If you’re sick of workouts feeling like work, it’s time to try something new and fun. Something you’ve never considered before. Something to get you outside your comfort zone. Something like pole dancing.
Stick with us. Pole is no longer an activity reserved for seedy clubs full of ogling men; it’s actually grown into a legit dance fitness program. Don’t worry; you won’t be hanging upside down from the pole with your legs spread (at least at first). Full of acrobatic and dance-inspired moves, the classes focus on strength (especially upper body) and flexibility. And thanks to aficionados like pole dancing instructor and certified personal trainer Roz “the Diva” Mays, pole is out of the shadows and popping up in fitness studios all over the country.
Pole got me to do all the pain-in-the-ass gym stuff that I now love.
Even Mays was unsure her first time. “I was intimidated by pole, but it was so damn fun,” she says. “It’s kind of like medicine mixed with applesauce, so it doesn’t taste like medicine but you still get all the goodness out of the medicine. Pole got me to do all the pain-in-the-ass gym stuff that I now love.”
We asked Mays to show us the best pole-inspired moves that’ll help you build strength and confidence—no pole required!
Not only did she deliver (see: twerk), but she welcomed us into her living room (complete with a pole) to demo the moves.
How to use this list:
Perform each move below for 60 seconds. To create your own workout, choose 5 to 7 of your favorites, perform each for 60 seconds, rest for 20 seconds, and complete 3 to 5 sets. Or try Mays’s short but highly effective core workout at the end of this article.
Grab a towel. Resist urge to playfully twirl and snap S.O./friend/pet with towel. Tie knot. Slightly bend knees, keep hips forward, and hold towel in front of you with one hand at chest height. Release grip then catch with opposite hand. This will warm up your hand muscles and build grip strength to grab and hang onto the pole. “Do this until you hate yourself,” Mays says. (Or for 60 seconds.)
Make it harder: Remove knot from the towel. The smaller the object you have to grip, the harder it is.
Stand with feet hip width, slight bend in knees, arms at side. Lift arms straight in front of you to shoulder height. Open to a T. Return arms to front then raise them straight overhead. Keep shoulders down away from ears. Circle arms back down to a T at shoulder height then repeat the sequence in reverse direction. Go twice as slow as you think you should to make sure your form is correct.
Make it harder: Add 2- to 5-pound weights.
Stand with feet hip-width apart. With a slight bend in knees, use lower back and lower abs to roll hips back and forth repeatedly. “Get the spatula under the pancake and flip the pancake,” Mays says. “Throw that booty meat away from you.”
Pro tip: Don’t think too hard about this move because, as Mays points out, “This is some dumb sh*t.” But if you do it correctly, your quads will be shot and “you’ll only be able to twerk for a chorus because the lactic acid will seep into your heart.”
Lie facedown on mat. Engage back to lift “nipples and knees” (or chest and legs) off mat. Hold for 1 count. Keeping arms and legs lifted, roll to the right onto back and engage abs to pause. Reverse roll and repeat. (Mays admits she stole this move from a 10-year-old gymnast on YouTube.)
Lie faceup on mat, legs together, core engaged so lower back is flat against mat. Rest arms overhead on mat. Lift feet straight up to the ceiling. Keeping upper body still, use both feet to trace letters in the air to spell a word. Mays’s favorite word to spell? Penis. “Because people don’t even realize what we spell. They’re just like, ‘We spelled a word? I thought we died.'”
Make it harder: Make letters bigger and bring them closer to the floor. If you make the movement bigger, stabilizing your core and upper body will be more challenging.
Rock and Hold
Sit with knees bent, feet flat on mat. Using abs, lift feet to balance on tailbone, arms out straight. Keep spine long without arching back or slumping the shoulders. Lean back and roll down until lower back lifts off floor. Engage abs to reverse momentum and rock back up to starting position. Hold for 1 count then repeat.
Make it harder: Keep legs straight to further engage lower abs.
Lie faceup on mat, knees bent, feet flat on floor, arms extended overhead. Exhale. Engage abs to slowly curl head and shoulders off the mat. Pull rib cage together and continue curling up until back is lifted off mat and spine is straight. Hold this position briefly then slowly lower back down.
Make it easier: If hip flexors are tight, keep legs stretched out straight on floor and lower back by pressing it into mat.
Lie faceup on mat with arms extended out to form a T. Lift legs straight up toward ceiling. Keep shoulders glued to mat and twist from waist to swing legs to right side. Use obliques to pull legs back up and swing to opposite side. Repeat.
Find a sturdy surface like a windowsill or desk. Place hands on surface shoulder-width apart with shoulders directly over wrists. Walk feet back about 3 feet from surface. Bend elbows to lower chest halfway down then push back up.
Make it harder: Lower chest all the way down to surface then push back up. Once you build your strength here, you can take it to the floor for a classic push-up.
Ready to strut? Find a pole class near you (Crunch locations offer XPOLE classes nationwide) then use this list to work on strength between sessions. “People think they have to master all the exercises before they can even try it, but pole is what gave me the strength to do all these exercises,” Mays says. You don’t need to go full-stripper mode for a class but wear some skin-bearing clothes—you need your skin to come in contact with the pole for grip.
Special thanks to Roz Mays who modeled these moves and provided the workout. Mays wears a Target C9 Champion top and her own Adidas shorts. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook, or read more about her in 34 Under 34: Rising Stars in Health.