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Recovery for Pole Dancers

By on June 11, 2018

You’re doing everything right. Training both sides. Eating “clean.” And you see your pole more than your beau. But you’re not progressing. You’re tired all the time. Moves that once seemed hard are still hard. “Where are my gainz?!!” You scream at an Instagram full of “Transformation Tuesdays.”

Sound like you?

Yea, this was me too.

I teach ~10 hours a week and do my own training on top of that while working a full time corporate day job and numerous side hustles. I saw my students progressing — so something I was teaching was working but why was I plateauing or in some cases sliding back in my own strength and flexibility?

I tried researching online but found things that I didn’t quite understand and I couldn’t clearly put into practice. “Listen to your body” is my favorite. What the f-ck does that mean?! I can tell obvious things like my right hammy needs some more love than the left and it’ll tell me when we’ve had enough stretching. But I’m tired all the time and while I love my students, there are plenty of times my body says “stay on the couch” instead of heading back into traffic to go to the studio and teach several hours each night. When you’re a paid teacher rather than a casual student you can’t suddenly feel like not going to pole class. (I guess you could, but you wouldn’t be employed very long!) Maybe you can teach at a lower intensity, but you still have to muster the courage to actually get up even if you’re tired.

I needed to fix this.

Brynn Route shows off her Bad Kitty cirque moves.

 

I booked a private with Cirque Physio and said I just wanted to talk. I was eating well, training a lot but I wasn’t really progressing. Or at least I didn’t feel like it. I told her my daily and weekly routines and she just nodded and said sagely, “You’re not recovering.”

“Like from an injury?” I asked, confused. “But I’m not injured.”

“No — you’re stuck in the sympathetic mode in your endocrine system. You work a high-powered job(s). You teach and train all the time. Your body can’t switch off. And it needs to switch off to build new muscle.”

She told me that she sees people like me all the time in her practice. Many aerialists are driven in their day jobs. They’re competitive either with themselves or with the world or both and that go-go-go personality makes it hard to “switch off.”  There’s also no “off season” for aerial and circus. We can work, train, teach, compete and perform any time, all the time. If we’re not performing, then we might teach more; if we’re not teaching then we’re probably performing or competing. There’s no natural rest cycle and no periodization to our training. We have to create and enforce these cycles which is hard when you start to add in personal finances and the struggle to maintain a regular schedule for you, your students and your family.

Our nervous system has two modes, parasympathetic which is resting and digesting and sympathetic which is fight-or-flight mode. We need to switch between them to challenge our muscles and then to heal them. If we can’t switch between them and “get stuck” in one mode or the other that’s when we have problems—we don’t recover and make gainz and can actually get injured. She explains this concept much better in this blog post.

Ok, so you’re a high-powered personality, a pole competitor and you teach/train all the time and you’re starting to believe all this science stuff I’m telling you. How do you start the road to recovery?

Some Actionable Tips:

Different things work for different people. And I hate telling you that. Unfortunately, you will have to experiment somewhat to find what is the best thing you need to improve recovery and switch between the modes of your nervous system. Generally, look critically at the following aspects of your life:

  • Are you sleeping 7 or 8 hours a night? If you are in bed that long, do you feel rested when you walk up? How old is your mattress? How old is your pillow?
  • Are you drinking enough water? Switch out one of your other regular beverages with water if you’re answer is “I’m not sure.”
  • Do you foam roll? Try instituting a regular foam rolling/myofascial release/massage practice. Your muscles will thank you.
  • Are you really eating well? With plenty of protein (plant or animal) and with ingredients you can actually pronounce? And if you are, maybe something you’re eating doesn’t agree with you and is impacting your recovery. You might have a sensitivity to a food – common culprits are sugar, gluten and dairy. Take a hard look at your regular diet and ask for help from a nutritionist in our industry that understands the needs of pole dancers such as a Balanced Table or the Pole PT.

  • Tibetan Healing Bowl in Kathmandu

     

    Have you tried meditation? Now this one was on my list to try for a long time. I cannot quiet my mind. I tried some apps. I tried talking about it a lot (to manifest it into being) and finally through a strange series of events, I found myself in Kathmandu buying a Tibetan heating bowl. Bigger than singing bowl you might more easily find, this one you put on your head and bang it like a gong. I know it sounds crazy but immediately my sinuses cleared up and my neck muscles relaxed so if for nothing else, I thought it could help during DC’s hellish spring blooming season. I’ve had trouble finding any clear western science about this but have read that vibrations can help all sorts of things including cancer and that everything in the universe has a resonance. Right this second, I don’t care that I can’t find science to back this up. All I know is that I bang my head for a few minutes every night, feel some super cool vibrations and now have quantifiable improvement in my recovery.

My HRV scores showing the trend up after doing meditation regularly/daily.

 

->>>Quantifiable? Yes. This was another great tip from Cirque Physio. She introduced me to the concept of heart rate variability which is now being used to track recovery in athletes. There are some fitness trackers that will track it or there are some apps for your phone you can use without buying another device. I use HRV4Training app which uses the camera on my phone. You do it every morning when you first wake up and can add qualitative notes in about the day before including if you were traveling, if you drank alcohol, if your training was easy or hard, etc. and it gives you a score. Over time you can start to see trends and make correlations between habits and recovery. For instance, when I started using my Tibetan healing bowl consistently my baseline shifted several points up. It only dips now when I travel and can’t take my bowl (I try a meditation app which only works so well) if I’m injured like when I got a significant amount of work done on my back-piece tattoo.

You have to make things a habit. There is no one size fits all approach, and nothing is going to switch after doing it once. Your body needs time to adjust to your new expectations.

Make sure to track your progress in a way that is meaningful to you. Pole is tough because there isn’t as much research to reference that doing X thing will absolutely equal Y results for the majority of people. Try quantitative things like the speed of your climbs, how many inverts you can do in a minute or how flat your splits are and also try tracking qualitative things like how you feel and how often you had to cancel going to class because you were exhausted.

Don’t forget about self-care!

Yea, tattooing is definitely part of my self care!

Self-care, like recovery, is one of those phrases that’s often misunderstood and thrown around in the same diminishing conversations as avocado toast and pedicures. Self-care is taking time to do something you enjoy. Call it a guilty pleasure. Something that feeds your soul or at a minimum makes you happy. It’s usually something potentially frivolous to someone else but super important to you. For some people that is pedicures. For me, getting tattooed helps (like really helps). It’s whatever you do that gives you a tiny flutter of excitement as soon as you’ve decided to do it and that excitement comes back the day you get to do it. Maybe you can do it regularly and maybe you wait all year for it.

Recovery is complicated and like other parts of our lives, so many things (eating, sleeping, calming the mind, feeding the soul) are intertwined in the complicated fabric that is improvement. It’s hard to know where to focus and not everyone can hop on a plane to Kathmandu to get a Tibetan healing bowl. Try a few things and monitor your progress. If it’s working and you feel better, then keep doing it! And if it’s not, try something else on the actionable tips list. Honestly, we could all use a little more sleep!

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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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