It might be hard to wrap your mind around — not to mention your arms, legs and spine.
But pole dancing has become a fitness fad right up there with Zumba and CrossFit, providing a high-intensity, low-impact all-around workout.
At the recent International Pole Convention in New Orleans, attendees said pole fitness combines cardio and strength training — without being a bore.
For those with joint issues or arthritis, trainers say the pole can increase blood flow, flexibility and mobility.
Dakota Fox, owner of Aradia Fitness in Cary, North Carolina, one of the convention’s “pole stars” and a self-described tomboy, found pole dancing through her mother, who saw it on “Oprah.”
Fox, a police officer, wanted a steady exercise routine, but had difficulty finding a workout that kept her interest.
“(Pole) really keeps your attention,” she said after teaching an hour-long advanced class called Power Tricks.
“With pole, it’s a whole body workout, but you can do really acrobatic stuff. It also leads the way to so much more, like dancing, essential movements and doing something that gets you out of a rut.”
Typical classes begin with a yoga and Pilates fusion warm-up, which helps strengthen flexibility and promotes blood flow.
Then the pole is used in different ways for exercise.
“Pole-ups” are similar to the traditional pull-up, but ask the exerciser to pull themselves up the height of the pole. Exercisers eventually learn to work their way all the way up the pole.
This activity is paired with spins and other moves that can include many different transitions and tricks.
What’s most important, said many instructors, is that the teacher works with the participant at their own pace so that eventually he or she can flip upside down, hang on by one foot or attempt other inventive and challenging exercises.
The social aspect of the exercise draws people in as well.
Relationships grow at studios and via social media, and many of the conference attendees knew each other through the Internet long before meeting face-to-face.
“We’re still a small community, but close-knit and supportive,” said Karol Helms, a 13-year pole dancer, “pole star” and teacher of the course called “Drop It Like It’s Hot.”
“You know, if a lady gets her first fireman spin, the whole class gets up and cheers. It’s a very supportive atmosphere, and we all encourage and support each other to work hard and accept our bodies no matter the kind of body you’re living in,” Helms said.
Anne Reed is the founder and owner of Pole Pro Fitness, a New Orleans-based studio. For the past eight years, Reed has focused on pole dancing as her fitness routine and opened her business in 2009.
Starting with a handful of steady students once a week, she now hosts more than 30 students who come back multiple days a week, all with different fitness goals and life stories.
“There is no typical student in there,” she said. “I get all walks of life, shapes, sizes and fitness levels, and you can modify it so it really is for everybody.
“Everyone thinks you have to be 20, small and have a dance or fitness background,” she said, “but you really don’t. I didn’t have a dance or fitness background, and I’m entering my first competition soon.”
The supportive atmosphere of the studio brings students back, she said.
“Sometimes we joke and say it’s pole therapy,” Reed said, “because you’re in there with like-minded people who listen to you vent while you’re working out, they hold you accountable, don’t laugh at you when you mess up and want you to succeed. It’s another form of release aside from the workout.”