29 March, 2014

Safety Tips. #trainsafe #polesafe #teachsafe


A new campaign is sweeping the pole related corners of the internet right now; pole safe, train safe, teach safe. Simply put; pole is a potentially dangerous sport that should be taken very seriously. Sure, it's fun and it's a great workout but it's also pretty hardcore. With any aerial activity there is the risk of falling, of pulled muscles, tendinitis, sprains, strains, bumps and bruises. I've even heard of an individual who ended up paralysed after they fell from their pole at home. This campaign seeks to bring awareness to safety in the industry; of not pushing yourself too far too fast, of conditioning properly, of making sure equipment and classes are safe and of ensuring your students are at no risk.

Not all instructors are perfect and many of us are learning on the job. Many pole specific courses are not comprehensive, they rarely cover biology and usually only give general safety points, and non-pole specific courses will cover biology and safety aspects of body weight and machine exercises but they will probably not cover how they apply to the pole. Use all resources available to you, ask a lot of questions, train with a lot of different instructors. There are so many routes you can take to become an instructor and so many options that I don't have time to cover here but setting up by yourself with no training, either a qualification or one on one with a good safe instructor, is not wise.

Learning little tricks and tips to protect your students in specific moves or how to build up to those moves are often learnt from other instructors. So far in my year of teaching I have learnt a lot. I've only had one injury where a student was teaching another student whilst I was spotting someone. I've also had a small number of pulled tummy muscles through winter which led to me immediately upping abs related warm ups before we got on the pole. I know I have to always be on my toes, always educating myself and always ensuring my students are safe. This isn't a journey that ends because so far no one has hurt themselves seriously. For the most part I've relied on observing my own instructor, observing pole-fessionals at workshops, reading about other peoples experience with injury and researching as much as possible online. I never teach any move that I don't myself know inside out; exits, safety points, things that can go wrong.

Students also cause safety issues in class; through not listening, though trying to teach others, through thinking they know best and even cause safety issues for themselves at home.  A good instructor knows how to deal with these individuals in the classroom but those who are self taught or also train at home are at risk. Not warming up or stretching properly is the biggest sin of the new pole dancer practicing at home (I have a post on stretching, developmental and cool-down here).

So in this spirit I would like to share my top safety tips and points. If you have anything to add or believe any information to be incorrect please do message me, I am still learning along with everyone else. This is by no means comprehensive but these are the most important points that come to mind.

There comes a time as a pole student or instructor when you have the knowledge to be able to train yourself, sometimes in new moves, but I would expect those individuals to know their bodies inside out, understand the safe ways to exit any move. understand what could go wrong with a move, to know when they need a spotter, and have knowledge of the safety points here. I'm not in the group of individuals who thinks tutorials are inherently bad and should not be allowed. I think in the hands of the wrong person they can be dangerous but for many they are a helpful supplement to safe practice.

For Students:
  • Use crash mats when available, if at home and no crash mat is available consider not doing moves you are not 100% okay with. This doesn't mean you managed to do the move a small number of times. It means you can do it EVERY time without fail over a number of weeks or months and know how to exist safely if something goes wrong. 
  • In class wait for a spotter if you're unsure. Crash mats might seem like a comfy way to fall but landing from some height on to various parts of the body, particularly the top of the head, can still end in injury.
  • Never attempt to teach other students. Not only is it disrespectful but it's also dangerous. There may be a reason why your instructor has not taught a particular student a specific move. They may not be ready or have an injury or weakness you are not aware of. 
  • Listen to your instructor. If they recommend you stop doing a move or take a break - then do. It is much better to listen than hurt yourself. Your instructor will have taught a large number of students and know what warning signs to look for. 
  • Listen to your body. If something hurts or doesn't feel right then chances are it's not. Learning to differentiate between normal muscle soreness and injury is important. Sometimes what caused an injury or when it occurred may not be obvious and may lead you to believe you are simply sore from class.
  • Not all moves are made for all people. We're all different, we all have different strengths and weaknesses. If after help with technique you still cannot do a move then maybe you're just not ready for that move yet. Maybe you never will be. I never chase after the big moves, I train for them but I never stress or try and push my body too far. If I am meant to get a move then I will.
  • Train both sides. Ok, ok I know that barely anyone actually does this but at the least ensure you strength train both sides equally and always attempt to do a move on both sides. If you do this from the beginning it is much easier to continue. 
  • For god sake rest your injuries! And see a doctor if in doubt. Sprains and strains can take weeks to heal - other injuries longer, pole-ing on them will only make it worse and your healing time longer. It's not worth causing long term problems. We only get one body!
  • If you choose to buy a pole ensure it is a safe brand and that it is installed properly. Ask your instructor for advice if in doubt.
  • Ensure you know what to do in case of a fall. Even with moves you know inside out and have completely mastered there is always a risk of falling or injury. Something can always go wrong. Tucking the head, resisting putting hands out and trying to avoid landing on the spine or knees should minimise the risk of serious injury. This also applies when using a crash mat; as previously mentioned a bad fall can result in injury even where a mat is present. This blog post on falling correctly is informative and useful.
For Instructors.
  • Make sure your equipment and studio is safe. Do your research and make sure your poles are properly installed. Test them before each class. 
  • Provide crash mats if possible and teach students how to spot each other correctly and safely. Some studios don't use crash mats and would still be considered safe but you must go much much slower with students. I am in this situation currently, awaiting mats, so very few of my classes or students do inverted moves. Remember: a lot of inverted moves can be done at the bottom of the pole and most students are perfectly happy dancing and doing routines.
  • Know your syllabus inside out. Know which moves can cause problems for people with weak wrists or prior injuries, all the safety points, all the exits if something goes wrong, how to spot each move, all the variations of a move. 
  • Don't let students do things they are not ready for. Ensure they have worked up to more advanced moves. Teaching students to handspring or climb in their first class is not clever and it's not safe. As is teaching dangerous moves to someone who has only been doing pole a few short months. Our studio has personally banned twisted grip handsprings, students may only come down in to a twisted grip or eventually when ready deadlift. 
  • Be firm with students. If you know something they are doing is wrong or is causing danger to others make sure they know that and stop. If they refuse to stop then ask them to leave. It is better to lose a customer than to have a dangerous environment. 
  • For god sake rest your injuries! And see a doctor if in doubt. Sprains and strains can take weeks to heal, pole-ing on them will only make it worse and your healing time longer. It's not worth causing long term problems. We only get one body! This one can be harder for instructors than students, whose livelihoods rely on their bodies. 
  • Ensure you know what to do in case of a fall. Even with moves you know inside out and have completely mastered there is always a risk of falling or injury. Something can always go wrong. Tucking the head, resisting putting hands out and trying to avoid landing on the spine or knees should minimise the risk of serious injury. This also applies when using a crash mat; as previously mentioned a bad fall can result in injury even where a mat is present. This blog post on falling correctly is informative and useful.
  • Ensure strength training and conditioning covers all areas of the body. Ensure students do exercises with correct technique. Do not neglect the shoulders! This is a common injury area. 
  • Encourage students who pole at home to be safe. Ensure they know how to warm up and cool-down and that they must do it before getting on the pole. Ask students not to try any moves you have not covered in class and moves that they are not 100% comfortable with.
Floor Work Safety Video by Lorna Thomas.


Have anything to add? Please do by commenting below.

- Bex