Today, you’ll learn about pole abs, which is a common exercise in pole that strengthens your core and helps you achieve your pole dreams.
This exercise is commonly taught in studios, but it can be done anywhere you have a pole. If you don’t have a pole at home, your grip can easily be modified for a pull-up bar so you can squeeze a few in at the gym. Overall, pole abs are excellent conditioning exercises to add to any warmup routine.
What Are Pole Abs?
There are three types of pole abs: the Tuck, the Pike, and the Straddle.
If you want to dive right into the “How” instead of learning about the major abdominal muscles and their purpose, go straight to the How to Do Pole Abs section.
Pole abs are a wonderful thing. They might be frustrating and hard in the beginning, but they’re essential to building a strong and tight core. Not only does this give you the foundational strength needed to progress in your pole journey, but you’ll feel like a beast when you’re able to bust out 15 or 20 pole abs in a row without breaking a sweat.
A strong and stable core is essential for so many things in pole, as gravity is constantly fighting your body along the way. Especially in moves where you have 1-2 points of contact, your body will naturally want to rotate in towards the pole and the floor.
Take inverting for example, or a one-handed chair spin, or superman. Without a strong core, these moves look sloppy and haphazard at best, and at worst, you have a chance to injure yourself through improper technique and poor muscle engagement. Pole abs can help you achieve that stable core, keeping you upright and your technique perfected. As a bonus, core exercises are one of the key steps to a nice toned, flat belly!
Now, pole abs aren’t end-all-be-all of conditioning exercises, but they’re certainly a cornerstone for many studios and pole conditioning routines.
Learning Your Abdominal Muscles
What is the point of our abdominal muscles, anyway?
Our abdominal muscles aren’t meant to rotate our body or necessarily aid in movement. Abdominal muscles are there to stabilize our body, helping keep our organs, spine, and pelvis in place as we move.
Think of your abdominal muscles – often referred to as the abs or core – as a strong column or tree trunk that links the upper and lower body together. Almost all bodily movement comes from the core. The abdominal and back muscles together work to support the spine and pelvis when sitting, standing, bending over, dancing in those 8-inch heels, or performing aerial tricks on the pole.
Contrary to popular belief, “sucking in your gut” won’t activate your core. If you aren’t familiar with body mechanics or athletic sports before starting pole, it can be tough even to know which muscles you’re activating and if they’re the right ones. There’s only so much someone can see from the outside, so it’s up to you to know how to “tighten that core” when your instructor tells you!
There are five major muscle groups to our abdominal muscles, and other minor muscles come from the legs and lower back to help support and stabilize your body. A strong, tight core will allow you to move through exercises and other motions easily as your body needs to. Not every muscle will be activated all the time, and often, dynamic movements like many in pole dancing require different muscles to be activated at different steps.
Below is a quick summary of these major muscle groups to help you understand how to activate them.
This muscle holds the shape of your abdomen and helps keep your organs in place, stabilizing your pelvis and lower back. It is located underneath the obliques. This muscle helps activate the rest of your core muscles and the necessary muscles for breathing. It runs from the pubic bone, past the frontal hip bones, to the bottom of the ribcage.
To activate this muscle, imagine you’re bracing your abs, tightening against someone who is about to gut-punch you. It’s probably not a pretty image, but it’s an easy way to describe where the muscle is. You should feel your pelvic floor engage, and your lower abs towards the outside should feel tight and engaged. If you’ve ever done a passe flag on the pole, that tightness as you lift yourself up will be your obliques, and underneath them, your transversus abdominis.
This muscle group resides on each side of the rectus abdominis. They stretch from the hipbones to the bottom of your ribcage. The external obliques aid in twisting and bending movements to the right and left, as well as helping you flex forward in a crunch motion. The opposite side muscle always activates to help you move, so if you bend to the right, your left external oblique will contract. The external and internal obliques moving together makes one complete motion.
