First rule of pole dancing is…

Don’t talk about pole dancing…Just kidding! Talk about pole dancing all you want. Pole dancing is the best!

Cheesy jokes aside….

First rule actually is: shoulders engaged!! I’m not only talking about new pole dancers either. I see plenty of seasoned pole dancers who do not not properly engage their shoulders and back muscles, until they inevitably suffer an injury.

This is a blog post for oldies and newbies alike, as we take a look at what exactly people are talking about when they say things like pull the pole down from the ceiling, into the ground, engage the scapula, etc. We’ll talk a bit about the anatomy of what’s going on there, and why “shoulders back and down” can be a faulty cue for many (if not most) students.

Behold! I give you..the shoulder girdle! (an abbreviated version of it anyways.)


I made this illustration in hopes to better visualize what is actually happening when we are engaging our scapula (or shoulder blade).

See how all these muscles sort of wrap around and support the scapula like a nice little hug of security? Mmmm hugs are nice…

Let’s break it down a little bit! If you are not so interested in the anatomy bit and it bores the hell out of you, go ahead and skip the next section. If you are curious and have a tendency towards the super nerdy, read on!

Anatomy Stuff

That red muscle in front actually attaches to the front side of our shoulder blade (think of it as the meat in a shoulder blade and rib cage sandwich. Except this meat has fingerlike projections that attach to your ribs…rib meat! Mmm rib meat..). It helps keep our shoulder blade stable against our rib cage, which is super important both for strength and injury prevention purposes. This muscle is called the serratus anterior (for those of you interested in the Googlefu)

The muscle in teal is your latissimus dorsi, or lats. You’ve probably (hopefully) heard a lot about this guy. He’s responsible for bringing your arm closer to your side and behind your body. He also has a lot of play when it comes to moving your torso. If you’re a newbie and haven’t met your lats yet, do yourself a favor and introduce yourself. The sooner the better! These guys will become especially crucial players when you get to inverts.

The muscle in pink is your trapezius muscle. For this conversation, we are largely focused on the lower traps. This keeps your shoulder blades from creeping up around your ears, and is also a crucial player in shoulder stabilization.

In Practice

The goal of this post is to deepen the understanding what it means to engage your scapula. Look at the picture above. See how the muscles wrap like a sweet scapular hug? They also have pretty broad attachment sites (where the muscle attaches to tendons or bone) which suggest stability. More surface area for the muscle = more places the muscle has to grab onto and pull, which results in a better bet strength wise.

Let’s take a look at the scapula when its not engaged…


If you don’t engage your scapula, it looks a little something like this. Sort of hanging around. The poor little guys pictured above are left to fend for themselves. Look at those little guys! They’re not equipped! These muscles are very small when compared to the back muscles we talked about earlier.

When a muscles starts out in a long position and you try and make it shorter, it takes a LOT more strength than if that muscle were to start at a more neutral position. If a dancer lifts their arm above their head without engaging their scapulae, then the lats and mid traps (teal and pink in the first picture) have a lot harder time doing their job of keeping everything in place, and the dancer is asking a lot more of the connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) of their rotator cuff.

Shoulders Back and Down

I have serious beef with this cue, especially in pole dancing. My massage practice is comprised of almost exclusively pole dancers, and I can tell you that maybe 80% of them are stuck in some degree of arch or inward curve in their mid to upper back. And thats a conservative estimate.

When you tell someone to roll their shoulders back and down, they almost always extend somewhere in their spine so that their shoulders are further back and then force them down. This interrupts the natural shape of the ribcage. A scapula can only function as well as the ribcage its gliding along. Below I’ve provided a couple alternative cues

Cues and Thangs

*Shoulders away from ears

*Tall spine

*Pull the pole down from the ceiling

*Think of driving the pole into the ground

I hope this helped put some solid visualization behind what’s going on when we engage our scapulae. This is my first blog post so let me know if you have any questions, or comments (good or bad!). Let me know if things made sense or didn’t, if there were things mentioned you’d like to learn more about, or topics you’d like to see covered.

Thanks for reading!