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Product Review: Soma System

A little while ago, I posted about the Soma System workshops that would be happening at Pole Expo 2013. I really hope that you’re all going to take advantage of their FREE offerings!!!

Soma System very graciously provided me with their Full Body Complete Soma System Package, and I have really enjoyed testing each of their items!! I think that we, as pole dancers (and aerialists) are pretty used to being sore: whether it is the latest bruise or burn, or our knotted shoulders and tight hamstrings, we are almost all in some state of physical disrepair. And that totally impacts your ability to perform at your best level!

You can read a little more about Soma System’s philosophy here: http://somasystem.com/our-philosophy/ The great thing about Soma System’s tools are that they allow you to work on your body at home. Through using their products, with their guidelines, you can begin to work out the knots that are robbing you of your full strength and ability. I would LOVE to get the chance to take a workshop in person, but Soma has some really helpful videos on YouTube, as well as great written tutorials on their website. Below is a breakdown of each of their tools and how they can work for pole dancers!

Individual Tools

The Roller Squad:

Roller Squad by Soma System

Roller Squad by Soma System

The Roller Squad is this mitt-like tool that is used for massaging tension out of areas like your pecs, quads, soles of the feet, trapezoids, calves, and more! The tool fits well across the palm of your hand – the silver balls face outward and are used as the massage points. They roll as you move the tool around!

I used this on the tops of my shoulders to help work out the super stubborn knots that I have in that in my trapezoids, and I have also used it on my forearms to loosen them when they start to feel locked up. It’s a nice feeling to rub it in long strokes, like down your arm, and if you put pressure behind it, you can really feel it in your knots! The plastic holders for the metal balls can be a bit scratchy on the skin sometimes, so I would recommend either not pressing too hard as you make your strokes, or wearing clothing that covers the area when you do the massage.

You can find some excellent exercises for this tool here:

http://store.somasystem.com/image/data/Excercises%20PDFs/Roller%20Squad%20Special%204.pdf

Double-Track Roller:

Double-Track Roller from Soma System

Double-Track Roller from Soma System

Oh, my. I LOVE the Double-Track Roller This bad boy is soft on the outside, firm on the inside, and makes a great tool to work on the muscles on either side of your spine! My boyfriend and I have used it to help massage each other when we’re both feeling achy, and it’s his favorite! This is a great one to use on your own, too – you can lay on the tool and move around to manipulate it into the right areas. I love it to help release my entire back.

Soma System has some great exercises in their written tutorial section, with options for your neck, back, forearms, and even legs! You can view those here:

http://store.somasystem.com/image/data/Excercises%20PDFs/Double-Track%20Roller%20Special%204.pdf

You can also check out their helpful video, too, which shows some exercises being done through a glass surface – it allows you to see how the tool works on the specific areas:

(note: the tool in the video may be an older version – the one that I have is entirely coated in the orange foam)

Big Orange:

Big Orange from Soma System

Big Orange from Soma System

The Big Orange is an ideal transition tool between softer massage options and firmer options. It’s inflated, so it has some give to it, and it’s larger than the other items. You can use it on hips, feet, shoulders, pecs, etc. I find it easier to use on my own, i.e. trapping it between the floor and my body, than to use with a partner, but that’s me.

Here’s a quick little video on one of the uses – the technique shown can be applied to other areas of the body, too:

And, here’s another video, which has a series of exercises (featuring some assistance from a yoga block – or maybe it’s a brick, I can’t tell): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j04GooBG-ik

This is one of those tools that can hit some of the most neglected areas for pole dancers: hips and hip flexors! Sure, we work to strengthen them, but how the heck do you STRETCH them?? There are some great examples of exercises on the Soma System website:

http://store.somasystem.com/image/data/Excercises%20PDFs/Big%20Orange%20Special%204.pdf

Myofascial Five Pack:

Myofascial Five Pack from Soma System

Myofascial Five Pack from Soma System

Oooooh these make me squeal! The Myofascial Five Pack is made up of five plastic balls in different sizes, which allow you to really pinpoint areas of need. Holy crap, do they work! I use them to work out stubborn knots, and while they generally elicit terrible noises from me, they do help! My boyfriend has used them on me, when I ask for his help on working out knots, and it’s sweet, sweet torture. You can also use these on your own, obviously.

