself in the mirror. That doesn’t excuse you from looking, though.

I have a good friend who’s much more advanced at pole than me. But she’s a “jump from trick to trick” type who’s addicted to progress. She doesn’t like doing the same move over and over–least of all Level One moves. But at her first major competition recently, she lost points from every judge over bent knees and sickled, flexed feet. (Something I feel guilty for not telling her I noticed, but one sort of looks like an asshole saying “maybe you should straighten your legs more” to someone who’s doing handsprings while you’re doing yet another pinwheel spin).

Don’t wait for someone assigning you points in a competition to read your bad habits. Video early, video often, and troubleshoot. Which reminds me…

5. Master Moves, Don’t Settle for “Good Enough”

If you’ve ever watched a non-poler watch pole dance, you’ve probably noticed that the stuff they’re most impressed by isn’t particularly hard stuff. It’s Level 1 skills performed with confidence, mastery, and expression that elicit the gasps.

So aim for that. Don’t check a move off and move on. Explore it. Try it big, try it small, try it in new combos, with different emotional notes, with different tempos and song choices. A dip turn can go 100 different ways–but each time you work with it, yours gets stronger and more versatile.

Work on new tricks, but aim for total mastery of your Level 1 stuff. And also (sorry, this is the longest post ever but I have SO MANY THOUGHTS): Level 1 mastery=the strength, control, and deep understanding of moves to learn to add on or do similar (but harder) variations of them in higher class levels. If you still don’t know how to get good momentum without jumping, or muscle your way through climbs instead of push-pulling, you’re going to struggling with tricks that build on theses elements (and possible get hurt trying to learn them).

How do you feel about your progress? What made a difference for you for a certain nemesis trick? What advice would you give polers on the cusp of giving up? And have you ever given up yourself? I feel like burnout combined with injuries makes for a lot of “ex” polers… Share below!


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