Pole fitness is not just for girls

It’s actually really hard

When you think of pole fitness, you’ll conjure up an image of ripped dancers flinging themselves around a pole in impossible ways. And those dancers will be female.

Although the introduction of poles into gyms around the country has skyrocketed over the last few years, it’s a form of exercise which has never resonated with men – regardless of its impressive fitness benefits.

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With that in mind, I’ve travelled to The Factory Fitness & Dance Centre in North London to try and get to the bottom of why it is that men don’t warm to the pole – and to see if it really is as hard as it looks.

Emily Ford, the pole professional who’ll be taking my class today, tells me that males are a rarity here. She said: “You don’t really get many guys at all.

“Occasionally the odd one or two will trickle through. Men seem to just think it’s wiggling on a pole, without having given it a go.”

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As it happens, there are two other men joining the class tonight. As we enter the brightly-lit studio filled with women putting up poles like it’s second nature, they both seem just as apprehensive as me.

Looking around at the array of sports leggings and gym tops, I don’t feel too out-of-place in my old vest and gym shorts. Then some unspoken command ripples through the room and the clothes come off in favour of skimpy pants and sports bras.

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Pretty much every woman has more muscle than me, and they definitely don’t have beer guts like mine. In fact, there’s barely an ounce of fat between them – and if that’s not an advert for pole fitness, I don’t know what is.

The workout begins with a selection of stretches and core exercises, which I at least feel a little familiar with. Once these are over, however, it’s time to get down to the real challenge.

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I’m paired up with Anja and Marianna, who are both seasoned members of the class. They’re lovely, and say they’re more than happy to give me a helping hand – which is good, because I’m going to need it.

We start with a handstand against the pole,which ends up being more of a workout for them as they try to hold onto my flailing legs while I puff and pant and try not to collapse.

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The second exercise is apparently “easier”, Emily says, consisting of a spin around the pole while holding on with one arm. Anja and Marianna both complete it with ease, and then look to me for my effort.

I grip the pole above my head with my right hand, and optimistically jump into what I assume will be a move as delicate and nimble as theirs. My grip isn’t quite as impressive, however, and I slide down the pole like a heavy slug until I end in a crumpled ball on the floor.

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It’s only when Emily tells me to relax, or to be more “like a child” in her words, that I actually start to make some progress – and I must admit, I’m having a lot of fun.

By the fourth attempt I can do something vaguely resembling a full circle of the pole, although much to Anja’s annoyance it seems I am entirely incapable of either smiling or pointing my toes during.

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The other women in the class are incredible. As I look around, one is performing a flagpole with nothing more than her arms and her core muscles, while another is hanging upside down using only her thighs for grip. I can’t help but feel incredibly emasculated.

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The final exercise is the one most will be familiar with, involving a quick climb up the pole and then a variation of gravity-defying moves in mid-air. Anja and Marianna, of course, do it easily.

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The next 10 minutes consist of me pitifully trying to bend and contort my body in such a way that I won’t injure myself. A highlight includes Marianna making me tuck my shorts into my boxers so that I can grip the pole better with my pasty thighs.

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My own embarrassing efforts aside, I can see why everyone here loves this – not only is it fun, but I’m really being put through my paces. By the time we’re stretched out at the end, every muscle in my body feels like it’s been worked to breaking point.

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After the class has finished, I stick around to chat to some of my classmates. They all say the same thing – men knock pole fitness until they try it, but every single one comes away loving it.

If men are serious about getting in shape, dismissing something like pole fitness because it’s “girly” is a serious shot in the foot. You’ll get a much better full-body workout here than you will in the gym, I can vouch for that.

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And though it seems like we’re a long way off all-male pole troupes, Emily remains hopeful about the future of pole fitness for men. She says: “It’s something which is still seen as feminine and pretty.

“But the guys are always surprised at how good a workout it is once they’ve tried it.”

Book your own class at The Factory here, or visit Emily’s site at  www.contourspole.co.uk

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