You'll likely have seen videos of friends twirling around on poles on your Instagram feed by now. Google Search for pole fitness for beginners has steadily rising since last summer, with 72.9 million views on the Tiktok hashtag alone.
Eager to push my boundaries and try something new, I decided to give the workout a go over the course of six weeks. Spoiler alert: pole fitness for beginners is far from easy, but it taught me an awful lot.
A bit of background, before I share how I got on. While pole dancing has been around for about a century, it's often been seen as slightly taboo and certainly not acknowledged as the incredibly multi-faceted workout that it is. That said, times are changing - back in 2017, the Global Association of International Sports Federation (GAISF) gave pole fitness the recognition it deserved, formally crediting it as a sport.
Shortly after that, the movie Hustlers was released and starred Jennifer Lopez in the leading role. She hugely changed the narrative, largely thanks to her jaw-dropping performance and agility as dancer Ramona. Bearing in mind she performs highly complex dance routines on stage for a living, even she found pole fitness hard, admitting to The Sun: "It was fun to learn but difficult. I was very beat up and had huge bruises all over my legs and my shoulders - I really had to train a lot.”
With Kate Hudson, Jennifer Aniston and Madonna all rumoured to be fans, too, the rise in popularity of the sport is undeniable. So, to read what I learned about pole fitness, those who teach it, why my fellow classmates chose to give it a go, and moreover myself, keep scrolling.
Pole fitness for beginners: what I learnt trying the workout for a month
What is pole fitness?
Tatianna Donbavand, a certified pole fitness instructor and personal trainer, says that pole fitness is a type of workout that combines strength training, cardio, and flexibility. She points out that it has a lot of variables, and the kind of workout you'll get will really depend on what class you're doing.
"If you're in a tricks class, it's likely to be more skill-based strength training," Donbavand explains. "A dance class, on the other hand, is more aerobic training."
This makes for a great full-body workout, she continues, as it means you're "tapping into all three energy systems" and improving both your strength and cardio fitness.
There are plenty of training variables, the expert continues, which means you're able to choose the kind of workout that you want. "You've got options including adjusting body position, increasing hold time, increasing lever length, adding instability, adding more momentum, and moving from bilateral to unilateral," she says. Essentially, the possibilities are endless. The best part about pole, in her opinion? "It's easy to keep progressing in both a strength and aerobic capacity."
Not forgetting the mental health benefits, of course - Donbavand confirms that it promises to improve your mental strength, too. "Mentally it takes a lot of focus - it requires you to be present in the room, so can be a great way of switching off and forgetting about everything for an hour."
Do note here: I learnt that as you progress past the foundational courses, you'll need a mixture of training sessions to continue to see the same amount of progress as at the beginning.
What are the benefits of pole fitness?
Though Donbavand is passionate about the physical benefits that pole fitness can offer - think strength, flexibility, and improved cardio - she's keen to highlight the mental and emotional advantages, too.
"Confidence is a huge benefit," she tells me. "Most people show up to their first class quite covered up." By the end, she continues, they'll often be wearing less clothing, having learnt that this means your skin can better grip the pole and in turn, improve your tricks and performance. Letting go of this physical baggage can be a great way to forget the emotional, too. "The little things we all worry about really melt away," she adds.
Her favourite thing about being an instructor is seeing someone's face when they achieve a trick or position they thought they couldn't do. "The joy is just unmatched - it's so contagious. It may take some time, but just because you haven't done it, doesn't mean you can't."
Fayola Timberlake who runs She Can Empower agrees on the mental health front, adding: "Pole fitness empowers women by boosting their confidence through its focused and disciplined technique. It builds your physical, emotional, and psychological wellness and wellbeing, while also providing a nourishing and enriching experience that promises to make you feel comfortable in your own skin."
- Improved cardio health
- Improved strength
- Improved flexibility
- Boosted mental and emotional strength.
How did I find pole fitness for beginners?
As a fan of weight training, gym classes, and as someone (reasonably) able in a yoga class, I felt fairly confident that I'd be able to pick up pole quickly. I like trying different workouts and testing my fitness.
One thing, however, that has historically made me cringe beyond belief is any form of fitness relating to dancing or - god forbid - sexy dancing. That said, imbued with the kind of over-the-top I Will Survive energy that only a rather unexpected and painful dose of heartbreak could bring, I decided pole fitness for beginners was just what I needed.