The largest ball has more give to it, but the smaller ones are all harder and provide more focused pressure. They’re amazing for addressing deep tension in a variety of areas. There are some diverse exercises on Soma System’s website, including a rotator cuff massage!! You know that’s perfect for pole and aerial!

http://store.somasystem.com/image/data/Excercises%20PDFs/Myofascial%20Five%20Pack%20Special%204.pdf

Soma Foam Support:

Soma Foam Support from Soma System

Soma Foam Support from Soma System

The Soma Foam Support is a small foam roller, about a foot long and 4 inches in diameter. It’s used as support while working with other tools, but you can use it as a traditional foam roller, too. It’s just not as large as most rollers (but, hey, that’s great for travel!!). Like all foam rollers, it can help you to stretch and increase mobility, which is WONDERFUL for pole dancers and aerialists! Foam rollers can open up your quads like nothing else, for example! I love it for that.

Here are a handful of exercises for the Soma Foam Support (of the foam roller variety):

http://store.somasystem.com/image/data/Excercises%20PDFs/Soma%20Foam%20Support%20Special%204.pdf

Focus Roller:

Focus Roller from Soma System

Focus Roller from Soma System

The Focus Roller is a nifty tool that helps to pinpoint areas in need of release. I found it easiest to use with my boyfriend – he would use it to apply focused pressure along my back and neck, but they recommend using it on the chest, too! Unfortunately, there are no videos or tutorials yet for this tool.

The Spiky Life Mat:

Spiky Life Mat from Soma SystemSpiky Life Mat from Soma System

Spiky Life Mat from Soma System

Okay, so this one is unusual and intense! The Spiky Life Mat is pretty much what it sounds like: a mat covered in tiny, spiky points (over 6,000 of them!) – I wasn’t sure what to think of this, especially when it came to how to use it – there aren’t any clear tutorials available online, but the Soma System store explains that it’s to help release tension in the areas where your body is in contact with the mat. You can lay on it in different positions and allow the points to work their magic. In my tests, I wasn’t quite sure how it was working for me, but it seems to increase blood flow to the areas in contact with the spikes – or maybe it’s simply increasing energy flow in the area! Here are a couple more sample photos, as examples of positions you can take with it:

Spiky Life Mat example

Spiky Life Mat example

Spiky Life Mat example - cobra

Spiky Life Mat example – cobra

Spiky Life Belt:

Spiky Life Belt from Soma System

Spiky Life Belt from Soma System

This is a smaller version of the mat above. The Spiky Life Belt is used like the mat, but on smaller areas of the body. You can also use it in conjunction with other Soma tools, like the Soma Foam Support. Again, for me, it seemed to increase a flow of something to the areas it touched – whether it was blood or energy, I am not sure, but the spikes can be a bit startling at first – you just have to go with it.

While there are no written tutorials on this tool, there IS a video!

You can pair this with the Soma Foam Support for a number of exercises, including a great one for your lower back!

Package Options

In addition to selling tools individually, Soma System also offers kits and packages, if you prefer to purchase more than one item! Here’s a breakdown of each option:

Roll & Go:

Roll & Go from Soma System

Roll & Go from Soma System

Roll & Go is Soma’s smallest kit, with just two items. According to their website, it was originally designed for tennis players – and you know that’ll translate well to pole dancers, with all of those sore forearms! It pairs the Roller Squad and the larger, squashier ball from the Myofascial Five Pack, into a combination that can help you restore circulation and release your tight areas (respectively). There is no exact tutorial on how to use the kit together, but by checking out the earlier, individual tutorials, you can work some stuff out! And, the website lists some info on the shopping page for the kit!

The Basic Soma System Package:

Basic Soma System Package

Basic Soma System Package

This is an excellent option for people who want to invest, but may not be able to afford the full package! The Basic Soma System Package includes the Big Orange, the Roller Squad, the Soma Foam Support, the Myofascial Five Pack, and TWO of the Double-Track rollers. It’s recommended for all levels, and specifically for athletes (or anyone stuck in an office).

Full Body Complete Soma System Package:

Full Body Complete Soma System Package

Full Body Complete Soma System Package

The Full Body Complete Soma System Package is the comprehensive package of ALL of Soma’s tools! If you’re super into the system and have the cash, it’s totally worth it! It contains 10 of their tools: the Spiky Life Mat, the Spiky Life Belt, the Focus Roller, the Big Orange, the Roller Squad, the Soma Foam Support, the Myofascial Five Pack, and TWO of the Double-Track rollers. Mine came packaged in a cute little orange duffle bag, too! Makes for very easy transportation of everything!