These muscles are located just underneath the external obliques. They stretch from the hipbones to the bottom of your ribcage. The internal obliques aid in twisting and bending movements to the right and left, as well as helping you flex forward in a crunch motion, just like your external obliques. The same side muscle always activates to help you move, so if you bend to the right, your right internal oblique will contract. The external and internal obliques moving together completes the motion.
To activate these muscles, try to steady and tighten your abs. Bend to one side; as your body tries to stay balanced, you’ll notice your external obliques helping you control the motion by providing resistance upwards on the opposite side, and your internal obliques helping you control the motion downwards on the same side.
This muscle is situated between the ribs and the pubic bone at the very front of the pelvis. If you are toned and fit, you may recognize this layer as the ridges that make up a 6-pack. The primary function of this muscle group is to aid in movement between the ribcage and the pelvis.
To activate this muscle, try to steady and tighten your abs towards the inside, tightening towards your belly button. This also engages the muscles surrounding the diaphragm, which lies between your floating ribs.
This muscle group acts like a sling, holding your organs in place and stabilizing your pelvis so you can move your body around freely. Fun fact – this is the same muscle that helps keep you from wetting your pants. This muscle connects from the pubic bone to the tailbone, and surrounds the good bits down there.
Considering how deep this muscle is, it’s hard to know whether you’re actively engaging it or not, and many of us tense this muscle without even realizing it during times of stress or fright. Imagine you are walking into a cold lake or trying to stop yourself from peeing. That tightness or pressure underneath is the activation of your pelvic floor muscles.
CONDITIONING TIP: Always remember, while a strong core is necessary, only training your core without training your upper and lower back, you may find your shoulders begin to slump, and your standing posture degrade. This is the result of a muscular imbalance.
A strong core will pull your body forward, and a strong back will pull your body back. Just as it’s important to train the left and right side while poling, it’s important to train your core and back to achieve a necessary balance.
Now that you’ve learned about the different parts of your core and how to properly activate and engage those muscles, we’ll dive into how to do pole abs. Always remember to engage your core throughout these exercises!
If this is your first time doing pole abs, it’s best to start from the floor. Pole abs will help you strengthen the major muscle groups required for inverting. If you’re a little more advanced, you can try aerial pole abs by climbing the pole and getting into your stronghold grip in the air. If you’ve never aerial inverted before but want to try aerial pole abs, start with only one climb, so you’re off the ground, but not too high up.
Get into your stronghold grip as if you’re getting ready to invert. Keep your hips in front of the pole, whether you’re on the ground or aerial. If you’re on the ground, make sure you are on your tip-toes or the ball of your foot. This will give you all the needed room to complete the motion fluidly.
Don’t let your toes touch the floor until the set is done, or if you need to reset and re-grip the pole. Never jump into a pole ab – you’ll lose all of the benefit and potential put strain on your body.
TIP: Always keep your toes pointed and engaged – if you’re not sure how to do this, see our article on How to Point Your Toes and Achieve a Better Arch.
To do the tuck pole ab from the starting position, bring your legs – knees tucked together – as far up to your chest as you can. Repeat five times, then move on to the next type.
To do a pike pole ab, keeping your knees and ankles together, bring your legs out straight in front of you. Keep your legs engaged and tight through this motion, push through your knees – engaged legs and pointed toes are the goal here!
Getting comfortable with this motion will help you achieve a straight-leg invert. Your legs should be hip height, parallel to the floor as if you were sitting down with your legs straight.
Repeat five times, then move onto the next type.
To do the straddle pole ab, bring your legs out in a wide straddle. Your legs should come up at the same time, and remember to keep your legs engaged and tight throughout the motion.
Your legs should be hip height, parallel to the floor as if you were sitting down with your legs in a straddle. Keep your legs in a straddle from the moment you begin moving until you reset for the next rep. Bringing your legs up in a pike and then splitting to a straddle is cheating!
Repeat five times.
If you took the time to read the entire article and you’ve learned something about your muscles today, then let us know! Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
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