Video entry to the competition
Success in Pole Sports calls for a high degree of dedication and athleticism. International Pole Sports competitors undertake four to six hours of daily physical training, six days per week in order to prepare for a competitive event. For top athletes, a typical training day involves a range of supportive disciplines that are taken alongside Pole Sports including gymnastics, agility, flexibility, strength, and choreography.
The most rapid developments in pole, as a sport have taken place within the last four years since the conception of the London based, International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF). Subsequently, over twenty-five endorsed national Pole Sports competitions, including the South African National Pole Sports Competition have been created as under the banner of the IPSF.
In spite of the lack of funding available to this newly established discipline, national federations continue to strive for Pole Sports to be recognised by their respective Olympic Committees, as well as by the general public.
South African Pole Sports athlete Benita Bouwer is about to represent her country in the Masters 40yrs+ Division at the fourth World Pole Sports Championships in London this July. Bouwer will be among 200 other international Pole Sports athletes taking part in the event. Partially funded by the South African Pole Sports Federation, Bouwer will be travelling to the UK with fellow SA Pole Sports athletes Tammy Smith and Melanie Martin, who will also be competing.
Benita Bouwer’s success story is an impressive one, as you might expect. She currently ranks number one in the world in her division and she is among the top twelve athletes across all divisions. Bouwer achieved this ranking having won at the SA National Pole Sports Competition in Pretoria this April.
Bouwer’s fellow athletes, students and friends will be able to tell you that she is selfless with an extremely admirable sense of sportsmanship. She continues to impress us with her strength, talent and virtuosity.
South Africa will be rooting for Benita Bouwer on 25th and 26th July at the IPSF World Pole Sports Championships 2015 in London.
Interview with Benita Bouwer
How did your journey in pole sports get started?
By day I work in accounts. Everybody knows what they say about Type A personalities! So every once in a while, I force myself to step out of my comfort zone and do something out of the ordinary. It was during one of these moments, and out of pure curiosity that a couple of friends and I decided to see what pole dancing was all about. The allure was without a doubt the mysterious and the unknown. Classes back then were mostly based on the sensual side of dancing. The following week was the first Pole competition in South Africa, as we watched the performances I knew that I wanted to be part of taking this art/ sport to another level. This was the closest full body workout, and suited my training as a ballet dancer. The rest, as they say, was history. I completed instructor’s training and opened Pole Physiques Studio.
So much has been said about the two sides to pole dancing, sports/fitness Vs art/dance. I believe that the pole industry is big enough to cater for the specific requirements of the individual, whether it is the more sensual side of pole or the more athletic approach. At our studio our aim is to build strong, confident people to be the best that they can be.
How does it feel to be representing South Africa as a pole sports athlete at the World Pole Sports Championships?
Without any doubt it is an incredible honour to represent one’s country. It was the most surreal feeling when I saw my passport read “Sportsperson”.
Whether you are a dancer or an athlete it is pretty much the same thing, pushing your body to its physical limit and having a good psychological mind to back you up. Regardless of whether you are performing to an audience of 10 people, or for a couple of thousand, you still give your best.
With that honour comes greater responsibility: to make your family, friends and students proud, but it is also heartfelt knowing the entire country is rooting for team SA.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to get where you are today?
Weather conditions, it is cold training in the winter months. Financial constraints, (the exchange rate makes competing internationally an expensive excursion), political fears, grip on pole and dealing with injuries. These are all real challenges that we face on a daily basis.
Trying to sustain a good balance in life: Time management. Work, family, friends, house hold chores and training. There is little balance…. My family is short of making an appointment to see me. Your pole family become your friends when you are training for a competition. It is a challenge putting yourself up against athletes who are able to train full time.
By far the biggest obstacle for me is the Psychological aspect: Losing your mojo, striving to be a perfectionist, paying attention to people and not paying attention to the right people. We often compare ourselves to other dancers, and yes, there will always be someone stronger than you, more flexible than you, athletes who are more courageous to perform the crazy dynamic tricks, some dancers with the most creative innovative ideas… we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. I focus on my strengths and try and improve on the areas that require more attention.
Competition time is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. One day you feel strong like a bull and can do deadlifts and feel as lift as a feather, the next day even the basic moves makes you feel heavy. There are times when I feel that I have nailed a good solid combination and as soon as I add one more move then it feels like I have to go back to square one with the combo. I will have a good couple of moments where I find myself thinking, “Oooh my, what did I let myself in for” and, “yes, I can do this” and lately “ I am getting too old for this”.
I will watch footage of my dance a hundred times, change this arm there, hit that beat there, add this move there, fix that angle there. I have never done a dance where I can sit back and think that was the perfect dance. I always strive to do better, and yes, I am my own worst crit, but at the end of the day I only have four minutes on stage, so I want to make sure every single second counts!
I think if we all believe a little more in ourselves, that confidence will shine through in our performances. You see someone walking onto stage brimming with confidence and it makes the dance so much more enjoyable to watch.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
I have achieved some titles and I have been humbled by some experiences. Previous experiences are a driving force for me to do even better and try even harder next time! Being nominated by Pole World News for the “Representing” award – the most positive role model in the pole and Aerial community. This stands out as this nomination reflects solely on my character as person.
