Updated: Jun 26
Being injured on both a muscular and a joint level is one of the most common types of injury from pole. In pole dance, the focus is on the musculoskeletal system. The muscle movement patterns necessary to accomplish gymnastics-based moves comes from the muscles, ligament and tendons working together. So not surprisingly some of the most common injuries in pole are in this system. There are a few things to consider when training for pole to help prevent injuries to the muscles, tendons and ligaments.
A great place to start with training for any sport is by understanding how the muscles of the human body actually work. Muscles are comprised of three main types: skeletal muscles, involuntary smooth muscles and cardiac muscles. Skeletal muscles are the active muscles that are voluntarily controlled and used in athletic endeavors such as pole. These muscles stretch from joint to joint across bones and contract and extend when the brain activates each muscle. Muscles have a range of motion and elasticity. Tendons are connective tissue found around the joints that fuse muscles to the bones. Tendons do not have high elasticity, as the job of the tendon is to hold the bone and muscle together and help the muscle and joint work together.
Ligaments are made of the same connective tissue as tendons, but connect bones at joints to one another. Ligaments stabilize joints and help hold the skeleton structure together. The limited stretch of the connecting ligaments helps keep structure and prevent joints from moving too far, thus preventing injury.
Ligaments, tendons and muscles can all be injured if overused, fatigued, or improperly used. An overstretched ligament is called a strain, and this can be a partial or complete tear. When muscles and tendons are overworked or overstretched this can lead to a sprain, which also can be a partial or a complete tear. In intense sports like pole, these injuries can become chronic if not treated. Overuse, improper warm-up and lack of safe progression are three of the chief culprits in pole injuries.
When training for strength in pole it’s good to keep in mind that tendon strength development does not happen as quickly as muscle strength development and that ligament strength development is slower than both. Muscles take one to three months to adapt to a strength program with repeat movement, such as pole. Tendons average three to six months to catch up and ligaments need six months minimum for adaptation. These are, of course, other factors such as weekly nutrition, age, previous fitness experience and genetics that can speed up or slow down the process.
Overuse is one of the most common issues in pole. The sport is fun, exciting and satisfying, and the brain’s dopamine system knows it. This reward system in the brain takes in the fun accomplishments of getting new pole moves, crushing choreo in class, exercising and laughing with friends. The dopamine system is the voice that tells a poler to attend class every day without taking rest days. Even if the body is trying to tell a poler to take a break.Learning to listen to the body and learning to train regularly but not overdoing takes time to master. Injuries like sprains and strains are more likely to occur when the muscles, tendons and ligaments are exposed to too much repeat movement.
Most sports involve repeat movement patterns that can push muscles, tendons and ligaments to the point of fatigue. When training, a good rule of thumb is to consider a hard pole workout, such as an inversions class, as requiring a 48-hour recovery period. The body needs time to repair and restore the worked muscle fibers and tissues. When doing a strength workout, like pole, the muscles get microscopic tears (microtrauma) and the body reacts to the tears by producing more muscular fibers, thereby growing the muscles. If the process of healing and regrowth is stopped by continuous heavy-duty strength workouts the body will not get stronger and the chance of injury increases. Taking a harder class two or three times a week and cross training with another sport, that does not work the same muscles as pole, is a good way to start a healthy training regimen.
Not warming up properly is also an easy way to get injured. Most studios teach dynamic warm-ups for all classes. These warm-ups can be flowing in a dance style or more aerobic with squats, jumping jacks and big muscle movements that eventually turn to finer motor skills warm ups. Taking the time to warm-up dynamically is important, the movement patterns warm up the joints, connective tissues and muscles. Warm-ups also let the brain and body know it’s time to move and workout. The body sends blood into the muscles and joints. This allows for the muscles and connective tissues to become warm and supple. Elasticity and blood flow help the muscles prepare to work and do the things the poler solicits.
Not warming up can lead to tearing muscles and connective tissues as there isn’tenough elasticity and blood flow. Pole is a demanding sport, it’s a form of gymnastics and dance, to perform not just the strength moves, but also the flexibility moves the body needs a 10-minute warm-up minimum. This warm-up should not be static stretching, this warm-up should be dynamic movement that hits all major muscles and joints.
We live in times of immediate gratification. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to get the next hardest pole move each class. When the pole instructor says “slow it down”or we are “building up to some other moves”these means the class is working a progression. The class is beginning with easier moves and working toward more challenging moves over weeks and months. Rushing through moves and pushing the body too fast increases the chance of injury. Progression can save the tendons and ligaments of the body. As stated the muscles develop strength faster than the tendons and ligaments. If a poler pushes too hard too fast, spraining a tendon is likely to happen before spraining a muscle. Many pole related injuries happen in the tendon/muscle intersections and end up effecting both the tendon and the muscle. Progression can help prevent all sprains, but particularly tendons.
Overtraining and dynamic warm-ups can assist a poler in staying healthy not just in the muscles but also in the tendons and ligaments. Progressing through moves at a safe speed boils down to listening to the body and honoring when the body is ready to move forward and when the body needs rest. Love your musculoskeletalsystem and keep your body injury free.
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