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In my last post, we talked about the importance of pushing exercises for pole dancers and I shared some of my favourite horizontal pressing exercises. If you missed it, you can check it out here.

Today, I want to look at some vertical pushing exercises.

I’ll explain why I think vertical pressing is crucial for pole dancers and I’ll show you a couple of the vertical pushing exercises I’m currently using with my online clients­- one for beginners and one for more advanced polers.

Why is vertical pressing so important for pole dancers?

Obviously, this depends a lot on what kind of moves you do in your pole training, but, generally speaking, in pole, we do a ridiculous amount of overhead and vertical pulling.

Every time we do a spin, a climb, or hold ourselves up the pole, we are doing a vertical pull of some kind.

Vertical pulling works primarily our lats, as well as our traps and rhomboids, and a super strong back is crucial for pole dancers. Buuut it’s really important to work the opposing muscles, too, to make sure we don’t end up overusing certain muscles and risk creating muscle imbalances that can cause postural issues, affect our performance and make us more susceptible to injury.

The upshot: doing some form of vertical pressing to balance out the amount of vertical pulling we do on the pole can be useful as part of a well-rounded strategy for your pole training.

Not only that, but when we start getting more advanced in pole, we’re gonna need killa overhead pushing strength for moves like Extended Butterflies, Ayeshas, Iron Xs, handsprings and handstands.

How to incorporate overhead pressing into your training?

Before we get into this, a word of caution…

If overhead pressing is painful for you or you have overhead mobility issues – in other words, if you struggle to get your arm stacked overhead while keeping your core engaged (ribs down, without arching the lower back), then diving into overhead pressing exercises might not be the best approach for you.

In lieu of the required range of motion at the shoulder, people tend to compensate by leaning back and arching their lumbar spine when overhead pressing, which can place unnecessary stress on the lower back.

If any of that sounds like you, there are probably better ways you can incorporate pressing exercises into your training, alongside overhead mobility training to open up that range of motion. It goes without saying, if you’re experiencing any shoulder pain – go see a physio in person for an assessment to help you figure out the right path and step away from general advice from the internet!

Subject to that, here are some of my favourite vertical pressing exercises for pole dancers…

1. New to pressing? Start with the kneeling “bottoms up” kettlebell press


My #1 favourite overhead pressing exercise is the kneeling bottoms up kettlebell press. I usually always start people here, especially beginners. Why?

  1. The kneeling position eliminates the tendency many people have to overcompensate with the lumbar spine (arching back to get the weight over head, rather than using the shoulder).
  2. The unilateral movement allows the shoulder to track through a more natural range of motion (with the hand rotating at the top), rather than being forced into an unnatural movement path, which can happen when using a barbell.
  3. The kettlebell being upside down (“bottoms up”), creates some extra instability which helps to ‘switch on’ the stabilising muscles of the shoulder.

How would I programme this? It depends what the rest of your programme looks like, but to give you a rough idea… I tend to start people off with 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps of this exercise and might progress that to a standing kettlebell or dumbbell press once they have learned the movement pattern and I know they can comfortably do it without pain (and without arching the back).

2. Advanced? Let’s handstand!

For more advanced clients, I love to incorporate handstand based movements.

The handstand is basically an overhead press and it comes with a crap tonne of other awesome benefits that will help you be a better pole dancer, including ninja-level core strength and body awareness. It’s isometric (i.e. holding that overhead position still rather than pressing in and out of it), which has a lot of crossover to all those advanced Ayesha-based pole movements we love.

There are loads of ways to incorporate handstands into your training and it depends entirely on your level, but I usually start people off with the L-handstand, using a bench or a pole, like this:

If you have wrist mobility issues, you might want to use small parallette bars for working in the handstand position – they are great for taking some of the pressure off the wrists and getting a more neutral alignment. Side note: if handstands hurt your wrists, you might also wanna check out my post on that >> 3 reasons handstands hurt your wrists and how to fix it<<.

Again, as a rough idea, I might start someone off with 3 x 10 to 20 second holds and build up the time gradually, progressing to other handstand variations as they get stronger in this position.

I LOVE handstands and I’m squarely in the “handstands will make you better at pretty much everything” camp, not to mention that EVERYTHING IS BETTER UPSIDE DOWN! BUT please don’t rush!

We put enough stress on the shoulders with pole as it is, so start your overhead pressing journey at the beginning – maybe even with a resistance band, moving to weights and then eventually to handstand progressions only when you’ve got the mobility and the shoulder stability that will make this beneficial, and not just add unnecessary stress to those beat up ol’ poler shoulders!

If you need more help programming your training for pole, my book Strength and Conditioning for Pole will help you understand your weaknesses and how to train to be a better pole dancer so you can finally get organised with your pole mission!

Content on this website is provided for educational/informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice. You should consult your Doctor or Health Care Professional before doing any exercises or fitness programs to determine if they are right for your needs.


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