Office Worker Sequence Tutorials

In addition to the tutorials on the Soma System website (which I liked in the relevant tool breakdowns), they also recently posted this great set of exercises specifically for office workers! It gives 11 tutorials, utilizing different tools, with office workers in mind, but you could easily use them at home, too!

http://somasystem.com/office-worker-sequence/

There are also two videos on their YouTube channel, which breakdown the tutorials for the Office Worker sequences – the first is almost 15 minutes, and the second is around 5 minutes:

In summary, I think Soma System is a great set of tools for pole dancers and aerialists dedicated to doing self-body work. With regular practice, you can really work out the knots, increase energy, strength, and circulation to promote healing! I have found their tools to be really helpful, and I think that if I were more disciplined about using them every day (or after every class), I would have remarkable results. At the moment, I’ve been using them when I feel like I need them, but I think my results would improve if I create a regular routine with them (this is something I need to do in a lot of areas, not just with these tools).  I also like that the items are mostly pretty easy to transport on their own – makes them great for those of us who travel! I’m excited to see Soma System add more tutorials, especially video lessons, online, too.

As I said at the beginning of my review, I also would REALLY love to take their workshops – I feel like it’d give me a better sense of how to do each exercise and get the most out of them. So, pole studios in SoCal: please bring them in for a workshop! If anyone attends their Pole Expo workshops, please let me know your thoughts!

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Split Stretches

As some of you may know, I got my split somewhat recently. I was looking back through old photos and actually found a photo of my split from a few months ago, which my boyfriend took at my request – I think I had wanted to chart my progress, but then never followed through on progression photos. However, I do have this side by side comparison:

left split progress - approximately April 2013 to July 2013

left split progress – approximately April 2013 to July 2013

I still have a lot of work to do: I want to get my hips squared and have an easier time with getting into the split overall, plus work on my right split and center splits. Right now, I can get into my left split with A LOT of warming up in class. It takes the right combination of stretches, plus some heat in the room, and probably some other factors (hydration, energy level, etc) to get my front leg to the floor. I am not super flexible in general, so to even get this far is a HUGE deal for me!

Since a few people have asked me what stretches I was doing to help with my progression, I put together a quick video of part of the warm up that we usually do in my Monday night class. (A good number of these are stretches from other classes, too – I’ve just found that Monday’s sequence warms me up the best.) Our usual warm up is 30-45 minutes long, and we go through exercises, movement, and stretching for the entire body – it’s the longest of any warm up, in any of my classes, but I love it – I feel more prepared and conditioned by it than some of the shorter, strength conditioning based warm ups that I do. I think this warm up works because of my specific body – I take FOREVER to warm up, even when I am not doing pole, and my asthma doesn’t play well with cardio-based warm ups. Not only do I have more split flexibility from this warm up, but my shoulder flexibility is noticeably better. I can’t hit a Scorpion stretch fully quite yet, but I can now roll through my shoulder in one part and reach across my chest in a twist to grab my foot, neither of which I could do before joining this class.

The video is made up of stills of the different stretches we do for legs. It doesn’t hit all of the movement we do in the warm up, nor does it show some of the other moves we do that I believe help with hip and lower back opening, but I think it’s an excellent sequence for leg stretching. I only work on my right side in the photos, but we repeat the sequence on the left (and the photos may be out of order from how we do it in class, I can’t remember). This is really for overall leg/hip stretching and conditioning, with a focus on side splits – I don’t hit everything we do for center splits – since I don’t have mine yet, I felt that focusing on the split I have gotten was more important when talking about my journey and progression.

We hold the stretches for longer than the video, obviously – it is a quick overview with basic directions. Please note that I am NOT a pole instructor or a personal trainer, so you assume responsibility when you try these on your own – do them at your own risk and only do what feels comfortable for your body. Not everyone has the same flexibility, and doing new stretches without proper guidance can be tricky, so ultimately, BE SAFE!

(And special thanks to my patient boyfriend, who is ever supportive of my crazy pole obsession – he served as photographer.)

How Many Calories Does Pole Dancing Burn?

Ah, yes. THAT question. 🙂

One of the great things about starting a pole dance or pole fitness class are the health benefits – from weight loss to muscle building and toning, pole can have an amazing impact on your body. Add in increased flexibility, endorphins, and even the confidence and connection to oneself that pole can build, and you’ve got an activity that can change your life in many ways.

But, what about the calories?

Let’s face it – calorie burning is just one of those things that a lot of us think about. “Did I work off that donut? Those gummi bears? That extra bit of cheese?” (Okay, maybe not everybody eats as crappy as I do…) A few weeks ago, I posted about my quest to track my calories better. I’ve been keeping up with my food journal via the MyFitnessPal app on my phone, which has been a decent tracker – there are tons of foods already logged into the database, which can make it easier to find and track what you’re eating, but you can also add your own entries if you have a product label handy (there’s also an option to scan product bar codes, but I haven’t tried it). You also have the option of entering your workouts to track calories expended, but the totals are a little suspect – and the options aren’t great. Naturally, there was no option for pole dancing or pole fitness in the database. 🙂 The results that I found in running online searches weren’t great, either. In general, they quoted about 250 calories, but there was no way to really quantify it. I wanted something that I felt was more accurate for me. Also, since I started tracking calories in an attempt to shed some extra weight, I wanted more accuracy.

