July 3, 2012
If you're anything like me, you've probably heard of pole fitness classes and perhaps been curious to try one out, but you're unsure what exactly to expect once you get there. Let's be honest, that can be a little intimidating. I'll admit, dancing isn't necessarily my strong suit, so when I checked out the schedule at Fun Pole Fitness, a local studio here in San Diego, and saw a beginner level class titled "Intro to Pole Dance with Choreography," I wondered whether I should have stuck with those dance classes I took as a child a little bit longer. I then began to think about what I should wear to class (an important question that us ladies need to know). Since this class did not involve tricks (meaning actually climbing up the pole), yoga pants and a fitted tank top worked just perfectly, and seemed to be the common apparel choice among other students. As a yoga teacher I felt right in my element (at least as far as the wardrobe was concerned) so I was ready to give pole fitness a spin!
For this foundational class, a dance background is definitely not necessary, in fact even if you're somewhat "rhythmically challenged" you can still experience great success, and most importantly have fun! While we did practice the sequence to music, we spent quite a bit of time really focusing on the moves and mastering the basics before working to the beat, which was helpful in boosting my self-confidence. Maybe this pole fitness thing wasn't as intimidating and scary as I thought after all.
Following a great dynamic warm-up, we first learned how to walk around the pole, a critical to building choreography and moving seamlessly from one move to the next. The instructor had us begin standing to the left of the pole at what she called "9 o'clock." To help give some perspective, imagine there is a clock face on the floor around the pole, in which if you're standing in front of the pole with your back to it you're at 12 o'clock. We worked on taking four steps around the pole- one at 12 o'clock, one at 3 o'clock and one at 6 o'clock before returning back to our staring 9 o'clock position (or home base, if you will). We were then shown two different options for moving around the pole – stepping with one foot while performing a toe drag with the other foot, or high stepping around the pole, lifting the knee up before stepping the foot down, all while holding onto the pole with one hand as you move around. From there, we worked on some fun choreography which included moves like hip circles and shoulder rolls, all of which were integrated into the warm-up. So there was plenty of opportunity for practice and to work on perfecting those moves.
Next, we moved on to spins. We were introduced during the class to two different spins and given ample opportunity to practice both, with and without music. Great attention was placed on safety throughout the class but especially when learning the spins, so we spent some time working on establishing proper grip, learning proper positioning of the shoulders to protect the delicate muscles of the shoulder joint, and learning to land properly from each spin to ensure safety of the knees and ankles.
If someone had ever told me I would be spinning around a pole and actually looking like I knew what I was doing, I never would have believed them. But the great instruction from the teacher along with the small class size and the easy-to-learn foundational moves proved me wrong. My experience taking this pole fitness class was not only fun but also empowering and humbling, as it challenged my fitness in a whole new way (let's just say I definitely felt it in my arms and shoulders the next day)! Although I initially assumed this class would have a heavy cardio focus due to the words "dance" and "choreography" in the title, the moves we explored focused a great deal on strength, in a way that was much different from simply lifting weights at the gym. We spent a considerable amount of time focusing on proper mechanics and really breaking down moves, making it a class that would be suitable for just about any ability level. The pace of the class was not one that someone would struggle to keep up with, and there were a variety of modifications and progressions offered to make each move easier or harder – depending on your ability level.
If you're in the market for a fun way to be physically active while focusing on improving your coordination, balance, endurance, flexibility and strength, then pole fitness may be right up your alley. If the more sultry elements that come along with this style of class, such as trying out moves like "booty up" and swiveling your hips leave you feeling more self-conscious than they do empowered, then this may not be the class for you. The truth of the matter is you don't have to be an exotic dancer to be successful in a pole-based class – all you need is a great attitude and a desire to have fun while working out (note to self: this means checking your ego at the door).
Bottom line- One quote that I love is "every accomplishment starts with the decision to try," and I couldn't think of a better way to sum up my pole fitness class experience. The feeling of successfully (and relatively gracefully) twirling around the pole will not only leave you having fun but also feeling confident. That would not have been possible if I didn't keep an open mind about actually trying out this style of class. My advice is to set aside any preconceived notions you may have about what you can and can't do, and don't be afraid to feel a bit sexy … and of course break a sweat!
Jessica Matthews, MS, E-RYTContributor
Jessica Matthews, M.S., E-RYT is assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College. As a leading fitness expert, writer and educator Jessica is a regular contributor to numerous publications, including Shape and Oprah.com. She holds a B.S. in physical education teacher education from Coastal Carolina University and M.S. in physical education from Canisius College. She is a certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) as well as an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) through Yoga Alliance and trained stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga instructor. Prior to teaching at Miramar, Jessica worked full-time ACE, serving in a number of key roles including exercise physiologist, certification director and senior health and fitness editor. Her past work also includes serving as aquatics director at Conway Medical Wellness and Fitness Center and designing health and physical education curriculum for grades K-12. Full Bio Jessica Matthews »