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Expand Your Flexibility Training: Special Populations

By on May 5, 2017

Photo by Alloy Images


In the last part of our 3-part series on helping flexibility teachers and their students improve their training we address special populations. While this isn’t a universally accurate statement, for the purposes of setting some clear expectations and boundaries on the scope of this post, let’s presume that the average flexibility student in a pole dance environment is a female somewhere between 18-39 with no major injuries and possessing a reasonable level of fitness.

Special populations are any groups that exist outside of the presumed target/”regular” student body. We’ll address several common populations outside of this norm (as defined above, your studio may vary) and some ways to help them improve their flexibility. This series continues to be aimed at the instructor, however students who find themselves in these populations can also benefit from this information.

Disclaimer: As a flexibility coach/teacher you are likely to be the first person your student comes to with an injury or a “this feels weird” statement. While some issues may be very easy to “fix” such as manually moving a person to be more correct stretching posture, remember that you are not a doctor. Encourage your students to seek medical advice as appropriate.


Doing yoga by Natalia Pikozh on


The most common special population you will encounter are pregnant women. Pregnant women are already typically in close contact with their doctors and should be encouraged to ask their doctor what level of exercise they can safely due based on their specific pregnancy details. Generally most women should not increase their level of fitness when they become pregnant however maintaining in many cases is safe and may even be recommended to keep both momma and baby healthy. In terms of stretching and fitness, pregnant women should not be placed on their back for an extended period of time, so provide modifications that can be done from an upright position. Pregnancy hormones may increase flexibility so encourage your student to ease gently into any stretches and resist assisting them through manual pushing/partner stretches as well as avoiding any dynamic stretching. As your pregnant student progresses in their pregnancy, some belly-to-the-floor moves may also become uncomfortable so provide modifications as needed and encourage your student to move at their own pace. Lastly, in the later stages of pregnancy, your student’s balance may become comprised as their center of gravity is different. Encourage them to use supporting structures like a pole, wall, or blocks as needed.


Augustin and Anita stretch.

While common in many places (they are ~50% of the population after all!) you may find less men in the pole dancer flexibility world (although they may be more prevalent in a circus or yoga flexibility structured class). Therefore, they might be a special population to many teachers reading this blog. Many, but certainly not all men, may come to class with less flexibility than your “regular” population and may be more self conscious being in a room full of bendy ladies. Always make your environment a welcoming one and modify any words you use to be as inclusive as possible. Instead of “putting your hands next to your boobies” make sure your students put them “next to your chest” for instance. Replace greetings like “ladies” with “folks” (that’s my favorite) and keep the vibe friendly. Treat all your students the same and make sure to tell your students before you touch them that you are about to manually manipulate them (if that is part of your teaching style). And please make sure they know that if they are uncomfortable, then you won’t touch them. I am terrible at this and regularly “sneak up” on unsuspecting people and am — to them — quite suddenly poking butt cheeks to encourage squeezing and grabbing hips. While your regulars (male or female or unspecified) may be totally cool with this, it’s good practice warning people first and be clear about your intention – that you are touching them to help them achieve the pose correctly/engage the proper muscles and not in any other manner.


In my stretch classes I regularly joke that kids are made out of rubber bands. While this isn’t entirely true (also not entirely false!), kids bodies are different from adults and their comfort with communicating if something feels ok may not be as developed as an adult’s sense. If you will be teaching stretching to kids, get independently trained and certified so you are prepared to teach this special group.

Chronic Injuries

Close up Athletic Woman Holding her Injured Back by Michael Heim on


As noted above, you’re not a doctor. You may have some awesome tips and great strategies based on your personal experience, independent study/research/certification, or even just your years of teaching however you’re not a doctor. You can’t see inside their bodies and figure out how to “fix” something. To help your students during class, keep the dialog open and supportive. Encourage the students to tell you what muscles/body parts they feel while stretching and how the stretch feels. This will give you some insight into how you can help them achieve some poses and what to avoid. Always offer modifications. Sometimes students will throw you for a loop when asked about where or how they feel the stretch. Recently a student told me that in her pancake straddle stretch (belly to the floor), she felt like she was being “punched in the abs.” This is the first time I’ve ever encountered that stretch have that feeling attributed to it. While I don’t have an answer for that particular sensation I can (and do) encourage her to ease into the stretch and if it continues hurting, recommend she visit a physical therapist or doctor. No pose or flexibility goal is worth getting injured (either for the first time or by angering a chronic injury). Always encourage people to learn the difference between safe stretching and pushing up to the limit to create change in their body, rather than unsafe stretching which might ignore pain and push past their limit. Where that limit is and what it feels like is going to differ between students. Keep the lines of communication open and your class happy and safe.

What other special populations have you encountered? How do you make your class safe, effective, and fun for everyone?

Thanks for sticking with us through our three-part series! I hope you picked up some great tips to bring to your classes or to your own flexibility training. Keep sharing your thoughts so we can all learn together!

Colleen Jolly
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Colleen Jolly

is AFAA and elevatED certified pole dance enthusiast and entrepreneur. She has been poling for six years, runs and owns the International Pole Convention (PoleCon), teaches pole and lyra in the DC metro area at FIT4Polers and MyBodyShop, and is a partner and instructor with She loves performing, regularly competes, and lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two kitties.
Colleen Jolly
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