Pole is fitness. (I know, whaaaaat?) It takes discipline, stamina, practice, energy and strength. It makes you stronger. And you have to train to be proficient in it.
Now that we have that cleared up, let me introduce you to Jehan Izhar. Jehan is a physical performance coach and aerialist who recently completed her Masters in Kinesiology.
According to her in addition to strength pole takes mobility, flexibility and power. Jehan also teaches the Fly Gym Instructor program. Fly Gym is a system that uses supportive fabrics that are hung from the ceiling (or wall) to provide a fitness “experience” that combines aerial fitness training, aerial yoga and pilates. It is especially beneficial for students training in the aerial arts as it allows you to achieve 360 degree rotation while engaging your muscles the entire time. As Jehan points out, static muscle building exercises that work on one or two planes only are not preparing muscles properly for pole work. You train for the transitions not the tricks.
I took the Fly Gym Instructor Training over the course of 2 Saturdays. What I liked about it was how much focus Jehan placed on assessing for needs. Because she is a physical performance coach, her eye is trained to look for where there is compensation in the body. She understands posture and alignment extremely well (she is a yogi and a cirque performer after all) and her Masters in Kinesiology means she is an expert at human movement. So when she teaches Fly Gym for Pole she emphasizes watching your student’s body for areas of compensation. Certain exercises with Fly Gym can help to illuminate those weak spots and then help to strengthen them. This is not something I have seen in pole training before. Usually we just kind of try the tricks until we get them. And of course this can be dangerous.
Even more interesting is the fact that both Jehan and the other student in the class, who is a teacher in Australia, acknowledged that there were certain tricks they did not teach because they were simply too risky on certain size poles or because they were simply not good for your body. Keep in mind that pole is different from other aerial arts because there is almost always a push-pull dynamic going on in tricks, which means unlike lyra or silks, where the center point is your body and therefore body alignment is easier, in pole the center point is the pole itself. This means we are always a bit off-balance. As we know, pole takes a toll. This training reminded me that being fit and healthy also meant being balanced. If we are exercising one side of our body more than the other, or pushing and pulling as we do in pole, then it is best to balance that out in our workouts.
I am not a fitness expert by a long shot. And so maybe to someone who has a background in personal training, this all seems like a no-brainer. But I think I will say what I have to say anyway. I really appreciate how much this training emphasizes building up strength AND flexibility FOR pole. In other words, it really focuses on how to make you a stronger and smarter pole athlete. If pole is about fitness then a pole curriculum should reflect a healthy and balanced approach towards building a student’s strength. And curriculum developers should be consulting people like Jehan to best determine how to teach pole in a way that reflects the true meaning of the word “fit”.
In addition to training pole athletes, Fly Gym can be used on its own to work with populations who need strength training and some extra support while they do it. The creator, Aruna Andes, is currently working on bringing Fly Gym to disabled veterans at the VA.
As for me, I will be taking my Fly Gym to the monkey bars in the hopes that I can someday achieve my twisted grip without aggravating the tendonitis in both my wrists. And, I will be bringing my 70-year-old father with me, so he can practice balancing on a standing leg. Happy Flying!
For more information on Fly Gym go to www.flygym.com
To find out how to get in touch with Jehan go to www.jehanizhar.com