Managing Your Flex-pectations
Posted on May 09 2018
One of the first things you realise when you first start pole dancing is that a degree of flexibility is a necessity. A lot of pole moves centre on splits, fronts, middles and everyone’s favourite the fake split. Not to mention the complex beasts that are shoulder and back flexibility. Unless you’re one of those annoying people who come from a gymnastics, calisthenics, ballet, dance background, then you’re probably in the same boat that I was, and starting from scratch. What follows is a list of all the things I wish I’d known before I started my stretching journey:
The first thing you need to know about flexibility is that there’s no such thing as natural flexibility. Every single pole dancer you see who is incredibly flexible worked incredibly hard to become so. You’re not going to do one stretch class and suddenly become the pole dancing unicorn that is Amy Hazel or the flexi goddess that is Felix Cane. In fact you could probably stretch 2-3 times a week for a few years and still not achieve that level of flex.
Amy Hazel via Instagram @amyhazel92
You need to dedicate a lot of time to stretching if you really want to improve you’re flexibility. The brief stretching you do at the beginning and end of pole class won’t be enough if you want to make real progress with your flex. I stretched for 30-60 mins 6-7 days a week for 6 months to get my front splits. I’ve spent the last year doing an hour of middles split stretching at least twice a week and I still don’t have a flat middle split, I’m so frustratingly close, just can’t touch down.
Stretching is different for everybody, so there’s absolutely no point comparing yourself to other people. Your body is the product of all the things you’ve put it through up to this point in your life and you’re going to find that your flexibility will progress very differently to other peoples, and that it may progress quicker for different areas of your body as a result of this. I've been working on my flex for a solid 4 years now and the below pictures represent how far I've come.
Strengthening your muscles is a key part of improving your flexibility and avoiding injuries in the short and long term. A good stretching program should include exercises that are focused on strengthening key muscle groups like the glutes, core and rotator cuff muscles. Your flexibility is only as good as the muscles that are supporting it, without that muscular support you will without doubt suffer a serious injury at some point.
Get professional help. Spending some quality time with a qualified instructor is invaluable and it’s very likely that your pole dancing studio will have stretch classes as part of their timetable. Please do yourself a favour and book in for at least a term or two to learn some good stretching technique. And of course in this amazing technological age there are plenty of online resources and classes available, just make sure you do a bit of research first to make sure the person or people you’re learning from are well qualified themselves. From my own experience I can recommend the StretfchIt app, I’ve been using it to help me get my middles. It’s a great mix of active and passive stretching and it’ll get your sweating. I also learned a lot of new stretches and mobilising movements that I hadn’t encountered before.
Stretching should be uncomfortable, but not acutely painful. If you’re not experiencing discomfort when you’re stretching then you’re probably not going to make much progress, but you need to listen to your body and know when you’ve crossed over from discomfort to pain. If you’re feeling acute pain that’s your body telling you to stop doing what you’re doing before you do some serious damage. Don’t push through the pain, it’s really not worth it.
Change up your routine. Find new ways to stretch and mobilise your body. This is important because if you only stretch one way, then you’ll only be flexible in that one way, and we all know that for pole dancing we need to be flexible in a wide range of positions. For example, when I trained my front splits, I trained them using pretty much the same stretches every day and I trained them to be very square. So square that I struggled to do any pole dancing moves that required a turned out split for quite a while because even though I could do the splits the outside of my hips were still very tight. It’s also important because the stretches that work well for some people might not be very effective for your body. Try lots of different techniques until you find the ones that work best for you.
Don’t try to progress too fast and don’t try to force your body into positions that it’s not ready for. I made this mistake and my body didn’t thank me for it. It’s very tempting these days to look at all the amazing yoga poses and pole dancing moves on Insta and Facebook and want to try them straight away. But we all need to remember that in reality the people doing these advanced poses and pole dancing moves have been working on their flexibility for years. It’s not the start of their journey that we’re looking at, and comparing ourselves to these amazing professionals will only end in disappointment and tears.
The most important thing I can tell you regarding improving your flexibility is to listen to your body and be kind to it. You need to work with it, not against it. And remember that although flexibility is an important part of pole dancing, unless you’ve got your heart set on doing Rainbows it’s not always the most important thing. There are many great pole dancers that don’t have great flexibility in all areas of their body. Carlie Hunter, Andrea Ryff, Joanna Littlewood Johnson all have limited shoulder and back flexibility but are none the less amazing and captivating pole dancers. If you don’t have great flex, then pick pole moves that utilise fake splits, or more strength based moves. Fake it til you make!!