Mental Toughness Training

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Respect Your Sport

The mountain doesn’t care that you have a full time job and go to school full time. There’s only one summit – and the fitness demands to reach it are the same regardless of our time to train, fitness level arriving, age, etc.Mountain Athlete Website


I love this quote, because it so succinctly sums up the importance of disciplined training for your sport. Pole doesn’t involve exposure to the elements or the intense duration of mountain sports, but it does involve supporting your body weight at the limits of your flexibility, sometimes upside down. The point is the same. Take the time to train properly, or else bear the consequences.

What this looks like for pole dancers:

  1. Ample, thoughtful, crosstraining. 
  2. Warming up before you engage in either dance or flexibility training. Be sure to warm up the specific motions that you will be using in your dance.
  3. Master fundamentals before moving on to more difficult moves.
  4. Eat right.
  5. Sleep enough. 
  6. Be present and pay attention to your body and your movement.
  7. Structure your training cyclically around your competitions.
  8. Rest enough.

What a 15 month Old Baby Can Teach You about Pole Dancing

My roommate has a 15 month old (or so, I lose track) baby. She’s adorable, like most babies.

Lately, E (the baby) has been learning how to climb up and down stairs. She can’t walk down the stairs yet, but she’s figured out how to turn backwards and kind of slide down.

I got home from a long practice session in preparation for Elevated Art with Harper, and E was clambering down the steps. She ignored us as she got to the bottom step. When she was safely down though, she turned to us with a  big grin on her face and started clapping. She was clearly delighted that she had gotten down the steps by herself.

After such a long practice, complete with small tweaks (and bigger tweaks), physically exhausting training, and lots of wondering whether it will all hold together for the showcase next Saturday, E’s victory kind of put things in perspective.

“Remember two years ago when we couldn’t do a fireman spin?” I asked Harper. She laughed. It’s so easy to be annoyed that you can’t find a good way to get out of a spatchcock or stick in your foot grips or get into a handspring- but the reality is that we’ve come a long way.

We should all smile and clap for ourselves a little more often.

Three Ways Curiosity Creates Better Pole Dance

Curiosity is one of the best values you can develop to help you excel at pole. Here’s why:

1. You learn new pole moves by figuring out where your body should be. If you are naturally a curious person, when you see someone dancing or teaching, you will always be trying to figure out what muscles are used in a pole move. You will also be trying to figure out the contact points, where their balance is, and how they get out of it. Actively working to figure that out while you are watching will help you learn the moves faster (and quite possibly safer).

curiosity does not kill cats

Curiosity does not actually kill cats. Thank goodness. In addition to not being harmful, curiosity can help you excel at pole dance.

2. Similarly, curiosity will help you be more creative about how you get into and out of different moves. Some of the things I have tried are so bad that they make me giggle, but if you try new things you’ll eventually find something you want to keep. The driving force behind stumbling onto these awesome transitions is the question of “what if….”

3. Curiosity drives you to seek knowledge. If you apply curiosity to pole, you’ll start to learn more about diet, conditioning, training, mental preparation, music, and every other aspect of pole. As you incorporate this knowledge into your dancing and training, you will get better.

I Dare You to Throw Up

I was in no condition to train that day. I didn’t feel good and I wasn’t well rested. I had been in a hurry all day and had shoved something down my throat to keep my belly from growling on the way to conditioning class. Sometimes it’s not so bad and you can push through.

And sometimes you can’t.

I am a big proponent of mental training. I strongly believe in mind over matter, and that your body can do so much more than you think it can. Most people stop pushing because they don’t have the mental discipline to focus on doing the workout better instead of focusing on how much it hurts.

With that in mind, I started focusing on the workout, on getting my jumps higher, my squats lower.

I started to feel queasy. I was determined to push through. “I dare you to work hard enough to make yourself throw up” I told myself.

And then I did.

This is not where a good workout should end up.

This is not where a good workout should end up.

Later, I started to think about how wrong this mindset is. Mind over matter is certainly true-  but the discipline of training starts long before you go to the studio or the gym. The only thing that can make you really vomit is not being properly prepared- being mentally off your game, eating junk that doesn’t belong in your body, not sleeping enough. For the most part, vomiting equals lousy preparation, not hard training.

Conditioning is a lifestyle, not an hour long class. If you are training until you throw up, you are doing something wrong. Improve your diet, your sleep. Maybe you are pushing harder than your body is ready to push. Push (slightly) beyond your limits, but set yourself up for success first.

Handsprings, handsprings, handsprings

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Back to the Basics

Lately, whenever I free dance, I am incredibly sloppy. I know exactly why- I’m spending way fewer hours in the studio. My new commute saps a lot of time and energy, and I don’t have much of either to spare. Right now my priority is work and school, so dancing has taken a cut.


Because my brain is not in dancing, I kind of stumble around a lot thinking, “what should I do? Is this over yet? Gah…”


Until a few nights ago. I was tired and fed up and all I wanted to do was roll around on the floor and do fan kicks. Instead of panicking and reprimanding myself that because I’m limited on time I should work on the things I need to work on, I rolled around and did body rolls and played for a while. I think I only did one invert the entire time.


Fun. Like dance is supposed to be fun.


I think the bigger problem is that it is critical to constantly go back and take classes at all levels, to remind yourself of how far you’ve come, to clean things up, and to boost your self esteem. And when all else fails, just feel free to do lots of hair flips and fireman spins. You don’t need to be on all the time to have a great dance.

How to Stay Committed, Without Overtraining

I wrote a while back about the importance of commitment with your training. I stand by every thing I said- that commitment requires you to be steadfast and consistent in your training regimen. However, sometimes your body disagrees, and you don’t want to push yourself until you get an injury. Here are my suggestions to maintain your commitment to training without over training.

  1. Evaluate your training regimen in comparison with your fitness level. If you are starting with zero fitness and you want to train for pole 15 hours a week, you are setting  yourself up for failure, injury, or both.
  2. Make sure that your training regimen includes rest days. I recently saw this awesome tidbit on the Pole Expo website. Check it out here, and notice that all of these world class pole athletes make time for rest days.

    Rest. Also sleep, eat, and otherwise take care of yourself.

    Rest. Also sleep, eat, and otherwise take care of yourself.

  3. Be smart about scheduling. I wanted to write this blog post because I had a private lesson today, and my body absolutely did not want to be on the pole. I was sore from two intense classes yesterday, and a little wimpy because I may have had a bit too much wine last night (when you have friends graduating, getting into grad school, moving back to Denver, and everyone is getting laid and has nice abs, there are lots of great things to make toasts to! Stop judging me!) Do this to the best of your ability- but understand that you will still have bad days to do pole. Which brings me to the next one…
  4. Don’t push to hard if your body seems to be resisting. Usually your body won’t resist if you’ve followed all of the previous steps. If you need to take it easy but you want to stay committed, you can:
  5. Work on choreography and dance instead of hard tricks
  6. Review old practice videos so you are painfully aware of all the places you aren’t pointing your toes.
  7. Clean up your really basic moves.
  8. Do easier moves on your bad side- If you’re already having an off day, why not work on your bad side? Of course, you should also be doing this when you are not having an off day.
  9. Maybe skip pole but do a solid cross training workout instead.

    Running a Tough Mudder is cross training- but you could also do yoga, or just go for a swim.

    Running a Tough Mudder is cross training- but you could also do yoga, or just go for a swim.

Balance (not the work/pole/life kind)

Balance is one of many skills that needs to be trained for any type of dance- even pole. I say “even pole” because one of the things that I initially liked about pole was that there was a pole there I could grab onto if I felt like I was falling. Balance and coordination are not really my strong points.

Anyways, you can’t always just grab onto the pole and even if you could, it wouldn’t be graceful or sexy or artistic or anything that I want my dancing to be. Balance is not an optional skill. Eric Franklin has a lot of ideas about balance that I hope might be useful.

In a nutshell, Franklin explains that there are many different systems in your body that create balance- your vision, vestibular organs, and your muscles themselves. If you get in the habit of moving your body ineffectively, all of these balance structures will adjust for the inefficient movement. What this does is make it so that you will feel off balance if you start moving in more efficient, balanced ways.

Franklin suggests a series of exercises to help correct this- most of the exercises having to do with how you visualize your body working and what imagery you use to reduce muscle tension. For example, he suggests that you try focusing on what muscles is tightening to perform an exercise, and then try it again but focus on what muscle you must relax to get into the exercise. Since muscles always work in pairs, you can always do both visualizations. Thinking about it explicitly helps you find better balance.

He also suggests some “extreme balancing” exercises, such as balancing on balls. He argues that balancing on the floor will be easier, because balancing on balls forces you to re-train your muscles so that you don’t fall. I would be interested in trying this with the wire rope things that people tie onto trees and balance on in the park.

What balance training do you do? Does anyone have any tips or suggestions?

Focus on Freestyle: Feet

Hands and feet are really important to expressing yourself as you dance. For today’s focus on freestyle, I want to discuss feet.


The most obvious thing to check is whether or not you are pointing your toes, but I think a better starting point is to make sure you are taking care of your feet consistently. Massage them, roll them over tennis balls every so often, wear good shoes, and make sure that you incorporate foot exercises and stretches into your training. For more about foot cramps, check out a previous post I wrote here.


Once you have this base of foot care down, check in with your feet as you dance. See whether they feel rigid or elastic. Feel where you carry your weight and how you move through your feet as you move around the floor.


Keep in mind that you can use your feet to express your story. You can drag your toes, stomp the ground, caress the ground, flex the feet on the beat of the music, and otherwise use your feet to tell your story or express your character.


If you are wearing heels, you want to make sure that your foot is pointed while your toes remain spread apart and relaxed. This will increase your balance in heels.

in heels your foot should point but your toes should remain soft. Barefoot, you should point your feet and your toes.

in heels your foot should point but your toes should remain soft. Barefoot, you should point your feet and your toes.


If you are barefoot, you want to make sure that your feet are pointed, including your toes. Don’t curl your toes though, make sure they are making a line all the way up your leg. You should also make sure that the foot doesn’t “sickle” inwards. Again, the key is to be in line with the leg.


Check in with your climbs to make sure your feet are pointed as you climb- this is one place where people tend to be sloppy (especially me!). Also check in with each pole and floor movement you do- stop for a moment and make sure that your toes are pointed.

Further Resources:

If you are barefoot, check in with each move to make sure you are pointing your toes, like this.

If you are barefoot, check in with each move to make sure you are pointing your toes, like this.

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