As an instructor, when your students work hard and reap the rewards, more than that, you know you have played a little a small part to make them love the stage and walked, cried, laughed with them during their journeys to become dancers and confident women.
As a Judge , the trust and respect the organisers and participants place in you to utilise your skills honed over many years to give the best account of their performance.
As an athlete my most memorable performance to date was Aragog, This was my spider dance that I performed at NPSC (South Africa) 2015, qualifying me to compete in World Pole Sports Championships in the UK this July. It instilled a sense that I am good enough, and that I do belong on an international stage.
What is your biggest inspiration and motivation?
There are many factors and athletes/artists who inspire, it can be anything form finally conquering a fear of a certain move that you have been practising for months. It can be your students, it could be an incredible clip on YouTube, or a piece of music where you just see all the moves unfold in your mind’s eye…even reading a quote that resonates well within you.
I am motivated by a fear of failure. I am motivated to not let of letting myself down and not doing my creation justice. You have to step out of your box to grow as an athlete, explore new techniques, grips, moves that is not in your everyday vocabulary. Sometimes they pay off handsomely and worth the risk, other times, maybe they needed a little bit more time or courage. Sometimes things don’t turn out exactly as you have hope, so you pick yourself up, and try again.
How do you create a winning routine? What is the starting point for the creation of a new piece?
I will ascertain what competition I want to enter and become familiar with the specific requirements of that competition: Are there compulsory moves, music and or grip restrictions, props … etc…? Some competitions are based mainly on athleticism and others on performance artistry.
1.) I will decide on what I would like the audience to take away from my performance. Whether I want to make them laugh, make a statement, tell a story or just a dance from the soul, a purely entertainment point of view.
2.) Choose my music, and listen to it. You have to love your music, it has to stir within you. If you listen to your music and after the 20th time you grow tired of it, then you know it isn’t the right piece. Imagine running your combos and dance for the umpteenth time and it doesn’t inspire you anymore. When you feel nervous before you walk onto stage, you need to listen to the familiar notes of your music and everything will just fall into place. I also have a playlist handy, when I hear a good song I write it down, when the time comes to conceptualise an idea for a new dance I go through this playlist. In my opinion, music counts for 50% of the dance.
3.) Once I have decided on THE song, I calibrate my counts: intro 1-8, beginning 1-8,chorus 1-8 etc. I write down every move, arms, head for every single count.
Many dancers will listen only to beats, or phrases or certain words and try and “hit” those notes… more often than not, this occurs after you actually hear the note, and so the drama of the move is not as heightened as it could be when you are actually in time with the music.
4.) I make a list of my favourite moves, if I use moves that I have done in a previous routine I will try and spice it up by changing the combination, or by changing the move to make it my own, I always try to bring something fresh to a dance that includes some new moves, that I then incorporate into combination. Pole is ever evolving with new moves are being created on a daily basis. It is a certain way to ensure that you keep the audience on the edge of their seats and that you expand your pole vocabulary.
5.) When I listen to my music I will hear the good accents or phrases in the music, those I reserve for the big moves… I close my eyes and visualise. Once I have decided on the pole combinations, I will add the floor/stage work and work on smoothing out transitions between all the combinations I have created.
Then I will put a pole together and the next pole…
When the majority of the choreography is done I will run one pole, clean another pole, and consistently try to perfect the combos.
6.) By the time that I run my whole routine, I will reel in some of my peers, my pillars, to come and help fine tune, whether it be facial expressions and finer details, like angles. They have a good eye for attention to detail, they observe my dance with fresh eyes and apart from all of them being incredible dancers they are also very good polers, so they understand the demands of pole moves. They (my peers) are from a certain calibre that I do not question their advice, I might know what a certain move feels like but they see it like the audience and judges would. Pole Sports like Ballet and gymnastics, it is a visual art, it all comes down to flawless lines and beautiful shapes, crispy clean.
7.) In between I will work on ideas for my costume and props, this is like putting icing on the cake, or colour to a painting. I find it very therapeutic to sit and do the final touches on my costume or plan my lights or play with different hairstyles that will enhance my theme. If you look like a million dollars then you feel like a million dollars. I pay attention to my nails, hair, costume, make up so that at the end of the day all the puzzle pieces fit perfectly and gets me into character.
These are my building blocks for a solid routine.
How would you describe your performance style?
I do not want to be type cast. I want to bring something to the audience…and make them remember long after the night is over.
I asked my dear friend and acclaimed dancer Dina De Vine to describe my style: Elegant, lyrical, musical, flexible, classic lines, good mix of strength and flexibility, polished, artistic.
Heheheh… she is a good friend!
What are your favourite stretches? Why?
My background as a ballet dancer called for a daily stretching, it is like saying good morning to all your muscles – I can stretch for hour. I don’t have the body of a 20 year old anymore, so I take even more care preparing my body for class or routines. After a tough session, when my body is tired and feeling it all over, I always feel more mobile after stretching.
For pole: I focus on legs, back and shoulders as those areas require a greater range of movement.
