This post was originally written for United Pole Artists and is reproduced here with their permission, with updates.
Mobility training may not have the same Instagram appeal as working on a fancy pants new pole trick (I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a post-foam roll celebratory dance), but keeping up with recovery work OFF-the-pole is just as important as all the strength training we do ON the pole.
Self massage using foam rollers and balls is just one of the “self-help” ways we can stay on top of shoulder health. It does make you look kinda like a bear with an insatiable itch, but rolling your shoulders regularly will not only relive and release those achy, tight shoulders, but can also improve mobility, posture and even performance.
Here’s everything the shoulder-smart poler needs to know to get started…
What exactly is self massage / rolling?
In super simple terms, using a foam roller or mobility ball can help to release tense knots and tightness in the muscles (think of it like a mini massage), and produces a neurological response that prepares the muscles for exercise and can open up a new (albeit temporary) range of mobility.
What balls to use?
It’s hard to get into all the nooks and crannies of the shoulders using a normal foam roller, so people use all kinds of weird and wonderful implements for rolling, from expensive physio-branded balls, to tennis balls, lacrosse balls and even golf balls!
I use rubber balls that are actually dog toys from the £1 shop (shhh I won’t tell if you don’t). The rubber is firm enough to get into all those tight knots, but has enough give that it isn’t quite as brutal as a lacrosse ball (so less likely to go too deep or bruise!).
When to do it?
When it comes to the timing of foam rolling, my advice is: just figure out what works best for you!
It is great pre-workout (after your warm up as part of your mobility work), to prep your shoulders for your workout, and/or it also works well post-workout as a treat for your body after all the hard work you’ve just put it through and that post workout rolling can help speed up recovery, too!
It works particularly well after your warm up in a dedicated active flexibility session where you can perform movement in the new range of motion you have opened up, to build strength there. Done regularly, long term, this is what will make that new range of motion permanent instead of temporary.
I aim to do some foam rolling every day and will make a particular effort to do it if I’m feeling more knotty than usual or I’ve been training twisted grip a lot (erk).
The great thing about rolling with balls is you can take them anywhere and they’re great if you love to multitask. Do not be afraid to whip yer balls out and do some rolling when you arrive early for pole class, during a Netflix marathon at your pole wife’s house, or even whilst waiting for your photocopying at the office. Ignore the haters.
How do you know if you’re doing it right?
I will warn you, if you have tight muscles (hello every pole dancer ever!), rolling is kinda painful. But it should feel like that “good-pain” sensation of a sports massage.
A couple of things though: Firstly, please don’t roll on injured muscles – you should be able to tell the difference between pain from tightness and pain from a healing injury. Secondly, any shooting or sharp pain means you might be on a nerve – you don’t wanna roll on your nerves either!
The best way to tell if you’re doing it right is how it feels afterwards. You should be feeling pretty good after a rolling session and your range of motion will usually be improved. If you feel pain afterwards – stop doing it and go see a physio!
Also, if you are bruising the skin, you are going too deep with your balls (okay, okay, I’ll stop with the bollock puns now, promise).
Ball rolling for polers
The following exercises target the usual areas we tend to overwork as pole dancers: the traps, rhomboids, pecs, delts and lats.
Happy rolling, happy shoulders ladies and gents!
- Upper trapezius (1)
Lie on your back, placing the balls on either side of the upper traps as shown in the image. Lift the hips off the floor by squeezing the glutes, take about 8 deep breaths then lower the hips back to the floor. Repeat 10 times.
2. Upper trapezius (2)
Lying on your back, with the balls under the upper traps as shown in the image, raise the hips then float the arms up. Tense the traps to shrug your shoulders into the balls, then relax. Repeat 10 times.
Lie on your back with the balls between the scapulae as shown in the image. Starting with the hands to the side of the body and palms facing upwards, sweep the arms along the floor out to the side and above the head in a “snow angel” motion. Return to the start position and repeat 10 times.
4. Traps and rhomboids
Lie on your back with one ball underneath the upper traps as shown in the image. Lift the hips off the floor and use your bodyweight to roll the ball in the motion shown on the image, around the border of the scapula. Roll for 2 mins on each side. This can alternatively be done against a wall (if you love that “bear with an itch” look).
5. Latissimus dorsi
Laying on your side, place one ball just underneath the arm pit. Use your bodyweight to roll the ball along the latissimus dorsi and back again. Roll for 2 mins on each side. Again, you can do this against a wall if you prefer.
6. Pectoralis minor
Laying on your front, place one ball just underneath the clavicle bone and use the bodyweight to roll the ball side to side across the pec as shown in the image. Roll for 2 mins on each side. This one is actually a lot easier done against a wall, or using a yoga block on the floor to elevate the balls
Place a ball on the deltoids as shown in the image and lean against a wall. Firstly, bend and straighten the knees to roll the ball up and down the medial deltoid. After a couple of minutes, change direction by rotating the chest towards the wall and back. Spend a couple of minutes on each side.
Follow up your rolling with some dedicated movement in the new range of motion you have just opened up and, over time, you can increase your mobility long-term. 🙂
Happy rolling! Please get in touch if you have any questions!
If you want to start a regular shoulder care practice for your pole shoulders that will help you to reduce risk of injury and improve your shoulder strength and mobility so you can progress to more advanced moves – check out my online Pole Proof Shoulders programme in the Pole PT app! With all the accountability you need to stay on track! >>>Pole proof shoulders – the ultimate shoulder care and strength package for pole dancers!<<<
Or if you’d like to geek out more with me on the anatomy of pole dance, or you want more details on how to programme these exercises, check out my book – Strength and Conditioning for Pole – which is available now in hard copy or as a downloadable ebook.
Questions? Just ask! + Please tag me on social media with your rolling wins – I love to celebrate with you all! I’m on insta @ptthepole and Facebook @thepolept