Spoiler alert: I was right. As a pole fitness for beginners course specifically tailored to those just starting out, the classes at She Can Empower were a mixture of tricks and routines. Each week the class would consist of:
- A warm-up
- A skill and tricks section
- A routine and choreography section
- A well-deserved cooldown.
From the get-go, it was pretty clear that this sport was no joke. Alongside my fellow classmates, I was normally drenched in sweat before the warm-up was even done. And that's before we'd even attempted to get on the pole, which I'll tell you for free, I was absolutely terrible at it initially.
Despite feeling pretty rubbish about myself and my ability, my classmates gave me the confidence boost I needed to laugh and work through it - after all, we were all beginners trying something new together. Come the end of week one, I'd been reminded that there's nothing wrong with failing - that it's an essential part of learning, growing, and developing in all parts of our lives.
This is why I decided to give pole fitness a go in the first place and was pleasantly surprised that I wasn't alone in this personal mission. One of my classmates, Makeda Peter, explained that for her, "trying pole fitness for beginners was all about getting comfortable about being uncomfortable learning a new skill." She adds, "don’t let anyone tell you otherwise - pole dancing is seriously hard work and demands a lot of strength and skill."
She's not kidding - week two is a firm reminder of how much there is to consider for each move, including hand placement, momentum, whether your toes are pointed or flexed, and which foot goes in front of which. This takes a lot of focus and determination, which I found super challenging, but also rewarding as I saw myself improving week-on-week.
Week three and the classes had already noticeably started to improve both my mental and physical health. The workouts were strenuous and my Fitbit (which, IMO, is one of the best fitness trackers you can buy) did a great job of notifying me that my heart rate was getting right up into the cardio zone with each session.
Come the end of the first month and I'd nailed what to wear to a pole class, too. I learned fairly quickly that less is more, largely because you need your skin to grip the pole. If you're a sweaty person like me, it's worth bringing a towel to dry your hands and investing in some liquid chalk for extra grip.
Carrying on my six-week mission, as we learned more tricks and skills, I continued to notice my progression. The more I learnt, the less self-conscious I felt about trying to be co-ordinated or learn choreography. My confidence and ability grew massively, and it didn't matter at what rate - the classes made me realise that I no longer cared about looking silly or what others might think of my low-level skills.
By my final session, I'd developed a serious respect for the strength and athleticism of pole dancers, not to mention the multi-faceted benefits of the sport (it's without doubt one of the best full body workouts I've ever tried).
My classmate Peter agrees, echoing that sentiment. "I have a newfound respect for pole dancers," she shares. "Despite the pain and bruising that all beginners have to endure, pole dancing makes you feel strong and sexy when you master a move or a new sequence. It emboldens confidence and a can-do attitude."
Ahead of the course, I'd been informed about the amount of skill, strength, and training involved in pole fitness. What I didn't realise is the incredible boost the exercise would have on my mental health, emotional well-being, and self-confidence. In a time when I was gripped with post-heartache melancholia and really struggling with my self-worth, pole helped me reconnect to myself in a warm, encouraging, and supportive environment.
Shop my pole fitness essentials
How do you start pole dancing for beginners?
The best place to start, according to our experts, is by booking in to a specific pole fitness for beginners class. There, a qualified instructor will show you the ropes, provide the right equipment, and ensure you have all the right tools to successfully start your pole journey.
Top tips, having tried it for six weeks: take a towel if you get sweaty, invest in some liquid chalk for extra grip, and be ready to get your heart rate up. It's quite the workout.
If you want full support, style, comfort, and cool prints - this sports bra is an absolute must. The front zip detail means getting in and out of it is as easy as pie - which will be especially helpful to your aching post-pole arms.
Whether sweaty hands are something you experience while working out or not - there's a good chance your hands will be absolutely dripping during an intense pole class. Liquid chalk helps increase grip while also reducing sweat. This magi stuff can help you get up that pole as quick as you'd like, without all the slipping.
Something that becomes apparent fairly quickly is the importance of having as much skin as possible out to grip the pole. These shorts are ideal for allowing you to make the most of the grip offered by your lovely legs and they're super comfortable too!
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Aoife is a writer and editor.
She's an Irish journalist and writer with a background in creative writing, comedy, and TV production.
Currently, she's a Junior News Editor at woman&home. Formerly Aoife was a contributing writer at Bustle and her words can be found in the Metro, Huffpost, Delicious, Imperica, EVOKE and her poetry features in the Queer Life, Queer Love anthology.
Outside of work you might bump into her at a garden center, charity shop, yoga studio, lifting heavy weights, or (most likely) supping/eating some sort of delicious drink/meal.
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