I don’t go without my swimming cap to start warming up at the feet. I also need my foam roller, a good back roll where you can pressure release some knots, and then I move on the core and legs, the roller allows for overstretch.
I will always do upper body last, shoulder necks and arms with a rubber band, and then do a couple of warm ups on the pole.
What diet tips do you have for an aspiring pole sports athlete?
I do not believe in diets. I see many people taking part in a competition and go on this diet or cut out certain food groups a couple of weeks prior to the event. A healthy lifestyle is a lot more manageable and easier to maintain.
Coming from someone with a sweet tooth, I had to find healthy alternatives that satisfies my taste buds, so that at no point do I feel deprived, which is what I believe causes people to binge. I don’t do sugar or fizzy juice, or bread.
I have a really fast metabolism…. Thank goodness, as I snack ALL the time!
What advice would you give to ladies who say they are too old to start training or to start pole fitness classes?
This one boils right down to attitude.
A million excuses Vs one good reason why! Be it to shed unwanted weight, the social aspect by meeting new people, cultivate a better self-esteem or perhaps to become a world champion. As long as you have a clean bill of health, go take a pole for a spin. Be warned, Pole is not for sissies!
Short term. I will be competing at Worlds Pole Sports Championships this month my aim is to stay on the pole.
Long term .To be so blessed that I can live for and by my passion daily.
Life time achiever’s award. I want to be strong like the Evgeny Greshilovs and Saulo Sarmientos, and Flexible like those darn Russians! I want to clone little Tammy Smiths that we can train, and judge.
Then when I am 80, my walker will guide me to the pole, and once I reach it, I fly.
Benita placed 2nd at WPSC15 40+ Masters. Watch her performance here:
Lower Back Pain and Pole Fitness
Many people who participate in pole fitness experience lower back pain. Lower back pain may be experienced after practicing certain pole fitness moves or as more of a long-term problem.
This article will take a look at some of the causes of lower back pain, as well as practical applications to prevent lower back pain interfering with your pole progress.
This article is not a substitute for professional, medical diagnosis and treatment. If you have concerns about your back problem or an injury, you should visit your doctor or physiotherapist for a physical assessment before continuing with any exercises.
The spine is made up of 33 vertebrae in total.
As you can see there are 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae, 5 lumbar vertebrae, 5 sacral vertebrae, 4 coccygeal vertebrae. Each section of the vertebrae has its own structure and function. Notably the lower back is flexible, allowing for a lot of movement, and it carries the weight of the whole upper body. Lumbar vertebrae L4-L5 & L5-S1 carry the most weight and have the most movement, making the area prone to injury.
The upper back (T1-T12) has the potential for mobility, but compared to the lumbar spine it is quite rigid and strong, giving support to the vital organs in the thorax (chest).
There are many muscles that make up the lower back, supporting and connecting with the lumbar vertebrae.
All of these muscles are prone to strain and injury. When the lower back goes into spasm these muscles are reacting to over exertion by contracting and stiffening to prevent further dangerous movement. If muscle spasms are being caused by an underlying weakness, the spasms will persist until these weaknesses are addressed.
Lower back pain is experienced by sedentary individuals as well as by athletes. Long periods of sitting down, poor posture and excess weight are typical I sedentary individuals. In athletes and physically active people, weight-bearing activities, rapid dynamic movements, jumping, running, over flexion and over extension can cause tension and pain in the lower back.
Tightness in the hip flexors and hamstrings are known causes of lower back problems. There are many muscles and tendons that make up the hip flexors, but the one that has the strongest pull and most compressive effect on the lumbar spine is the iliopsoas (iliacus and poas). The Iliopsoas attaches directly to the lumbar spine (& T12), applying a strong force to this vulnerable area of the back.
Tight hamstrings (semitendonosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris), although not connected to the spine, are also culprits in lower back pain. Short, tight and weak hamstring muscles will exhibit much more pull, tension and fatigue on the lumbar spine and pelvis as they are no longer as efficient at relaxing and lengthening at the times needed during exertion.
When hip flexors and hamstrings pull on the spine and pelvis with increased force and tension. This can cause too much movement and compression on the spine and discs. They become progressively worn over time and may lead to disc and vertebral problems.
A lack of flexibility in the hamstrings will force the lower back deeper into flexion, possibly causing over exertion to the lumbar spine, during forward folding movements.
Underuse of the abdominal muscles and overuse of the hip flexors is also a common contributor to lower back pain, especially for those doing pole fitness.
Exercises to activate the deeper abdominal muscles are recommended not only to improve pole technique, but also to increase strength and prevent lower back pain. If the abdominal muscles are stronger and know when to activate, they could take some of the weight off the hip flexors. The lumbar spine will therefore not be so heavily loaded during leg lifting movements.
More about lower back pain that is experienced in pole fitness:
Combining your 9-5 with pole! Tightness of the hamstrings and hip flexors is exacerbated by long periods of sitting down. When sitting down at the office, in the car or at home, the hamstrings and hip flexors are starved of good circulation and become stiff and unresponsive.
