Flexibility plays as an important role as strength in pole dancing. Flexibility is what allows an individual, in our case a pole dancer, to bend or extend to a maximum range of motion, without causing any injury to their body. Part of your training as a pole dancer should include regular stretching sessions which aim at increasing both your active and passive flexibility. Both are necessary in pole dancing to achieve beautiful moves. This post explains what is active flexibility and what is passive flexibility and why they are both important.
What is active flexibility ?
When stretching any part of your body, it is important to understand what you are asking your body to perform and how you are making it do so.
Active flexibility is sometimes also referred to as mobility. It is what allows you to go to a maximum range of motion by actively engaging the muscles when stretching. When using your active flexibility, you are not using any external forces such as your hands, stretching bands or a wall to help you get into a move. It is your muscles and strength which are accomplishing the task.
Active flexibility requires strength and more energy than passive flexibility.
It also gives you more control on the move you are trying to achieve and has less chance of causing injury as it will only make you go to your maximum level of comfort.
Passive flexibility relies on external forces to allow you to go to a maximum range of motion. It is also usually referred to simply as flexibility.
Doing the front splits on the floor is a simple example of passive flexibility. The floor is acting as an external force pushing against your legs and is helping you to get into your maximum range of motion.
Passive flexibility can also be achieved by using other external forces such as a wall, stretching bands, another person or your hands, to stretch and extend your body.
When working on your passive flexibility, it is important to know your limits. Overstretching can more easily happen in passive stretching causing injury and slowing down your progress. Do not stretch until you feel pain and remember to avoid engaging the muscles in passive stretching.
Passive flexibility helps to increase the range of motion and is important to progress in your active flexibility. It uses less energy and requires less strength than active flexibility. It is also best worked out when cooling down after a work out or pole training session. After a workout, the muscles are warm and will have less chance of being torn or injured.
Should you feel pain when stretching ?
While I tend to agree to the saying “No pain, no gain”, when it comes to stretching and flexibility training, I would say it is not necessarily true. It all depends on how you identify the pain.
It is indeed important to know your limits when stretching. It is no secret that stretching does hurt and feels uncomfortable and painful. But how painful is too painful ?
When you are stretching, you should feel the stretch. The deeper you get into a move, the more you will feel the stretch.
But how do you know when you should stop getting deeper and hold it ? Or how do you know when to stop holding and release ?
Effective stretching does feel uncomfortable and sometimes painful. It is important to remember to always breathe, slowly and deeply when stretching.
Always slowly increase the depth of your stretch. What I mean is for example, if you are working on your front splits, your first exercise is not going to be getting in your maximum splits straight away. You will be starting by stretching your hamstrings and hip flexors. You will then start doing baby splits, getting a little deeper each time and then you will get into your maximum splits and hold them.
During the whole process, breathing is very important. While the stretch feels uncomfortable and painful, the moment you feel like you are struggling to breathe or you are losing balance, is when you have reached your limit and you avoid getting deeper.
When holding a move, start by holding 30 seconds, focusing on the right technique (pointed toes or flexed feet, straight knees, etc) while maintaining your breathing. If you feel that it is too uncomfortable or painful for you to breathe, deeply and calmly, it means it is too much. Release and have a rest before starting again.
You can gradually then increase the duration you are holding the move. I personally do not hold a stretch longer than 1 minute. But I know some training can ask to hold longer. Just listen to your body and know your limits.
Examples of Active flexibility VS Passive flexibility
Passive flexibility. Using the floor as an external force to push against the legs.
Active flexibility engaging the leg’s muscles to lift the leg up. Not relying on any external force.
In this example of active flexibility vs passive flexibility, you can see thatfor the same stretch, my active flexibility maximum range of motion is less than my passive flexibility maximum range of motion. This means that with more active flexibility training, I will be able to have the leg up straight.
Passive flexibility using the hand to pull and hold the leg up.
Jade is a beautiful split move on the pole which uses both active and passive flexibility. On one leg, you are using your arm to pull and extend (passive flexibillity) and the other leg is using it’s muscles to push downwards (active flexibility)
On the left, passive flexibility, using the hands to push the body away from the floor and bend the lower back. On the right, active flexibility, using the back muscles to lift up the upper body.
Benefits of flexibility
As a pole dancer, being flexible will certainly make you achieve beautiful move sand shapes on the pole but having a flexible body also provides the following physical benefits :
- Prevents injury
- Reduced muscle pain and aches
- Less muscle cramps
- Improved posture and balance
- Increased range of motion for better movement performance
- Mental and physcial relaxation
As part of your pole dancing journey, flexibility training is as important as building strength. Make sure to have regular flexibility training which work on increasing both your active and passive flexibility.