Pole fitness: ‘Firing up the abs was more enjoyable than I’d imagined’

Fiona Alston gives pole fitness a whirl and finds it a lot more interesting than hitting the gym

Fiona Alston is put through her paces by Sarah O’Reilly of Fierce Pole Fitness Dublin. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Fiona Alston is put through her paces by Sarah O’Reilly of Fierce Pole Fitness Dublin. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

Thankfully, getting in better shape does not have to involve a choice between running or hitting the gym.

In a search for alternatives, I decided to give pole fitness a whirl.

Fierce Pole Fitness Dublin came recommended so I went to their Harold’s Cross studio to get put through my paces by owner Sarah O’Reilly. She’d emailed me to suggest I wear shorts and a sleeveless top for more pole grip, but, being body conscious after my winter break, I went in the safety of a long-sleeved shirt and three-quarter length pants.

The softly lit studio is filled with eager men and women of all different ages, shapes and sizes. It might be unfair to call the warm-up “vigorous”, but, already reeling from the pain of my return to training, vigorous is how it feels as we star-jump, squat, pulse and shake ourselves into action.

A few minutes later I was limbered up and ready to pole – initial fears long forgotten.

I wish I’d worn the shorts.

The first thing you need to know about pole fitness is that you are working with your own weight, this instantly made me wish I had arranged to do this before my Christmas blow-out.

Fiona had been dying to swing around the pole since she set foot in the studio and was not left disappointed. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times
Fiona had been dying to swing around the pole since she set foot in the studio and was not left disappointed. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

I am shown various ways to grip the pole and hang, to feel the weight I’d be working with. This all requires significant upper body strength and isn’t quite as hard as I had imagined. Adding in leg movements meant firing up the abs and using my core. I mask the strain with the smile I normally reserve for finish-line photos.

The Chair Spin

With leg lifts practiced we add in a swing around the pole. I’d been dying to do this since I set foot in the studio. I am not disappointed.

Turns out, I’m a natural. O’Reilly tells me it took her weeks to master this – though I’m not sure if she’s saying that so I’ll write nice things about her.

Either way, I am happy to take the compliment.

She makes each move look so easy and elegant. I on the other hand . . . well, let’s just say I wasn’t graced with grace – though even the photographer tries to be polite about it.

“The Chair Spin” soon becomes my favourite move, and I practice in both directions – though I’m a lot less confident going left.

Having ridden horses all of my life, I am no stranger to falling but find it more intimidating when the blame for a fall lies entirely to me. Luckily, I manage the whole evening without incident.

The first thing you need to know about pole fitness is that you are working with your own weight. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times
The first thing you need to know about pole fitness is that you are working with your own weight. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

I even learn how to climb up the pole.

Trust me, it is a lot harder than it looks.

As I catch glimpses of others in the background – some pulling some pretty phenomenal moves – it strikes me how comfortable I feel being the beginner amongst all this talent. We even had the company of top-class performers, Terri Walsh and Michael Donohoe, who had travelled from their own studios in Maynooth.

It helps that they’re all a friendly bunch. “It’s supposed to be a place where people come and leave their crap at the door and are able to just have fun, that’s the most important thing about it,” says O’Reilly. “They’re all really supportive girls and guys, I think sometimes they come in just to hang out. It’s a great atmosphere and that’s one thing I’m really proud of.

“It’s so much fun that it becomes really addictive, it’s like being a kid again in the playground. What I like about it is, you know when you’re kind of afraid to fall, you feel your fragility, and well I’ve lost that again.”

Growing self-confidence

One of the group, Ian Lynam, started pole fitness when he was studying in Edinburgh, 14 months ago. Having never quite found his niche in sports during his school years, pole was finally the sport to grow his self-confidence.

“I remember it being such an achievement to me when I was able to do push-ups after the first few weeks of pole because I never could have done that at school,” he explains. “It’s not competitive in a very aggressive way, it’s really about working on yourself and pushing your limits which is really what I think fitness should be about. You don’t even feel the calories burning while you are doing it, you’re just focused on having a good time, you don’t even realise what an intense workout it is.”

Fiona Alston is put through her paces by Sarah O’Reilly of Fierce Pole Fitness Dublin. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times
Fiona Alston is put through her paces by Sarah O’Reilly of Fierce Pole Fitness Dublin. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

It most certainly is fun and as we wrapped up for the evening I really didn’t want to leave my new friends.

In just two short hours I’d been converted to pole fitness, I mean, what’s not to like?

Full body strength training with a cardio effect and I was getting to realise my dreams, doesn’t everyone have a burning desire to swing around a pole? Just think about it, whether it be a lamp post, a pole in the playground or in a bar on a night out, it may be hidden, but the desire is there.

Go on, give it a whirl.