A thorough warm up and stretch is vital to get the body ready for all manner of pole fitness manoeuvres. Whether you need your hip flexors and abs to work seamlessly in leg lifting moves, or you want to do more extreme moves involving splitting and back-bending, you need to have supple, strong and efficient hip flexors to prevent unnecessary curvature and strain on the lower back.
The issue of tightened hip flexors, including the quadriceps, is further compounded by the fact that we use the hip flexors so much in pole fitness movements. In some moves we use both sides equally because both legs need to lift. In other moves we are required to use one side more than the other. This can create an imbalance in the pelvis and lower back, making this area more vulnerable to injury. Again, see photo above on ‘Hip flexion examples in pole fitness’.
Stretching the hip flexors is indicated to prevent them from becoming too tight and rigid. Improving the blood flow and suppleness of the hip flexors by stretching will increase their efficiency and in no way compromise their strength. When stretching the hip flexors squeeze your glutes (butt), push your hips forward and down and squeeze in your abdominal muscles. Otherwise, when you stretch, you are most likely to be exploiting the naturally more flexible and bendy area in the lower back, and not your hip flexors.
Don’t let it all hang out! Engage your core muscles while stretching and exercising. The nature of pole fitness exercises is that you are continually required to lift a relatively heavy weight – yourself. You want to be sure to recruit all of the muscles in your body that can assist with each movement.
The core muscles concerning the stability of the lower back consist of the transversus abdominis muscle, diaphragm and pelvic floor. Maintaining a sense of bodily self-awareness is difficult to do during the execution of a difficult pole move. Therefore, before heading up the pole, see if you can locate your core. Lie down on a firm surface, bend your knees and hips so you are lying comfortably on your back with your knees up and your feet shoulder width apart. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed. Concentrate on breathing into the sides of your ribcage and not expanding your abdomen. On exhaling focus on ‘drawing up’ from the pelvic floor. Imagine that you wish to stop yourself going to the toilet however make sure you do not over use the other abdominal muscles- this would result in a ‘bulge’ rather that a tightening under you fingers.
To give strength to all of your pole moves, especially the more challenging ones, such as flag holds, be sure to consciously activate your core and maintain a good alignment.
Lack of thoracic mobility in polers! The thoracic spine (upper back) can become tighter and stronger as a result of pole fitness moves, lifting and crunching in the upper body, for example in Shouldermounts and Inverts. Lack of flexibility in the chest also contributes to an immobile upper back. Once again, long periods of sitting and poor posture further compound the issue of the tight upper back. Tightness in the upper back will prevent the upper back from being able to extend, during back-bending movements. Your lumbar spine will be forced to stretch beyond what it should. Having a stiff upper back is also a contributor to shoulder injury.
Strengthening for the rhomboids and trapezius muscles in the upper back, as well as stretching and mobilising this area will benefit your upper back and help prevent putting undue pressure on the lumbar spine during pole exercises.
See photos for exercises on ‘How to stretch and strengthen to prevent lower back pain (1-3)’ below.
This article is in no way a replacement for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is not possible to tell what the underlying cause of lower back pain is without a professional assessment. See your physiotherapist or doctor if you have back pain.
‘Spotting Pole Fitness’ by Sarah Brown & Tracey Simmonds for The Pole Studio #trainsafe #polesafe #teachsafe
One of the key responsibilities of the pole fitness instructor is spotting. We have summarised the key aspects of safe spotting technique below.
When to spot a student
A synonym for ‘spotting’ is ‘supporting’ ie NOT lifting students into moves but rather supporting them both physically and mentally when they are attempting move. If you are not willing to carry out the spot for any reason, it’s OK (and your responsibility) to say no.
Don’t be pressured by a student who wants to compromise on good technique in order to get into a move that they are not yet ready for. Students must be able to demonstrate their strength lifting up into and lowering down from a move with complete control. Most injuries occur when coming down from a move. This is either due to lack of muscle control, lack of focus or the student not knowing what to do to get down from a move.
Students will learn faster when they are not dependent on and do not have to be weaned from spotting. They will also build up their strength and muscle memory more effectively if they have to do the move themselves.
Have you done everything possible to enable your student to prepare physically ready for the move?
Every pole move can be conditioned, strengthened and rehearsed in a number of different ways, both on the floor and on the pole. A stronger and more able student is less likely to become injured when attempting new moves.
Students and instructors alike often underestimate what it means when we say ‘it takes time’ to master a new move. It is not possible to rush the physiological processes involved with developing a new skill. It can take years to develop the strength that is necessary for many pole techniques.
Neither the student nor the instructor will benefit from over reliance on spotting. Promoting self-awareness and a sense of responsibility in your students may be a more challenging process, but it will ultimately be much more rewarding.
However, there will be times when physically supporting a student is the best solution to help them achieve their goals. An example of this would be if a student has mastered getting up into an Ayesha but is not totally sure of the leg position. The spotter can hold their hips for extra support while the student masters lowering their legs into the correct position, which students can find scary at first.
It is not recommended for the spotter to support the entire weight of the student during a move (a full spot). This is why it is so important for the student’s ability to be assessed before carrying out a spot. Ensure that the student is able to perform many parts of the move or combination, before trying the next more difficult component, which may require some spotting.
