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Posture for Pole Dancers

By on March 28, 2018

Posture is something that has been on my mind quite a bit this year. It started noticing when I would catch glimpses of myself in the background of my student’s videos. In my videos – when I know the camera is on – my posture is perfect! Shoulders back and chest lifted. When I’m not paying attention though, it’s clear that my shoulders are rounding forward, I’ve got a pronounced anterior pelvic tilt (sway back), and my head and chin are jutting slightly forward. Not an ideal posture for dancers or for regular humans.

I work at a desk all day and when I’m not at my desk or in the studio moving around, I’m pretty much always hunched over my cell phone checking out the latest pole video on Insta. The older I get, the more I worry that I’m building movement pathways that aren’t serving me long term. I don’t want a permanent hunch/hump like some women in my family have. I want to breathe and move freely without pain. I want my desk chair to stop killing me!

The Model by aprison aprison on 500px.com

 

To help me with my posture and general fit-ness, I started working with Neo. You may know her as the Pole PT. Based out of the UK, she’s got a thriving practice helping pole dancers all over the world improve their performance and strength through personalized training, nutrition guidance and general coaching – all done remotely. She uses an app to schedule exercises and habits after a detailed series of video assessments and communicates mostly by email. While that might sound impersonal, I value her email communication the most. It’s a little easier to be honest (and by honest, I mean whine) about the emotional parts of training without having to look someone in the face and she’s been playing therapist as well as trainer to me over the past few months!

I asked her to share some insights as to why we should care about posture – as humans and as dancers – and how to improve or at least maintain good posture.

Colleen (C ):First, why is posture important in general? And specifically for pole dancers?

Neo (N): Posture is the foundation upon which all other movement is built.

This is CRAZY important! Especially for pole dancers… and not just because ‘lines’!

The postural habits we pick up throughout the day when we stand and sit have a big impact because our bodies adapt and mould to whatever positions we frequently adopt.

If that positioning is not optimal, it can lead to pain and dysfunction, reduced mobility (farewell flexi moves) and muscle imbalances (hello injury).

If we’re not sitting or standing properly, then we sure as heck ain’t gonna be moving optimally, either. And if we can’t sit, stand and walk with correct alignment, what happens when we add more complex movement?

Natasha Wang is looking amazingly fierce in the PoleFit® Metro Monokini.

Bringing the shopping in from the car, reaching for that emergency peanut butter jar at the back of the cupboard, picking up your two year old child / dog / large cat from the floor… these are the kind of movements that can tweak a back or crick a neck for someone who has developed dysfunctional spinal alignment from years of desk work and carrying kids on cocked hips.

Imagine then, what we demand of our bodies in pole! Not just basic push, pull, squat and hinge movements, but next-level gravity defying ninja shapes and Instagram-ably extra movement patterns!

If we don’t have the basic foundation for good movement in place, then when we pole we are adding a significant load to this dysfunction = a recipe for disaster!

This is why working on posture and mobility goes hand-in-hand with good strength programming. You really can’t have one without the other. If you want a strong, resilient, athletic body, posture and mobility is just as important as strength and skill!

C: Can you explain what is going on in our bodies when we have “poor” posture? And what is happening in our bodies when we have “good” posture?


N:
There are so many components to posture and everyone has their own issues to work on (me included!), but let me give you a couple of examples.

One of the most common postural positions I see with my online clients is the rounding shoulders and forward head positioning that is so typical of those who work at a computer all day and/or spend a lot of time looking down at their phone!

Young woman working on laptop and have problem by Milenko Đilas on 500px.com

 

Sit in a chair with your shoulders slouched forward for most of the day and your body will slowly mould itself around this position. Your pecs will tighten and your upper back muscles will get lazy and adopt that lengthened position.

This causes the shoulders to ‘stick’ in that internally rotated position and can cause shoulder mobility restrictions. Spoiler: shoulder mobility restrictions and pole don’t make a good combo!

To make matters worse, in pole we use our pecs A LOT and we also perform a lot of movements with our hands close together and out in front of us. If we’re not careful about our positioning and we repeatedly perform those movements with the shoulders internally rotated, too, it will compound the imbalance and exaggerate this internal rotation even more.

Our shoulders ought to be in a neutral position, aligned with the natural curve of our back and stacked above the hips with the head set above the shoulders, not ahead of them. This is the most optimal position that places the least amount of stress on our muscles, ligaments, tendons and importantly, our spines!

The second super common issue I see is people over-extending the lower back – think sticking your butt out like you wanna break the internet– great for body pops, not so great for the health of your spine if you hold that position 24/7.

