I originally wrote this article for United Pole Artists and it is reproduced here with their permission.
“It becomes an obsession!”
I’ve used that sentence so many times in conversations with beginner polers. And I mean it in a good way: that “obsession” converts to commitment and dedication which eventually = pole progress.
But at the same time, channelling that enthusiasm and walking the line between bossing it on the pole and wearing yourself so thin that you end up burnt out—or worse still, injured—is a difficult balancing act. It’s like trying to stay the kind of drunk at a party that makes you confident, witty with strangers and weirdly kick-ass at pool, without going that glass of wine too far into body-waves-on-the-pool cue-kinda-drunk.
The struggle is real.
But, too much pole? Is there really such a thing?
Overtraining is easily done in pole.
Why? Because you just can’t help but get sucked in when you’re [ ] < this close to getting that move, your type A personality means you won’t quit until you’ve nailed it. You try it over and over again and before you know it you’ve spent 3 hours in the studio repeating the same move over and over again like a toy monkey banging symbols.
If you’re prepping for a competition, the risk of overdoing it is even greater as you go into symbol-banging mode on your routine or individual combos, trying to refine them to the point of perfection.
The combination of intense strength training and establishing complex new movement patterns is hard on the central nervous system. But because pole is so fun, we don’t realise we’re getting tired until we try a move we’ve done a million times before and our body just says ‘nope, not today’ – cue major “I’ve lost my pole powers” sulk!
What exactly is ‘overtraining’?
Put simply, ‘overtraining syndrome’ is a collection of symptoms that athletes can experience if they push their body beyond its ability to recover.
The symptoms are emotional, physical and behavioural, including: feeling exhausted, irritable, sluggish, finding it difficult to concentrate, weakened immune system, constant DOMS (muscle soreness), depression, insomnia, increased injuries and decreased performance.
There isn’t a definitive test for overtraining syndrome and some experts have questioned whether it’s even possible for recreational exercisers (as opposed to professional athletes) to suffer from it. But if you’re feeling wiped out, keep picking up every bug going, you’re training harder than ever but not seeing results (especially if you’re training for a competition) and old/new injuries are starting to niggle, then whether you have the ‘athlete-official’ version of overtraining or not, your training programme is physically and psychologically getting ahead of your body’s capacity to recover.
Not only does overtraining put you at an increased risk of injury, but full recovery from overtraining can take 3 to 8 weeks of rest[i], so if the idea of entire weeks/months away from the pole sends you into a cold sweat, it’s better to avoid overtraining in the first place than have to take a complete time-out from poling.
Avoiding overtraining is all about recovery. And proper recovery is about waaay more than just taking a day off. Here are 5 recovery techniques to incorporate into your training programme so you can continue being a badass on the pole without overtraining:
- Get your beauty sleep
Strength gains are not made in the gym or on the pole. Like all good things, they are made in bed.
When we sleep, our bodies get to work repairing all the damage we have done to them during our training sessions, repairing our muscles and restoring balance so that next time we train, if we have allowed adequate time for this recovery process to take place, we should be even stronger than before.
7 to 8 hours (or more) of sleep per night is optimal for adequate recovery.
- Eat on point
If you are not fuelling your body with the right balance of carbs, protein and fats, it will affect your recovery in a big way. That balance looks different for everyone and depends on your body composition, your lifestyle, the training you’re doing and your physique goals (if you have any).
There’s a very rough guide to get you thinking about what this might look like for you here.
- Train smarter, not harder
I know, I know, you want your Iron X/side splits/rainbow marchenko [insert other lofty pole goal here] and you want it NOW!
You look at professional athletes and think “they train for hours every day”, I must beat my [lofty pole goal] into submission by training it Every. Single. Day. No pain, no gain. Initiate beast mode RAAAHHH.
But that isn’t how athletes train.
Professional athletes are lucky enough to have physios on hand for massages, acupuncture, ice baths and injury management. They are able to train so hard and so frequently because they have professional coaches making sure they prioritise their recovery just as much as their training.
If you want to progress, you can’t go beast mode on the pole every day. Like an athlete, you must plan your training in a sensible way, incorporating rest days, mobility work, active recovery and balance.
To start, write out your training schedule. Make sure you space out your training, allowing recovery days in between. Especially between heavy strength sessions.
If, like me, you write down everything you would ideally like to do over the next 7 days and you can see just from your illegible scribbles that it’s probably too much (mine usually goes: climbing, Ashtanga, pole strength, kettlebells, pole spins, leg day, gym, handstand training, HIIT, run, pole, pole, pole… oops I’ve injured my hip again), there are a couple of tricks to get around this.
One – incorporate shorter training sessions (30min sessions instead of 60mins). Two – if you can’t fit all your activities into a 7-day schedule, try a 10 day schedule instead. No-one said you have to fit all your fitness hobbies into 7-day blocks! It’s physically impossible for me – I have to space them out over a longer time period so I don’t go overboard!
Also, don’t just train the same thing all the time! Strength training (on or off the pole) is great but build variety into your programme with other things besides the ‘hard stuff’: time to work on choreography and dance; a session to tidy up basic moves; if you’re guilty of training more on your ‘good’ side than your dork side, then have a special ‘dork day’ where you train basic moves on your dodgy side.
Include cross-training for pole too, with other activities like yoga; weights in the gym to balance out muscle imbalances and build strength in other areas; a dance class to help with flow. These things aren’t cheating on pole, they are helping you become a much better, more well-rounded poler.
- Prioritise mobility and active recovery
You might not have the luxury of your own personal physio at your beck and call, but you can do something productive with your downtime from pole.
Learn some foam rolling techniques that you can do in front of the telly at home, do some mobility work (especially on your shoulders, you know you need it), get a massage, have an Epsom salt bath. Take some time to love your body and treat it well – it’s the only one you’ve got!
Deloading is a well-established training principle among professional athletes. Basically, it means taking a regular and scheduled break from intense programming, allowing the body to recover and come back stronger (and avoid overtraining).
It means a week off the pole and a change from your usual exercise regime – do some stretching, do some yoga, take some walks, go for a swim – but stay away from any usual heavy lifting and intense pole training!
If you’re a self-confessed pole addict, avoiding overtraining often requires a complete change in mind set. If your body is crying out for a break but you struggle to stay away from the studio, try not to view ‘rest’ time as ‘doing nothing’. I know, there’s nothing worse than twiddling your thumbs and day dreaming of that new combo you’ve mentally nailed, but try to relax and remember: rest and recovery is a crucial part of your training too! If you want to progress, it should form a big part of your pole masterplan!
If you’re struggling with programming your training in the most efficient way for pole, get in touch – I can create a fully customised training programme for you to follow with postural and movement analysis, nutrition advice and all the 1-to-1 coaching support you need to get the right balance and avoid pole burnout! All my training programmes for pole are provided through the Pole PT app.