The student should only attempt combinations of movements once each separate move has been mastered. A shouldermount to thighhold for example, should only be attempted when the student can execute both a super invert shouldermount (in other words a pencil shouldermount with their pelvis against the pole and straight legs) and a thighhold with a strong knee grip. Or a layback or leg release to brass monkey should only be attempted when a student can execute a layback, straight edge and brass monkey separately and confidently and get out of them safely themselves.
Once a student can execute part of the skill, the instructor only needs to spot in the area the student struggles with. The student eventually must perform the skill alone but will still need the spotter to stand by, ready to offer a hand, if necessary. When a student is almost ready to complete the skill alone, a light touch spot should be all that is needed.
Know your limits
Do not spot moves that you do not have detailed knowledge of. You need to be able to break down and explain exactly what your student needs to do before carrying out spotting. When attempting to spot for a move you do not fully understand, you run the risk of doing more harm than good.
Be very clear about your own spotting limitations and never exceed them. If you are unsure about how to spot a student in a particular move, do not do it. Always be aware of yourself, your students and their safety.
Remember sometimes spotting is more about supporting your student mentally than physically. Just knowing you are there can often really help. Your confidence and knowledge will instill confidence in your student.
Flips and Fonjis
The latest and most popular pole tricks ARE dangerous and require very specific spotting techniques. Momentum driven movements such as these require more than a light spot. Instructors who spot these moves do have to perform ‘full spots’, potentially taking the student’s full weight and assisting with the movement, at speed and against an increased force. Spotting for dynamic movements is much more risky and requires a high level of skill.
Safety when spotting is as much about the safety of the spotter as the student.
It is a good idea to practice spotting with another experienced instructor as a rehearsal of the skill required. This way you can get used to the timing of the move and how best to spot the moves you are going to teach. It is useful to practice communicating whilst spotting so you can feel competent and focused when it is time to carry out the technique with a student.
Make sure that you and your student are appropriately attired for the task. Consider clothing, shoes, jewellery or buckles that could potentially cause bodily damage.
Here are some basic guidelines for spotting during a pole fitness class.
Carry out a full risk assessment (studio, poles, surroundings, etc.)
Use a safety mat
Break down and teach the move very thoroughly and demonstrate the move many times
It is crucial for instructors to divide each pole trick into its separate components and identify safe and straightforward ways for the student to rehearse the skills. Students will therefore build strength and understanding of each pole trick and require minimal spotting assistance.
Students can practice the arm positions, and understand the leg, body positions and gripping points from the floor for each move before doing the move up the pole.
Every pole trick can be thoroughly broken down into its most basic components, no matter how complicated it is. It can take a lot of time for a student to learn a new trick. When students are required to understand all the necessary components of a trick it can be overwhelming.
Check the student’s understanding of the move
Assess the ability of the student performing parts of the skill required (watch them physically performing parts of the skill required)
Explain the risks to the student (that may occur during the spot)
Explain exactly how the student will enter and exit the move safely
Explain exactly what you will do as the spotter assisting the student
Ask for consent from the student before carrying out the spot
Communicate constantly with your student. This means giving ample explanation of the move throughout the spot. Good communication also refers to you listening, looking for cues and seeking feedback from your student. Ask the student questions to see if they are OK. Ask the student when they are ready to come down.
Maintain a good posture and stance. Use a widened stance with your feet just wider than shoulder width to create a larger base of stability.
Have one foot slightly forward of the other, bend your knees and keep them bent, to ensure you have a strong base.
Keep your back up straight and strong and maintain a tight core. You can tuck in your chin slightly to help keep your back straight.
Spot your student with supinated (open) hands/arms. Keep your arms and elbows close to the body whilst spotting.
Make sure you are at the correct height to spot. If your student is too high up the pole how are you going to reach them?
You need to keep close to your student and never twist your body whilst spotting.
Stand on a flat surface that it is free from obstructions. Be aware of your surroundings. If you are spotting on a portable pole ie a stage, be aware of where the edges of the stage are. The same applies to mats.
Do not carry out the spot if you have any doubts or uncertainties
The priority of good instructors is to facilitate the development safe practice and solid technique. In no situations should students make a dangerous, desperate effort to get into a move, relying on only a superficial knowledge of what is required to master it. Spotting, if carried in lieu of knowledge and ability, puts the instructor and the student at high risk of injury.
It is the instructor’s responsibility to educate their students and develop their knowledge of how moves are realistically achieved, even if it means setting certain boundaries with them.
We recommend taking an instructor certification/qualification which includes a spotting section. The industry has moved on and tricks have evolved so getting official training is important. The Polesafe list of instructor courses shows which ones have spotting as part of their training.
While the debates about how pole should be represented, ie fitness, dance or sport will no doubt be never ending, all pole instructors will generally agree on at least one thing – delivering good, safe classes.
Although you cannot learn everything about pole instruction in one weekend, taking an instructor course is probably the best way to get started. A good pole instructor course should lay down the fundamentals of ‘how to’ teach pole as well as the basic theoretical knowledge that underpins the art of pole instruction.
