When I was working on learning a Bird’s Nest there were two parts of the move that my brain just couldn’t grasp. The first was squeezing with your hamstrings and the second was the insane back arch that you needed to create the beautiful line. For about 6 months I literally could not hold myself up in that position and we couldn’t find a work around to trick my brain into doing it while on the pole.
I am NOT good at failing at things. Even though I do it often enough, I am still not good at it. So I started pondering what exercises I could be doing in the gym that would help me train my hamstrings and spinal erectors to do the things I needed them to do.
Here is an early attempt and a hysterical fail
I am plenty strong in those two areas, but unfortunately being strong doesn’t help if you don’t have the muscle memory to go along with the strength.
If you have every heard that rule from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outsiders that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill then you understand the frustration at being at the wrong end of those 10,000 hours. It takes a lot less than 10,000 hours to be able to do a skill – remember 10,000 hours is for total mastery. Here is the definition of muscle memory according to Websters Dictionary:
noun: muscle memory
- the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition of that movement.
My muscles were strong but because I was asking them to make a shape that they had never done before it took a LONG time to create the muscle memory that it took to be able to nail the skill every time I tried. The down side of this is that there is the law of diminishing returns. Meaning, you can try a skill so many times in succession that eventually instead of continuing to improve you body just gives up and says “Nope, not today Satan”. I had to look for a way to train my body to do the things I needed it to do in a bird’s nest, without training an actual bird’s nest incessantly.
Specific vs. General Training
Relying on my knowledge of training I set out to figure out what exercises I could do that were Specific to the need I had to accomplish a birds nest, and what exercises I could do that would in general make my hamstrings and back stronger, more flexible and give me the overall endurance to hold that demanding pose for any length of time.
Here are some of the things I came up with:
- Any and all types of hamstring curls: on a machine, seated with a band, with an infinity loop, donkey kick-backs to name a few
- Any type of exercise that forced my spinal erectors to both contract and be flexible: every variation of superman I could think of on the floor, on the sand dune, hanging off a bench
- Static work and Dynamic work with the above exercises. I did sets of each exercise where I would just do reps: heavy for a lower count of reps and then lighter to failure. That was my dynamic work. Then I would do the same exercise but get into the contraction part of the exercise and hold for 15 – 30 secs or until failure (or muscle cramps)
All of these worked to increase the strength I needed within a similar pattern to what I was going for in the bird’s nest. It did not matter that the exercise did not mimic it exactly, the patterns were close enough that my body would hold onto the information and be able to call upon it when I was on the pole.
- I worked every step of getting into a bird’s nest and held them for time: 15-30 seconds or until failure (a few seconds before failure so that I could dismount safely)
- Standing on my right leg and wrapping my left knee around the pole at hip height and working to squeeze the hamstring. I did this until I could let go of the pole with both hands and just stand there holding on with my hamstring
- Then I got into a Jasmine and held that. I really focused on squeezing with my hamstring and using my right quad to press against the bar and wedge me into place. Then I worked on holding that for 15-30 seconds until I felt safe and secure in that position.
- Then I bent my right leg at the knee and crossed my ankles and began to arch my back while still holding on. I got as far into the position as I could still holding onto the pole and again practiced holding that with maximum muscle contraction for as long as I could 10 -15 sec and dismounting safely.
- As I worked up in strength and ability I would do 3 sets of each exercise for the desired amount of time.
- Two days a week I worked this training into my practice schedule doing about 30 – 45 minutes. I would pick 2 or 3 General exercises to do to prime my body (4 sets of 5 – 20 reps depending on the weight I chose) and then do the Specific exercise progression for as far as I had been able to get.
- When I could do the whole progression of specific exercises I took a few days off and then tried the Bird’s Nest and nailed it in the first try.
Here I am nailing it - it still needs work to be perfect but I am confident that I can get into it and hold it safely each time.
When thinking about training for pole you need to consider what muscles are needed for the trick. Then figure out what exercise you can do to make those muscles stronger and more engaged in the trick. Next, deconstruct the trick to its basic elements and train those in progression.
We sell two amazing books that can help. The Pole PT by Neola Wilby (buy it here: ) and Pole Tricks Vol. 1 by The Pole Power Academy (buy it here: ) or you are more than welcome to throw a trick at us via Insta or Email and we can throw some ideas on how to train for that trick right back at you. We are here to help in any way.