This over-extension can inhibit the function of our abdominal muscles, make our glutes lazy and our hip flexors tight. These muscles are the powerhouses of our core – our most important spinal stabilisers and we are letting them sleep on the job!

With that anterior pelvic tilt, we are no longer supporting the weight of our body by using the muscles of our trunk, but are hanging out in the end-range position of our lumbar spine, effectively jamming those vertebrae together. This repeated compression of the joints between the vertebrae is bad news for our lower back.

Conversely, ‘good’ posture braces the spine in a neutral alignment supported by just the right amount of tension from our muscles without putting strain onto the supporting muscles, ligaments, tendons.

C: Even in business interactions – studies have shown that stronger and surer posture projects confidence to the people you are meeting with or talking to while also making you actually feel more confident. It’s a little “fake it till you make it” especially if you don’t feel confident in every business situation.

C: Are there specific exercises and frequencies of those exercises you’d recommend to improve posture? Can we do something “5 min a day” and still see positive results? 

N: Identifying your body’s postural deviations and working on them regularly is certainly a good start.

But if you don’t also change how you sit and stand during your daily activities, then 5 minutes a day of mobility work won’t magically undo the remaining 10 hours a day you spend forming a small cocoon around your computer/smart phone.

So, while daily mobility work will help to restore normal function, those drills should be combined with other efforts to break any bad postural habits that have sneaked in over the years.

That might mean frequent movement breaks during the day and simply improving your body awareness – making a conscious effort to sit and stand correctly and learning what correct posture feels like.

In terms of specific exercises… because ‘bad’ posture can cause certain muscles to get too tight and others to become inactive, correcting this usually means a combination of exercises to release the tightness of the overused muscles while simultaneously strengthening and activating the muscles that have gotten a little work-shy.

For example, for forward rounding shoulders…

A combination of mobility ball rolling for the pecs and a good pec stretch will help to release some of the tightness there. Some T-spine foam rolling will help to alleviate the stiffness caused by inactivity and then some horizontal pulls like these banded pulls will help to strengthen the muscles of the upper back that aren’t doing their job properly.

And for the anterior pelvic tilters (butt shelfers) among us…

Pilates based core training like heel slides and toe taps and glute activation drills like the Cook Hip Lift will help strengthen and activate those inactive stabilising muscles. This might be combined with some hip flexor mobility work and stretching (a couple of my favourites are the couch stretch and banded hip extension drills).

With my clients, I try to sneak these kinds of exercises into warm ups and cool downs. That way, they can be done pretty frequently without feeling like an additional burden.

Mobility drills aren’t very sexy. But they should be!

C: Do you recommend any tools for working at your desk? Like using a harness or a brace? What are the benefits and draw backs of those?

N: Please bear in mind that I’m not a physio, I’m a strength coach, so this is purely my opinion!

Caveat out of the way (can you tell I used to be a lawyer? ;)), I’m sure there is a place for them, but my issue with ‘ergonomic tools’ like back rests, wrist cushions and braces is that they just create a support system for passive sitting.

They may put your body into a more optimal position, but they don’t actually solve the problem.

You can make a cooked noodle as straight as a pole with enough support, but it doesn’t make the noodle stronger. Remove that support and the noodle will immediately snake to the floor like a deflating balloon.

For those who need to retrain their posture, I’m sure a brace might initially help improve postural awareness and understanding of what ‘correct’ feels like, but a better long term solution is to teach your body how to sit actively.

Pole Picture of the Day: Bad Kitty USA Brand Ambassador bonding between Michelle Stanek and Nadia Sharif. Photo by Live Laugh Love Photography by Jane Cutler

 

If you have to sit for work, you can always make your desk area more ergonomic by adjusting your mouse and keyboard positioning, seat and desk height to help you achieve a more neutral position. And a properly set-up standing work station will also allow you to incorporate more movement.

If you are sat at a desk for the most part of the day, one of the most beneficial things you can do is to simply take short movement breaks – set a timer if you need to and move for a couple of minutes every half an hour! This really can be like magic for your posture and health!


C: Anything else you’d like to share?

N: If you think you might need to work on your posture and mobility, find a good physio or movement coach who will help you identify and establish good habits when it comes to posture and movement.

Mobility is never gonna be glamorous or fun, but remember: you are only as strong as your foundation. Make that foundation solid as hell and you will be a better, stronger, less injury-prone poler for it!

 

There you have it polers—your desk chair is trying to kill you. Take a break and use Neo’s exercises to improve your posture which in turn will actually improve your life—you won’t regret it!

 

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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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