There are a number of high quality pole instructor training courses available from experienced, competent and qualified industry professionals. But with so many pole instructor courses available, it is hard to decide which one to invest your time and money in.
Perhaps one answer would be to attend as many courses as possible and subsequently formulate your teaching methods using the best practices that you learnt about.
However, if attending multiple pole instructor courses just isn’t going to work for you, especially financially, here is some information that might help you to make a decision.
What makes a pole instructor training course great? We can answer this question if we first know what makes a pole instructor great.
Instructors need to be accomplished in two key areas: knowledge and skill. Here is an extensive, but not exhaustive list of the knowledge and skills required to be a good instructor of pole.
Not all courses will cover all of the points listed above. Therefore, knowing local (and international) ‘points of referral’ will be valuable to your success. Professional instructors acknowledge their own limitations and areas of expertise.
Interpersonal Skills & Personal Attributes
Personal attributes are an often undervalued and difficult area to assess when it comes to instructor training. Passion, self-motivation, patience, empathy, sensitivity and consistency are some of the attributes of a good instructor.
Communication skills are essential to all levels of instruction. On a pole instructor course you will learn about one on one as well as group communication skills. You must be able to listen and take feedback from colleagues, students and peers. Communication skills, in the context of instruction can be further addressed by having knowledge of learning and teaching styles.
Find out what type of skills will be covered in the course. Are you looking for a pole fitness based course or a pole dance based course, or combination of the two?
Find out who is teaching the course and how skilled they are at what they do.
The actual practical skills will normally take up the majority of the training course hours. In order to pass a course it is important that you are proficient in the practical skills.
By adaptability I mean that the instructor has to have a high enough level of knowledge and skill, as well as a large enough vocabulary of movement modifications in order to adapt a class plan. This is something that can be learnt through practice and experience. Instructors have to create and deliver class plans that cater for the individuals of the class. The class has to be challenging enough for the students, yet not compromise anyone’s health and safety. The instructor should be able to identify the ability level of the students and modify the class plans accordingly. Adaptability in any situation requires knowledge, skill and experience.
Other Considerations When Choosing a Course
Prerequisites of attending a course:
You are more likely to benefit from and enjoy the course if you meet the prerequisites.
Pole instructor courses are designed in a specific way to work people of a certain aptitude and skill level. Some courses will be open to beginners, others will require that students have achieved a higher level of skill, or have taken specific courses before enrolling. Students with some experience are normally the most successful and report to have learnt the most from pole instructor training courses. A recommended guideline for those wanting to enroll on an instructor course is at least three to six months of class attendance and self-practice. If a pole instructor course is accepting students with very little or no experience, the content and health and safety of the course may be questionable.
What is the course format and timetable like?
Courses are often presented over one weekend, or spread over two weekends, or in a series of evenings or half days. Quite often students will opt for taking the training in one weekend due to the convenience of it. However, learning can be enhanced when the course days are spread out over more than one weekend. You will have more time to process what you have learnt and be able to prepare for your assessments more thoroughly. If the course is taken in one weekend, make sure you are able to study prior to the course using the course materials.
Online courses in pole instruction are also available. Taking a basic level online course can be an ideal way to try pole and learn more about what is required of an instructor. Online courses can be taken in the comfort of your own home, providing you have the appropriate facilities and equipment. Online courses can work very well for students who pay due attention to health and safety, have good body awareness, and strictly follow the guidelines provided within the course. If you choose to study online you will also need some computer skills and be able to edit and upload videos of your practical skills.
What training materials will be provided?
Will you receive a training manual, course workbooks, video clips/DVD? Find out if you are required to do prior study, if you are, do you have the equipment and facilities needed to prepare for the course? For online study you will need things such as a computer, an internet connection, a camera, editing software, a pole, a safety mat and a training space.
How is the course assessed?
Some courses will ask you to present a class using volunteer participants. You may have to present a skills test to demonstrate that you can perform the practical techniques. Is there a written submission or a theory exam? Do you have to present your assessments at the end of the training weekend, or at a later date? Some courses may allow a video submission of practical assessments at a later date. Online courses will require a video submission of practical tasks, normally using volunteer participants as students.
You may be required to teach or be an assistant teacher for a certain amount of hours, in real classes, before you can pass the course. If teaching hours are not a requirement of the course, your employer or insurance provider will require you to have experience of teaching before you are deemed competent.
Will mentorship and supervised practice be offered by your training provider following the course?
Find out if your training provider can offer you supervised hours and mentorship. If supervised practice or mentorship are not provided as part of the training course, additional costs will be incurred. Different employers will have different ideas about how many supervised hours you should undergo before being able to instruct classes alone, individual differences also need to be taken into account. Instructors who observe and assist in as many classes as possible, as well as keep up their own training, will develop faster as a professional instructor. Mentorship can include class plan writing development, syllabus development, workshops and receiving additional guidance on professional registers, for example, REPS, insurance requirements and legal requirements. Mentors may also help you with finding out about suppliers of equipment and costs of setting up classes so you can get a realistic idea of making money from pole instruction in future.
Have you ever wondered what it means when a course has any of these logos displayed?
