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How to Improve Wrist Strength for Pole Dancers

By on October 19, 2017

The author, wearing Bad Kitty®

Before I started pole, I couldn’t open jars. In fact, none of the women in my family can. We always had to wait for a male family member to come home before having any pickles. I didn’t think much of this growing up – I just presumed that some people had strong hands and some people just didn’t.

Since I started pole dancing, I’ve learned that anyone and everyone can improve their everything — their strength, flexibility, fit-ness, confidence — and particularly their grip strength.

As I’ve continued on my pole dancing journey, I’ve become more comfortable in my two-handed grips because of my continually evolving understanding of how grip actually works. I’ve also watched lots of students have successes and injuries that manifest (if not originate) as pain in their wrists and the lower parts of their forearm. This pain prevents them from achieving strength or flexibility or both.

I was inspired to write this post based on my personal experiences. I’ve found that issues in one part of the body may originate and be mitigated/managed (if perhaps never truly “fixed”) by understanding another part of the body. I’ve also found that, for my coterie of students and for myself, wrist pain and grip issues, while common in pole dancers, may be exacerbated by modern day office work. Solutions that help “desk jockeys” with similar pain complaints also help polers and vice versa. In the Washington, DC metro area where I live and teach, we have a difficult intersection of these two problems with most students having a full time, desk-based, “day job” and training at night/on the weekends to be a circus/pole/contortion/hand balancer or other aerial athlete. This attempt at work-life body/mind balance unfortunately seems to compound existing issues related to grip and wrist pain.

While I’m no doctor, these basic strategies below have improved both grip strength and range of motion for myself and for my students. I hope they help you too and if you have any concerns, please see an actual medical professional.

Strengthening the Wrist

From Wikipedia.

The wrist is a complicated and sometimes delicate part of the body that combines several bones, lots of ligaments and a few muscles. Most of the muscles that control your grip originate in your forearms which then have connections up past your elbows, through the top of your shoulder and over to your shoulder blade on your back.

Generally, like most body parts, you want to both strengthen AND stretch your wrist and your forearms to prevent injury, increase range of motion and decrease pain. You should start with body weight only movement before adding in weights.

Try these exercises without using your other hand to pull to increase your strength, flexing and extending as much as you can only in your comfortable range of motion. AFTER you’ve warmed up your wrists with movements THEN you can increase the intensity with stretching as depicted in this video. I integrate some wrist movement into every warm-up.

Once body weight exercises start to feel comfortable, consider adding weights into your off-the-pole conditioning routine. My favorite weight-based exercise to improve wrist and forearm strength is a kettle bell curl using a VERY, VERY light kettlebell. While you can do this with regular dumbbells, the off-balance nature of the kettle bell makes this more effective (also more difficult).

Your Desk Chair Really is Trying to Kill You

Sitting has been hailed as “the new smoking” and experts are still trying to figure out what the best method is to address our modern sedentary life style.

If you have a desk job and are a pole dancer or other circus/aerialist, take a long hard look at your desk chair and desk height. If your chair and desk are not at the optimal height then you are putting your wrist and the rest of the bones and muscles along the kinetic chain (up to and including where your shoulder blade meets your back) into a compromised position that could cause pain and limit your range of motion. Next time you’re sitting at your desk, confirm that you are sitting in an ergonomic position AND that you are not over reaching your mouse. UCLA has some great tips on finding the best and most comfortable position, hint, it’s not sitting on the couch with your laptop.

Myofascial Release

If you’re saying “I don’t have any pain. This isn’t for me” then I want you to do this test.

If you have any resistance getting your arms all the way through then you have what I’ve been calling the “circus knot.” It also exists in desk workers who are not sitting in an ergonomic position and/or may be over-reaching their mouse, so it also could be called the “incorrect desk height knot.”

The knot manifests in limited range of motion in your wrist/forearm and may also cause some aching in your deltoids (the cap part of your shoulder where it meets the top of your arm). Once you identify which arm you have less mobility in (hint, it’s your mouse hand), grab that forearm with your other hand and poke around with your thumb towards the outside of the forearm. You’ll find a very tight spot that feels like a guitar string. It’ll hurt when you press on it directly. Once you’ve found it – you need to work it out. Hold the “guitar string” really hard with your other hand and then flex and extend your wrist of the hand you are holding. If you can – have a friend hold your “guitar string” while you flex and extend.

 

Do 10 reps and then conduct the test again. You should have less pain/resistance.

To find the source of this knot, you’ll need to travel all the way to your back. There’s a spot right where your shoulder blade attaches to your back: Infraspinatus (Outer Edge of Shoulder Blade)

It’s hard to feel yourself so I recommend getting a lacrosse ball or peanut to assist with myo-fascial release. Either lying on the floor or using a flat walled surface, roll around pressing your shoulder into the ball/peanut and into the floor/wall. There’s no wrong way to roll around. Your knot will feel like a speed bump and you want to work the speed bump out from rolling and gently pressing. You can also see a sports massage or deep tissue massage therapist to help work it out. If you sit at a desk all day and pole all night then you may never get this knot totally out of your body. But you can manage it. I recommend rolling out your “circus knot” (it’s on your other side too but more painful on your dominate desk-job arm) every day for a few minutes as part of your evening wind-down. You’ll find less restriction in your forearm and won’t need to do the “guitar string” exercise much if at all — especially if you fix your desk height.

Conclusion

Be patient with your body. If you were a late fitness/dance bloomer like I was, you may be over expecting how fast you can progress. Your body is frantically trying to catch up and may become injured from overwork. Take time to listen to your body, understand current limitations/range and strengthen your grip — and all the muscles involved — slowly.

Even though we may try, we can’t totally separate our business lives from our pole lives. Changing your office chair may be the best thing you do to achieve your handspring and improve your grip. You’re spending 8+ hours a day there!

Oh and get a peanut. Thank me later. (Don’t want to buy a peanut? Tape two lacrosse balls together, et voila.)

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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 123Poling.com. She loves performing, regularly competes, and lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two kitties.
Colleen Jolly
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