Active flexibility

Active flexibility is an important element of both pole and calisthenics. It’s not enough to just passively stretch, we need to work on our active flexibility. What’s the difference, I can hear you ask. Passive flexibility is what most people work on when they are stretching. It is when you use external forces to put you into a stretched position. It can be your weight, gravity, dumbbells, etc. Active flexibility is when you only use your muscles to hold you in a certain position. For example sitting in a front split on the floor and holding it in the air.

Ideally we should train both. If you have a big difference between your active and passive flexibility, the chances of getting injured increases as even tho you might be able to push yourself into positions, you’re not strong enough to hold them without assistance. For example you can lift your leg next to your head with the help of your hands or a band but when you let go, your leg drops significantly. This is the point where most injuries happen as your body is familiar with the position but without external help it doesn’t know (as it’s not strong enough) how to support you in it.

If you have hypermobility you are at an even bigger risk of getting injured if you don’t strengthen your end range mobility. Hypermobility is when your ligaments are generally looser around your joints. (If your knees or elbows bend backwards or you can touch your thumb to your forearm you are likely hypermobile.) To strengthen end range of motion there are different options available to you. For example you can passively lift the body part into end range and by loosening the support you try to keep it in the same position.

Active flexibility doesn’t just look good but makes certain moves a lot easier. Thinking about things like a handstand press, if you can keep your legs closer to your body it will be a lot easier to lift them in the air. As an overhead athlete probably the most important part of your mobility is overhead mobility. Tight shoulders increase the risk of injuries forcing the body to find the lacking range of motion elsewhere leaving other structures not designed for it to take up the slack.

Every training session should start with a thorough warm up followed by targeted soft tissue release. For example if I’m having a handbalancing session, I will target my lats, posterior delts and thoracic spine. At times I might feel tight elsewhere affecting my overhead mobility and roll my pec minor, upper traps or levator scapulae. If I’m working on presses, I give my hamstrings some extra TLC. After rolling/peanutting I’d strengthen the newly gained extra range of motion. Sticking with overhead mobility it would be some arm lifts in a childs position, pullovers, wall angels, overhead band lifts, etc. This step is probably the most important. This will strengthen the muscles at end range keeping you safe and confirming to your body that it can let you use this newly found extra range of motion. This won’t happen overnight, flexibility is the result of consistency. However if you keep to it, you’ll notice a huge difference. Due to time restrictions make sure that you’re prioritising. If you only do muscle ups and front levers, there’s no point focusing on your splits.

Active flexibility is an important part of training. It will make you stronger, bendier, and safer. You can unlock new moves and enhance the ones you can already do. It’ll make you a well rounded athlete. So don’t forget to dedicate a few minutes to it as often as you can – it’ll worth it.

Happy flexing!

Body types

Have you ever wondered why some people don’t seem to get fat no matter what they eat or why others get twice as strong with half the effort? Unfortunately it’s likely due to our genes.

There are 3 main body types (somatotypes): mesomorph, ectomorph and endomorph. Each of these have specific characteristics. Most people exhibit characteristics from two of these categories. To maximize your training effect you can try experimenting with the guidelines for your body type. However as each body is different, there’s no right or wrong, not everything will work for everyone.

The main 3 body types

The main characteristics of an ectomorph is that they are tall and skinny with narrow hips and shoulders, have barely any fat and struggle to build muscle. They have a fast metabolism therefore need to eat a lot. They find losing weight easy but struggle to put on muscle. They are generally more flexible and great at long distance activities.

Mesomorphs have an athletic, muscular appearance with wide shoulders and narrow waist, they are strong and gain and lose both muscle and fat quite easily. They respond well to both resistance and aerobic training however can become overtrained quickly. They are well suited for bodybuilding but generally struggle with flexibility. Putting on weight comes easy whether it’s fat or muscle.

Endomorphs are soft and round in appearance, are strong and quick to gain both muscle and fat however struggle to lose fat due to having slower metabolism. They should train cardio as well as resistance training to aid fat loss/maintenance. They excel at strongman competitions.

The most envied types are mesomorphs as they get the best of both worlds. They can put on muscle but lose weight easily, whilst ectomorphs struggle putting muscle on and endomorphs struggle losing weight. Body types are not an excuse but more like an explanation. Whatever your type is you can still achieve your goals. We can’t change our genes so try working with them. Find your strengths and weaknesses and prioritize them accordingly. Rather than comparing yourself to others, just enjoy the process. For example if you know that you’re most likely an ectomorph and want to put on some muscle, make sure you’re eating plenty, even before going to bed, cut down on your cardio and go for high volumes of training.

Your body type isn’t an excuse – it’s an explanation.

How to set your pole goals

The new year is fast approaching and you’re thinking about taking your training serious next year. You reflect on the past year and conclude that as much as you’ve made improvements you could have done better.

Setting your goals the right way will speed up your process. Just writing down your goals will get you closer as your brain will unconsciously help you make an effort. But how do you set goals the right way?

I give you an example of an aerial invert to guide you through. You’ve probably already heard that your goals need to be

S pecific – describe exactly what you want to achieve, for example with an aerial invert describe whether you want your legs straight, into a static V or just foot on pole, are you starting it from a specific move or going into a specific move after, etc

M easurable – refers to any variables that you can compare – in the pole world as we work on a lot of skill this can be difficult at times to specify. With an aerial invert try thinking of things like extending lever ie leg positions, reps or part of a combo, etc

A chievable – think about whether it’s achievable – for example you have a shoulder injury and have to avoid hanging off your arms – until the injury is dealt with probably it’s not achievable

R ealistic – ask whether given the timeframe is it doable – if you can’t even climb but set yourself the goal of aerial inverting in 2 weeks is not realistic

T imebound – set a timeframe – you need to give yourself a deadline of getting your first invert

E njoyable – do you enjoy what you’re doing – if you like what you’re doing it’s a lot more likely that you’ll succeed as you won’t look at it as a chore. If you hate doing sit ups to strengthen your core then do something else that will have the same effect but you like doing

R eviewed – keep checking your progress – set aside time at a regular interval to see how you’re progressing, are the invert lifts you’re doing getting easier, can you do more, does your programming work, if not you need to think why not and make necessary adjustments

Now that you refreshed yourself on the basics of goal setting you can go into more details about how to fit it into your training.

  • Pick your goals – don’t work on too many goals at a time. Focus on no more than 3. You can still list a few more and if you don’t feel like working on the main ones at least you have back ups.
  • Break your goals down into manageable chunks – For example sticking to the aerial invert example it can be broken down into stabilising to hang, compression and rotation. Think about what is hindering your progress. Can you hang comfortably engaging the correct muscles? If not, work on your rotator cuffs and back muscles, improve your grip strength, practice hanging on a bar, etc. Are you struggling with compression? Work on your core, practice compression exercises, strengthen your hip flexors, stretch your hamstrings, etc. If it’s the rotation that let’s you down, practice it off the pole, on different apparatus, etc.
  • Put a programme together – Once you worked out what component is that you need to work on you can put a programme together. Try to focus on the two main elements which are strength & mobility and skill. For example if your goal is an aerial invert you could start your session with some active flexibility and mobility exercises with a lacrosse ball focusing on the problem areas, then move over to some light rotator cuff exercises to get them fired up, then work on some skill drills, followed by conditioning the weak areas (core, back, rotator cuffs, etc) and finishing it off with stretching. Make sure that each session gets progressively harder and that you’re allowing enough rest to recover between sessions.

If you follow these steps I guarantee you will get closer to achieving that illustrious deadlift or rainbow marchenko…

Happy goalsetting!