These badges do add value to pole instructor courses, but how do they help you? Generally speaking you can have some confidence in the quality of a pole instructor course if it has received some recognition by a reputable authority. But who are these authorities, what do they do, and why do they do it?
In a response to new opportunities, increased demand and increased responsibilities that have emerged within the fitness industry, educational courses started to need regulation.
Skill gaps and inconsistencies within training courses were becoming more apparent, with many training courses available that did not sufficiently equip students with the skills and competencies required to carry out a specific job.
In the absence of knowledge and education, an unregulated fitness industry links directly to poor service levels, misinformation and more harm than good caused when working with the public. Reportedly between 2007 and 2012 there has been nearly a 60% increase in exercise related injuries. AFAA 2015.
The demand for more responsibility among fitness professionals is evident in light of multi-disciplinary working. Public motivation to exercise in today’s society is driven by campaigns of health awareness and disease prevention. Many fitness instructors are now required to work alongside health-care professionals and have a greater understanding of health-care management.
Training providers and course authors wishing to educate people may all have something valuable to offer: but the content, structure, level and method of delivery of the course needs to be standardised and controlled for quality.
The terms ‘Certification’, ‘Accreditation’, ‘Qualification’ and ‘Endorsement’ are used interchangeably between different organisations, and between different countries. Courses seeking approval need to be mapped against a national educational framework or training protocol. This can mean, what is relevant and recognised in one country, is not necessarily so in the next country.
When choosing your pole instructor course, it is important for you to know what level it is and against which standard the course is mapped. You also need to know whether or not your certificate will be recognised by a prospective employer, insurer, or your national fitness register. All legitimately recognised courses will have publicly available, transparent information as to the exact level and outcomes you can expect.
If you want to confirm the validity of a course’s endorsement before you enroll on the course, you can check on the endorser’s website. Current listings of the course training provider, as well as their endorsed courses will be shown. Here are some examples. http://www.activeiq.co.uk/qualifications/1623/1627, for ActiveIQ, http://qualitytraining.skillsactive.com/, for SkillsActive and REPS endorsed courses. Or, if in doubt ask for the training provider’s up to date endorsement certificate.
Remember that not all pole instructor courses are accredited at the same level. I have made a list below of some of the accreditation authorities. Notice that some of these authorities work alongside awarding educational bodies, and some apply their own endorsement protocol based upon industry standards.
Aerobics and Fitness Association of America – AFAA
AFAA delivers comprehensive cognitive and practical education for fitness professionals, grounded in industry research, using both traditional and innovative modalities. AFAA upholds basic exercise standards and guidelines for safe fitness practice.
AFAA is accredited by Vital Research for its certification exams, and by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) (Formerly the Distance Education and Training Council–DETC) for all courses offered in AFAA’s Distance Education Center (DEC). The DEAC is listed as a nationally recognised accrediting agency by the U.S. Department of Education, and is a recognised member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). AFAA has been granted full status with the National Board of Fitness Examiners (NBFE), and to have membership in the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE), formerly known as NOCA.
By successfully completing an AFAA certification programme, a fitness professional can become ‘AFAA Certified’. In order to stay certified 15 Continuing education credits (CEUs) are required in every two-year period. CEUs are achieved by participating in official AFAA courses, workshops or recognised continuing education online with AFAA.
AFAA may award Pole instructor courses with CEUs, providing that the course instructor has a 4-year degree in health and fitness or related area or a current AFAA Certification. AFAA will review the prerequisites, content, duration and assessment process for courses before awarding CEUs.
CEUs can only be utilised by the AFAA Certified professional.
SkillsActive & REPS (UK)
If a training course is SkillsActive endorsed, at any level, they are allowed to display the SkillsActive logo. SkillsActive is the sector Skills Council for Active Leisure and Learning. They provide the training providers with consultancy and information on skills development and training. SkillsActive regulate and verify training courses for quality assurance, and to meet the demands of the employers in the United Kingdom. Training courses submitted for SkillsActive endorsement have to be mapped against the National Occupational standards, this is a set of guidelines that outline the competencies required to fulfill a job role in fitness.
SkillsActive owns and operates the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs UK). REPs is a regulatory body for fitness instructors and trainers. It provides a system to ensure that professionals within the fitness industry meet the National Occupational Standards. Self employed fitness professionals, and professionals working for reputable organisations are obliged to join REPs to show that they are appropriately qualified and have the knowledge, competence and skills to perform their roles effectively. Showing evidence of training, competence and skill is also how to validate your insurance when working as a fitness professional with members of the public.
Depending on the depth, scope and duration of the pole fitness instructor course, SkillsActive will award a certain amount of REPs UK Continued Professional Development Points (CPD Points). Twenty four CPD Points are to be collected at least every two years by the REPs UK registered exercise professional in order to maintain a place of the official register. SkillsActive will award anything from 1 CPD Point for short modules and assignments, to 16 CPD Points for short courses, such as weekend courses.
The pole fitness instructor training course you choose may be SkillsActive endorsed, with REPs CPD Points, but to make use of the CPD Points you need to be REPs UK registered. Prerequisites of SkillsActive endorsed courses will include being REPs registered, which means you need to have studied at least entry level courses in exercise science and exercise instruction.
