This is a script I read from discussing the difference between core stabilization and strength for pole dancers and why both are important in pole dance. Watch the full video here
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Many of my beginner students, after a class will note how they lack core strength. They then begin mimicking some crunching like motion to signify that that is the solution. And while it is true that the core helps to transition into different orientations about the pole, most beginner pole dancers are at a phase where they are primarily using core stability rather than core strength. Core stability is the foundation. When I’m training my pole athletes, we lay out this foundation and make sure it’s solid so that it can fully translate to their final stages during performance. Phase two is where my athletes get stronger at movements at flexion, extension, rotation and lateral flexion. And finally phase three is transferring energy efficiently throughout the core. So long term lets say you want to deadlift on the pole. In the initial take off of a deadlift your spine is laterally flexing upwards and at the higher point of this movement the spin stiffens and has to remain still and stable. That’s why you probably have to handspring into your ayesha. As a beginner your core stability or point at which you hit your ayesha hold is where you use core stability, but you’re probably not ready for phase two and three quite yet which is the deadlift component. A pole athlete’s ability to switch from one mode to the other and having the ability to translate energy from the limbs through the core is a movement like this that starts with our foundation of core stability.
Core stability is characterized by the core’s ability to support and maintain a rigid and still posture in the torso by keeping your spine still. You can instantly feel this rigidity in your abdominal cavity when you push up from a squat position for example. This rigidity is formed by a pressure change that occurs inside of your abdominals as your core contracts, decreasing your internal volume which increases your internal pressure which in turn helps support your spine. This pressure protects your spinal cord by increasing the spine’s stiffness. This is why you’re told to engage or brace your core so often when performing weight lifting exercises. It protects your spine when it is placed under heavy loads. When lifting weights or moving on the pole our limbs are still moving but the engagement of the core will still protect the spine when placed under the heavy load of a barbell or our own mass.
These stabilizing muscles are found very deep inside of us, and there are four main ones. The first is the diaphragm, transverse abdominis wrapped around the front, the pelvic floor, and multifidus at the back. Together they almost form a encasing or cylindrical like shape, which is responsible for causing the internal abdominal pressure.
Core stability is used by beginner to advanced pole dancers. Think of movements like a fireman spin, your core is being stabilized so your spine is supported. The iron x, your core stabilizers are working very hard to keep your spine still.
There are four main movements you want to train for core stabilization. The first is anti rotation. I like taking a band and bracing against resistance. You’ll want to brace for this. Add movement to this in a squat or a lunge. These are a lot harder than they appear.
Next for anti extension you may have head of dead bugs. These are exercises where we are keeping the lower back stiff and on the floor as the legs come up and extend away and towards the body. Another exercise is a ball roll out.
For anti lateral flexion side planks are a perfect choice, just keeping the hips and spine neutral. One side weights farmers walks are another personal favorite as well.
Core strength is different as it’s characterized by the spine’s ability to move under a load. It’s just like if I’m measuring the strength of my bicep. The ability of my bicep to bend and move my elbow under a heavy load will indicate its strength.
So this is important because depending on which way you want the spine to move you can actually target specific muscles that cause spinal movement to increase your strength to move in a particular direction. So let’s say you want to be able to tuck your legs up in a shoulder mount. You would specifically target your rectus abdominus or the “six pack abs” to make the spine curl up in that direction. The same thing applies with your obliques for example which can twist you or cause lateral flexion. Very useful in a spinning invert.
You may have heard you can’t spot reduce fat on your body but you can absolutely “spot train” specific muscles in your body. Your muscles will form little tears and adapt to the intensity of your training. Your muscles can be trained for hypertrophy, strength, or endurance. Hypertrophy isn’t as important as strength and endurance for pole dancers I believe, and so the intensity of our training program is different. Concepts of strength and endurance training muscles is a separate topic I can speak on if it’s wanted.
So now if you are a beginner pole dancer and you think you need to do crunches to get better at pole dancing, you’re wrong. You now know that crunches work the rectus abdominis which escensically scrunches in your spine. That would be useful if you plan to do a shoulder mount. But I doubt that’s what you’re trying out on day one. Instead beginner pole dancers mostly use stabilizer core muscles. Think about most beginner pole moves. The chair spin, climb, back knee hook. All of these require a straight spine which we know is caused by strong stabilizers. As you become more advanced or are an advanced pole dancer, you still need the stabilizers of the core to work hard, again thinking about holding in a shoulder mount, or one arm spin. In more advanced pole we are constantly having to tuck and twist our spine one second and have it be stiff as a board the next. High achieving pole dancers not only have the ability to be strong in these areas of movement and lack thereof but also have the ability to switch from a dynamic positioning of the spine to a very stiff supportive one. This is like crazy bruce lee level control. The concept of switching from a dynamic to rigid body is one way we pole dancers can become more powerful and explosive. Power pole, a personal favorite of mine lives and dies for this kind of on off switch core control.
So if you are a beginner pole dancer, your first step is to learn how to engage your core for stability. This is your foundation. If you skip this you’re setting yourself up for failure, and injury. And again this is felt by building intra abdominal pressure. Think of a time you lifted a heavy couch. You hopefully engage your core so your back wasn’t bending during the lift. Same as a deadlift. All the stabilizers should be working hard to stabilize the spine. That’s why compound lifts like the deadlift and squat are said to work your core. Sure they will never give you a six pack but internally you’re forming a literal shield of protection.
So it really isn’t enough to sit on the ground and throw on a random, “get abs in 30 days youtube video” and have your stomach feel the burn for 20 minutes. You need to set goals for what you want to accomplish on the pole. Let’s say my goal is to go into a chopper invert. I would look at what core muscles are used specifically. There is a lot of spinal rigidity held or at least is supposed to be held with proper form so I want to work my overall core stability, and then my lower spine does enter a tilt inwards which can be accomplished using the rectus abdominis, so I would do exercices like straight leg lifts to target the core strength aspect.
So for beginners, please work on core stability and then as you feel comfortable in that area start training specific core muscles for strength for a specific moment you want to achieve. Then in phase three get good at transferring energy through the core from switching to a rigid to dynamic mode within the core.