After some research, I purchased a Polar Ft40F heart rate monitor to wear during my pole and lyra classes, to try to get an average of calories burned in each class.

Polar FT40F White (Women’s Heart Rate Monitor)

I’ve been wearing it in every class for the last three weeks. The model features a watch band computer that logs and tracks the results, as well as a chest strap and monitor attachment to wear while working out. You have to enter your stats in the computer in order to get proper results, i.e. height, weight, age. So, keep in mind that this data is based on my specific stats!

Here are my results (so far):

Pole Class 1: 561 calories burned, 100 minutes in length

Lyra Class 1: 491 calories burned, 60 minutes in length (private session)

Pole Class 2: 586 calories burned, 90 minutes in length

Lyra Class 2: 423 calories burned, 96 minutes in length (full class)

Pole Class 3: 523 calories burned, 100 minutes in length

Each of my pole classes is scheduled to be 90 minutes in length – I start the monitor as soon as we begin our warm up and keep it on until after our freestyle at the end of class, when I notice my heart rate falling again. My class spends about half an hour on our warm up, which consists of stretching, calisthenics, and some aerobic activity from things like ab sets, planks, leg work, etc. Our warm up is tough and meant to condition for aerial – it’s less about connecting to the music and the flow of dance and expression, and more about getting you to the point of being able to get your butt over your head.

We work on a lot of pole tricks at my level – fewer spins and floor work (although, it is included depending on the lesson for the class), more climbs, inversions, mid-air tricks, lifts, and aerial training. While we’re not constantly moving, when we are moving, it’s usually in larger, more difficult movements. So, there’s a lot of up and down with the exertion – which I’ve heard burns more calories, but I’m not a trainer, so I can’t attest to that for sure. 🙂 An example of what we worked on in my last class: our warm up, followed by revisiting the junkyard swing so we could attempt it in mid-air, then some work on shoulder mount flips (taking the mount into a pencil, then flipping the legs back down to a pole sit), multiple goes at conditioning our aerial twisted grip pencils and ayeshas, a big Chinese grip full body spin, various inversions, and then our freestyle, which was two songs with everyone dancing (4 students in class that night).

I took two different types of Lyra classes in the last three weeks – an hour long class that ended up being a private (I was the only student registered) and a 90 minute class with six students (and two hoops). I worked harder in the hour class because I was the only student (and boy, did I feel it later), but I still got in a good work out in the 90 minute class. I worked on a variety of tricks in both classes, like splay leg inversions, front balances, and a number of different poses.

Based on my personal data, I burn an average of 557 calories per pole class. I don’t have enough data to do an average for Lyra classes on their own (and I had two different kinds of classes), but when factored in with the pole classes, the average for calories burned doing an aerial arts class is approximately 517. Lyra burns less than pole overall, but a more intense Lyra class (i.e. my one hour long private class) can burn as much as a pole class, even if the Lyra class is shorter in length. All of the pole classes I took were not super packed with students, enabling me to have more opportunities to get on the pole – I also tried to be mindful of staying still for too long, making a point to try to keep busy so I could burn more calories. Obviously, I would get more accurate results by factoring more classes, which is something I intend to do – I want to continue to track my aerial classes from here on out and see what I come up with!

Now, as I said, these results are based on my specific statistics…which, after some consideration, I’ll share in the spirit of full disclosure. But, if anyone asks, I’m totally the weight it says on my driver’s license. 🙂

Age: 32, Weight: approximately 156lbs, Height: 5’6″

Also, in the interest of full disclosure: I started tracking calories because I wanted to lose a bit of weight. Yes, I want to slim down for vanity related reasons, but I also wanted to see if it made my transition into aerial easier. I have gained a lot of muscle since starting pole, but I don’t appear to have lost fat. In fact, my weight has fluctuated up and down over the last two years. While I’m definitely stronger and fitter, I’m not any thinner – I’m a size bigger than when I started. Now, this is not to discourage anyone thinking about pole dance or pole fitness as a weight loss exercise – because people DO lose weight doing it. I just really like candy. And bacon. 🙂

I hope this helps answer some of the questions surrounding how many calories are burned in a pole dance or pole fitness class! I’ll update again in the future, when I have more results, but in the meantime – Happy Poling!