In order for a course to award REPs UK CPD Points, the tutor of the course has to have current REPs UK membership, as well as be listed as one of the official training providers of the course.
Register of Exercise Professionals South Africa (REPSSA)
Exercise professionals in South Africa are also encouraged to maintain their CPD Points and join the Register of Exercise Professionals to prove they are regulated and competent. Minimum CPD Points are required annually in order to maintain a place on the register.
REPSSA approve courses and award CPD Points according to the course duration, the amount of time spent face to face with the course tutor, the tutor’s knowledge and experience on the subject, the outcomes and objective of the course and the relevance of the material to the fitness professional.
N.B. REPs also have presence in Europe, New Zealand, Australia, United Arab Emirates. Although part of the same organisation overall, each country keeps it’s own register and protocol for endorsing courses. In this regard, REPs CPD has limited validity internationally.
CYQ Endorsed (UK)
CYQ Endorsement is available for all types of CPD from training courses and workshops, to seminars and masterclasses. Endorsement is available for existing CYQ approved training providers and non-CYQ approved organisations whose activities fall under National Occupational Standards and in the wider context of the active leisure, learning and wellbeing sector. CYQ endorsement of CPD programmes does not constitute a regulated qualification. There is a difference between CYQ Regulated Qualifications and CYQ Endorsed programmes.
Active IQ is an Awarding Organisation for Active Leisure, Learning and Wellbeing Sector in the UK. They offer qualifications that provide clear career pathways in the Active Leisure Sector. Their qualifications are accredited by Ofqual, and supported by the Sector Skills Council that is relevant to the qualification.
ActiveIQ offers awards from Entry Level up to Level 5, according to the level of depth and difficulty provided on the course.
Active IQ qualifications are recognised in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is a comparison tool which allows Active IQ qualifications to be recognised in Europe, but not internationally.
ACE Approval (USA)
ACE is the American Council on Exercise. ACE holds their own accreditation with NCCA, National Commission for Certifying Agencies.
ACE Approved courses have to meet ACE educational requirements and standards, and demonstrate a structured learning environment, complete with specific learning objectives.
ACE Approved courses provide Continuing Education Points (CEC Points). CEC Points are of value to the ACE Certified Professional, who will be required to complete 20 hours of continuing education credits every two years in order to maintain their a valid certification. CEC values are awarded according to the length of time spent on the course participating in face-to-face learning with the course tutor. One contact hour is equal to 0.1 CEC.
To gain ACE Approved status, instructor courses have to meet a number of standards. The organisation offering the instructor course first has to qualify as an ACE Continuing Education Provider. The creator and instructors of the course have to hold at least a bachelors degree in exercise, or other health-related field, or and NCCA fitness certification. ACE and NCCA create the link between fitness professionals and other health-care providers such as dieticians, nurse practitioners, occupational therapists and medical assistants to encourage a healthier nation.
Fitness Australia CECs (Australia)
Training providers in Australia can seek approval from Fitness Australia and become a CEC provider. The education content of the course must meet current industry standards and guidelines, and align with the Scope of Practice for registered Exercise Professionals and Code of Practice. CECs are awarded based on the content and quality of a training course or event. Allocation of CECs depends of the quality of the course, when assessed against the CEC Approval Criteria. More CECs may be awarded for longer course duration, and for the way courses are assessed. CEC allocation carried out by Fitness Australia may range from 1 CEC to a maximum of 15 CECs. 20 CECs are required in any two year period for the fitness professional to stay registered.
Fitness Australia do not accredited courses, or use the term accreditation, unless it involves a nationally recognised third party verification of certification, compliance with codes and ethical conduct and suitable standards of quality assurance. For example, the National Coach Accreditation Scheme (NCAS) administered by the Australian Sports Commission.
Programmes must not claim to be providing a ‘certification’ unless they are delivering a nationally recognised qualification or unit of competency within the Australian Qualifications Framework.
Pole Community (PDC) Approved Courses
The Pole Dance Community are a UK based organisation working to unite and up skill pole professionals in the UK and worldwide. They established a number of training course standards that are specific and relevant to the pole instruction industry. For courses to be PDC Approved they must meet a number of practical and theoretical requirements. Qualified and experienced training provider references have to be submitted as well as comprehensive course information. The PDC is not aligned with an educational framework or an awarding organisation.
Federation Approval/Supported courses
Other Pole Fitness/Pole Sports/Pole Dance Federations may also support or endorse various instructor courses using good knowledge and experience. However, this alone does not mean that the course is aligned with a national educational framework or recognised fitness authority.
These days, the international pole community has a huge amount to offer in terms of pole education.
When choosing an instructor training course, always consider what you want to achieve by attending a course. Consider your own objectives and research enough to find out if a course is a good match for your expectations.
Among your other personal requirements, make sure you ask the training provider questions about the prerequisites, content, structure, tutor, assessor, assessments, certifier and venue for the course.
Once armed with the knowledge of what to expect from a pole instructor course, you can receive the most value and benefit when you get started with your instructor training.