27 August, 2013

Stretching 101.

It has come to my attention lately that many self-taught or amateur pole dancers just have no idea how to achieve their flexibility goals. There is an idea in pole that all you need to get good at pole...is to pole - but this is misleading and unrealistic. Most pole professionals not only cross train but spend considerable hours doing so. Stretching should be an important part of your pole routine; not only for flexibility but also for good muscle and joint health. Here is a small guide to stretching.

General stretching tips:

  • ALWAYS stretch after a work out.
  • If stretching after a work out start with the neck and work your way down the body.
  • ALWAYS warm up if stretching independently of exercise.
  • Hold stretches for 10 seconds minimum.
  • There is no maximum length you can hold a stretch. Yin yoga in particular focuses on holding stretches for as long as possible, usually for around 5 minutes each.
  • Never push on or hold your joints whilst stretching. 
  • Always stretch both sides.
  • Breath deeply throughout.
  • Never stretch past reasonable pain - you're aiming for a 6 out of 10.
  • Keep everything aligned, abs engaged and shoulders actively pushed back and down. 
  • Alternate between straight or rounded back and pointed or flexed feet.

Cool-down stretching.

It is important to stretch after every single pole session. Start with the neck and work your way down making sure to focus particularly well on the shoulders, arms and hands. Hold each stretch for at least 10 seconds. When looking for a video to illustrate a good cool-down I was unable to find anything suitable for pole; so I put my own video together below. You may want to cut out some of the leg stretches and there are also lots of interesting stretches you can do using the pole but I find that my cool-down stretching tends to be as lazy as possible.

Developmental stretching.

The one thing all pole dancers want is a perfect split in the air. In the competitive pole world it seems almost obligatory so for us amateurs who have yet to get our splits it can be disheartening. It can be a slow process and if you're not stretching correctly...you can do more damage than good. It's also important to tailor your stretching regime to the specific tight areas of your body, for example; in my front split my hips and quads are fairly loose but my hamstrings and calf muscles are super tight, in my middle split my main problem area is my adductors. You may be tight in other areas. Do some research and find stretches that work your tighter areas first. One of my best buys was a stretching anatomy book which shows which muscles are stretched in each position.

In developmental stretching it is really important to relax and breath. Relaxing in to the stretch and holding the stretch for longer is the key to improving flexibility. Learning to relax the muscles is the greatest hurdle most of us have to face as the muscles first reaction to stretching is to tense up. With a little practice it can become second nature but it takes time. Go really slow until you learn to do this. You can trick your muscles in to doing this via isometric stretching which is a really great tool when used in the correct stretches or with a partner. Resist the stretch, tensing the muscle, and hold your breath for 10 seconds...release, relax and breath deeply to go deeper in to your stretch. Do this a few times during the duration of a stretch you find particular hard to relax in.

The second most important thing is to set up a regular stretching regime. There is some debate over how much and how often you should stretch but if you look at contortionists they stretch for at least an hour every day 7 days a week. Obviously it is important to slowly build up the amount of time you are stretching until your body becomes accustomed to it. A good guideline is to stretch for 10 minutes (mornings are the best time to stretch as activity throughout the day keeps the muscles from tightening back up) a day 5 days a week to start with. Maybe add in one longer stretching session one day a week. Within time you can be stretching twice a day most days of the week with a few longer more serious stretching sessions. 

Kyra's infographic below is a really good starting place but by no means comprehensive. There are a host of other stretches you may want to incorporate in to your routine. Find the original post here.

Other flexibility resources: