Inflexibility - Where do I start?

by Helen
(Sydney, Australia)

I'm extremely inflexible (I can't bend over and touch my toes), but I really want to be able to do all those crazy moves on the pole. My question is: Can I increase my flexibility through pole dancing or should I attain flexibility through stretching then go into pole dancing?

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Which came first...the chicken or the egg?
by: Susan from PDFF

Thanks for stopping by Helen, and for posting a very good question! I know that many women feel the same way you do about their flexibility (or lack thereof), and it can be discouraging. Especially when you see women who are soooo flexible and graceful on the pole!

Flexibility can be a complicated topic, especially since I don't know anything about or your background. But there are some general principles that can guide you in your pursuit of greater flexibility for pole dancing.

You ask whether pole dancing itself will help you increase your flexibility, or whether you should work on your flexibility first and then move to the pole. My answer both!

Now keep in mind that the act of pole dancing won't do much to improve your flexibility. Only a dedicated and consistent stretching program can do that. But it wouldn't hurt to keep up with your pole dancing as you work on your flexibility, for a couple of reasons.

First, your goal is to improve your flexibility so you can improve your pole dancing. So don't put the dancing on hold! Even if you can't yet do some of the tricks that require lots of flexibility, keep up with what you can do so that your body keeps getting the message that this is what we're working towards.

Secondly, by continuing your pole dancing, you'll be able to see how your flexibility program is working for you. And that can be very motivating feedback!

As for improving your flexibility, it's important to remember that even the most flexible dancers and gymnasts stretch regularly to maintain and improve their flexibility. I know it may seem like it, but they didn't just wake up one morning with a super flexible body that's going to stay that way!

There are lots of ways to stretch and improve your flexibility, but like any physical improvement you're going to have to be consistent and dedicated. If you can stick with your stretching program, you WILL see results, whether you choose yoga, basic stretches on a mat, or even using your pole as a stretching tool.

I'm actually developing an entire section on my website dedicated to pole dancing stretches, and I'll be filming a DVD later this month (September 2010) to help pole dancers who want to work on this important aspect of their fitness.

Which came first...the chicken or the egg? (cont'd)
by: Susan from PDFF

But for now, here are a few general tips to help you get the most out of your stretching program:

1) Consistency is key. I've already mentioned this, but it's worth repeating. Unlike strength training, you can stretch every day without any negative effect. But if you can only squeeze in a short session three times a week, that's MUCH better than only once a week. If you pole dance regularly, you may want to finish every session with 10-15 minutes of stretching.

2) Determine where your most inflexible areas are, as well as those areas you most want to improve in (these may or may not be the same spots) and focus on those first. There's nothing like seeing results to motivate you to continue!

3) Do some gentle warm up activity before stretching. This gets your blood flowing to the muscles and helps prepare them to lengthen and relax.

4) Try to stretch in a fairly warm room if you can. Some stretches can even be done in a warm bath or in a hot tub. Again, the idea is to allow the muscles to relax so they can lengthen more easily. If this isn't possible, dress warmly while you stretch.

5) To be beneficial, you want to feel the stretch, but not feel any discomfort. Over stretching is a common cause of injury and can actually cause muscles to tighten in response to being asked to move too far beyond their comfort zone.

A yoga teacher friend of mine describes it this way: a good stretch should feel like the sun shining on you on a pleasant Summer day; if the stretch feels like you're getting a sunburn, you're too deep into it.

Another way to tell if you're pushing yourself too far is to pay attention to your breathing. If you're holding your breath, panting, or doing anything other than slow, relaxed breathing, back off a bit until your breath calms down.

Which came first...the chicken or the egg? (cont'd)
by: Susan from PDFF

5) Most people don't hold a stretch long enough for it to have much benefit. Experts say we need to hold a stretch for 20-30 seconds. If you have a timer, it might surprise you to use it! Here's a method I like to use for my own flexibility stretching:

- ease into the stretch position, moving only as far as is comfortable (remember - don't push into the pain zone as this will be counter-productive). Hold this position for about 10 seconds

- back off and release the stretch entirely for about 5 seconds

- repeat a second time, easing into the stretch, holding for 10 seconds, then releasing for 5 seconds

- now ease into the stretch a 3rd time (you'll probably be able to go a little deeper each time, but don't push it) and this time hold for 30 seconds. Focus on breathing deeply and slowly. If you feel your muscles start to loosen up, you can s-l-o-w-l-y move a little deeper into the stretch and continue holding.

- after 30 seconds come out of the stretch and gently shake out your muscles.

No matter what your age or past experience, the vast majority of people CAN improve their flexibility. It does take work and a bit of time, along with a commitment to do the work, but you'll be rewarded by being able to do all those crazy moves you dream of!

Let me know how this works for you Helen, and if you need ideas for how to stretch specific muscles, just let me know and I'll try to post some photos and descriptions of stretches for you.

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