Like a Jedi must resist the dark side of the force, we, as polers, are burdened with our own (rotational and gravitational) forces to resist.
The forces are strong. The struggle is real. But if you listen closely, young Padawan, I will explain how rotational forces are trying to scupper your pole moves—and how you can use anti-rotational core training to overcome them.
I’ll stop with the Star Wars references now, promise. 😀
And if you’re more of a watcher than a reader, the video below is a quick summary of the main points in this blog.
Core training led by function
The way we approach core training in the fitness industry is constantly evolving.
Thankfully, we realised years ago that endless sit ups/crunches weren’t the answer to building a strong core. Why? Because the abdominal muscles are primarily stabilizers, not movers.
Our anterior core muscles (in other words, those muscles at the front of the body, including abs and obliques) can flex and rotate the trunk of the body, but their real purpose in life is to work with the other core muscles (including our back and hip rotators), to stabilise our spine – in other words, to prevent movement of the spine, not create it.
This concept has changed the way we tackle core training dramatically over recent years. Core exercises now focus more on preventing unwanted movement of the spine rather than moving the body through bending, flexing and rotating movements like crunches and Russian sits.
Instead of sit-ups, Russian twists and side bends, we now more commonly train isometric holds like planks, V sits and hollowbody holds.
Hurrah, progress! Buuuut the spine requires stabilisation in a few different planes of motion—and many people don’t train their core in all of them.
Spine stabilisation… stabilising what?
Firstly, the spine can extend (think bending backwards). Secondly, it can flex (think rounding forwards). It can also flex laterally (think bending to the side) and it can rotate (think twisting the shoulders or hips to one side).
The core constantly works to stabilise the spine against these movements when we don’t want them to happen, either when we’re busting out moves on the pole or we’re simply just keeping our body from slumping on the counter whilst waiting in line for a Butterscotch Brulee latte and marshmallow on a stick in Starbucks (shhhh, don’t judge me).
So to strengthen our core, we train it to be stronger at those stabilising actions.
- Holding a plank is strengthening the muscles responsible for preventing our spine from extending (bending backwards).
- Side planks strengthen the muscles that prevent our spine from lateral flexion (side bending).
- Other common gym-based exercises like barbell deadlifts help us strengthen the core to prevent flexion (bending forwards).
We traditionally train a lot of moves that address the stabilising muscles for the above three movements. But what about spinal rotation?
Many of us miss out the final component: training the stabilisation of the spine against rotation. And being able to hold the body isometrically against rotation is a really awesome skill to have for pole.
Why is anti-rotation training so awesome for pole dance?
Being able to isometrically hold a position against rotational forces is important for pole.
Because the pole is vertical, by its very nature, we tend to hold on to a fixed point with one, two or three contact points so we are constantly fighting against forces pulling us in different directions.
You probably felt it the first time you ever tried to do a one-handed chair spin… tucking up your knees aiming to glide ever-so-gracefully around the pole, but what happened? Your knees wanted to twist you clumsily back in towards the pole instead, right?
Take another example—the shoulder mount. In a shoulder mount, your body is only supported by the pole on one side. It takes a lot of core strength (and upper body strength, of course), to fight against that instability and keep the body in a horizontal position.
Similarly, if you go upside down on the pole and remove the contact points with your feet/legs, so you are holding with only the hands – like in an Ayesha or a pike/straight edge, it takes a brute amount of core strength to keep the hips stable and facing the way we want them to face, rather than twisting down to the floor or back towards the pole.
The video above 👆 explains this with demonstrations.
Basically, rotational forces are constantly trying to ruin our beautiful lines, not to mention all our ‘nailed it’ Instagram photos. To defeat them, our core needs to be really good at resisting rotation.
Training anti-rotational strength for pole
There are sooo many great anti-rotational movements out there but I just want to focus on a really simple way that you can change a very familiar movement – a basic plank – into an anti-rotational exercise.
Please note that, before you begin to add anti-rotational elements to your planks, you first need to be really strong in your basic plank. So if your basic plank sucks, stick with stable isometric plank holds until you are strong enough to start adding the instability of rotation forces!
To change a plank from an anti-extension exercise into an anti-rotation exercise, what you need to do is wicked simple – simply take away one point of contact with the floor. This creates instability at one corner of your plank so your body is now having to resist rotation to maintain its hold in a straight line. I demonstrate how this works further in the video above and there is a short example of an anti-rotation plank in the video below—elbow plank with reach.
FYI, I prefer lifting an arm rather than a leg, simply because most people tend to lose their plank position when they try to lift a leg off the floor—quite often the back starts to arch which is a big no-no for this exercise.
Building a functional core for pole
Adding instability to core exercises like this not only builds anti-rotational strength, but it also just generally makes them more dynamic and functional for pole.
Apart from when we hold poses for a few seconds, we are in constant movement on the pole. So while building isometric anti-extention core strength in a stable position is important, once we’ve got a good foundation, we also need to train our core to react to movement/different forces in order to stabilise our spine whilst we’re in motion.
Basic planks and other anti-extension core exercises don’t train us to counterbalance that movement, whereas anti-rotation exercises do. Which is why I think they are awesome for polers. 🙌🙌
I hope you found this article useful and I’d love to know your thoughts. Hit me up with any questions in the comments.
Anti-rotation training has some awesome cross-over benefits for polers, but we are all different, with varying mobility and strength limitations and our own unique training schedules, so we all have different starting point. Get good in the basics first!
If you’d like a fully personalised programme to help you build strength for pole and that takes into account your individual abilities and circumstances, you can find my online personal training programmes for polers here.