This post was originally written (by me) for United Pole Artists and is reproduced here with their permission and updated. 

Peanut butter, pork crackling, the sound of snow under-foot on a crisp winter’s day – these things are gloriously, satisfyingly crunchy. One thing that definitely should NOT be crunchy, however, is shoulders.

I think it was about 6 months after I started pole when I first noticed that every rotation of my left shoulder sounded like loose change being sucked up a vacuum cleaner. Crunch, kaclick, crunch. I knew I had to do something before I caused any major damage, so I started incorporating shoulder mobility and strength drills into my workouts.

Thankfully, I no longer have to describe my shoulders as “…. erm….crunchy”, but whether you are feeling it or not, pole is super stressful on the shoulders and if you want to build shoulders that can take on twisted grip handsprings and flying phoenixes without risk of injury, read on and find out how to crunch-proof your shoulders for pole…

Why does the shoulder seem so fragile?

The shoulder, unlike most of our joints, can move in multiple planes of motion. It’s that wide range of mobility which allows us to contort our bodies into crazy-ass positions like bridges, twisted grips and even just simple spins around the pole.

Twisted grip handspring

But whilst we’re busy twirling ourselves into beautiful shapes, swinging and dangling from our arms, there are a number of (mostly very small) stabilising muscles all busting their balls behind the scenes to keep our scapula and humerus in their most optimal position for whatever crazy contorted position we’re putting them in.

The main muscles responsible for shoulder stability are a group of muscles and tendons called the rotator cuff. And the reasons why shoulder injuries are so common in pole is:

  1. Those rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) are pretty small, and we put a huge amount of strain on those poor little muscles even during very basic pole moves.
  2. We don’t tend to train the shoulder in all its different ranges of motion and we often simply don’t know how to ‘engage’ certain muscles to keep us in the most optimal shoulder position. The muscles of the shoulder and those around it, including the lats and pecs that can have an impact on our shoulder positioning can become imbalanced and the muscles we don’t use/’engage’ properly can get a little, let’s say, ‘lazy’.
  3. We do a LOT of overhead movement in pole. Overhead movement requires good scapular mechanics and a good range of shoulder mobility. We don’t do a huge amount of overhead movement in our muggle lives, so it’s an area some people can really struggle with, without even realising it.

The shoulder drills that follow are designed to strengthen the rotator cuff in all of the different planes of motion, so that it is better equipped to cope with the stress we put on it when we go all pole-ninja mode.

The rotator cuff muscles are small, so we don’t train them with heavy weights. A resistance band or really light dumbbells will do. For the exercises below, I’ve simply used a resistance band and a pole.

What’s the point of these shoulder drills?

These shoulder drills are preventative exercises to target all the different muscles of the rotator cuff in its different planes of motion. They can help to increase your endurance on the pole and prevent shoulder injuries. Each movement targets the rotator cuff in a slightly different way.

When to do them?

These drills work well as part of a pole warm up.

How to do them?

Simple – tie your resistance band to your pole and follow the instructions below.

There are 8 exercises. Aim for 10-15 reps of each one – and then repeat for a couple of sets as part of your warm up. For all of the exercises, keep the core tight with a neutral spine throughout the whole of the movement.

Pole dance shoulder exercises

I hope this helps someone! Shoulder health is so important in pole, it really can’t be stressed enough. If you’re serious about pole then you need to get serious about your shoulders!

If you’d like 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! With all the accountability you need to stay on track! >>>Pole proof shoulders – the ultimate shoulder care and strength package for pole dancers!<<<

Questions? Just ask! + Please tag me on social media with your shoulder wins – I love to celebrate with you all! I’m on insta @ptthepole and Facebook @thepolept

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.

Strength and conditioning book pole dance