The Dark Side

When I first began poling, I learned everything on one side. I would invert on my favorite side, do my inside/outside leg hangs on my favorite side and slowly build up my repertoire, on my favorite side.We would laugh about not being able to do simple things on the other side. We would ask our instructor on which side we should go because only one of them was usable. We would write off combos because they made us do a trick on our bad side.

It’s not that we were bad students, and my instructors weren’t bad instructors. There was just very little awareness about balanced training and the dangers of lack of it. The difference between my good and bad sides was huge. At one point I was working on my Iron X, successfully doing handsprings and deadlifting into Brass Monkey on my right while barely holding basic spins on my left.

Even over a year later, when I moved and had a world class instructor, she’d tell me about polers who’d rigorously train their other side like they were some kind of unicorns. I remember her sincerely praising me because I tried my best to work on my Allegra on my bad side once.

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Long overdue bad side #truegrip #handspring yay! 😁

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As a poler, I grew up training on the side that feels better, and very slowly realizing how it was leading to worse and worse injuries each time. I’m bearing the consequences of not giving my other side enough love. I don’t know know how things are in entry level classes nowadays, I’ve heard they are better, but I know that most polers in my level are really bad about training their bad side.

Some Motivation

Why would we invest time to train the other side too?

Well, let’s start from the obvious and most important one, but also the least motivating reason. We’ll get less hurt, or at least less easily hurt.

Bodies are smart. When one muscle groups can’t handle the load, others pitch in, even if they are not built to do that job. So now we have even more muscles and joints working unevenly, which leads to even more imbalances. Overtrained muscles are more prone to injury. Muscles that are not even meant to do the work they are doing are even more prone to injury. Any injury will snowball across the body in the weirdest patterns which not every PT or RMT can figure out easily, if at all.

Second motivator – time. After enough years, all the time you put into balanced training will diminish the time you spend not being able to do anything at all because your body is broken. Actually, it might save you time in achieving moves too!

If you think about it, the move on your side move still requires your other side to pitch in. Imagine a handspring deadlift. Yes, your upper hands need to pull like crazy to even allow you to hang there, but your lower hand and shoulder work too. What if your lower hand side was as strong as your upper hand side? When I was training my deadlift, my right side was ready, but I was still missing that little push from my left side to make it happen. I could feel it, I could swear that if only I had more strength I’d get it.

And what about all those combos and end up on the other side? Wouldn’t it be nice to just be able to do them? Maybe we are not even learning many combos in class that might cross over to a less convenient side. Maybe we sacrifice our movement vocabulary and fluidity to avoid the inconvenience and pain. We all definitely did that when choreographing a routine. You know, the good old “oh I can’t put this move here, it’s not on my good side”.

No More Bad Sides

Recently, after recovering from an injury, I was advised to take it slow and do more balanced strength work. I came up with a way that would do both of these things at the same time. I decided to do a challenge, where I’ll almost exclusively work on my left side.  I wanted to find all the holes in my left side training and fill them in. I wanted to go back to the very basics, and go through them one by one, and slowly up the level.

I’m about a month in, and it’s so far actually surprisingly pretty fun. I started with all the static spins, the ones I never actually learned properly and now I try to do them over, better. I keep being amazed at my baby-poler self for keeping at it despite the pain because leg holds and pole sits are hella painful. It’s like a trip down memory lane, I get to relive my honeymoon pole days again, where everything was simple yet hard and exciting.

I also decided to take a lower level class, and do everything on my bad side.  I was concerned I’d spend most of the time in despair because I’ll constantly fail to do things I can totally achieve if I just turn around and use the other half of my body. Kind of like you always feel when the instructor says “now the other side!” and you get impatient because things don’t go as well, or don’t go well at all.

But it turned out to be totally the opposite experience. Every class I was surprised at how much I could do on my less dominant side, how not bad at all it was despite the lack of love it got. It’s not easy, mind you, it challenges me enough to be interesting.

My training feels more wholesome now. Less like I’m abusing my body and more like I’m making it stronger in a good way. I love it. So don’t wait for an injury to change your priorities like I did. Decide to have only good sides and #poleonbothsides!

Mary Nightingale.