Grip-aids can be a controversial topic in the pole industry. Some people are vehemently anti grip-aid, believing that it is a crutch for aspiring pole athletes. On the other side of the argument are the people who are so pro-grip-aid that they DO become dependant on it, bathing themselves and the pole in dry-hands, and reapplying every 5 minutes.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Some context for my personal opinion about grip-aids:
As a pole instructor, there are a number of things I prioritise for my clients and students:
- My absolute number 1 priority above everything else is training safely.
- My second priority is empowering my students to experience success in their training.
- My third priority is progressively overloading my students. This means that each week I challenge my students to be just a little better than the week before, a little stronger than the week before, a little flexier than the week before.
That’s all well and good, but what the hell does that have to do with grip-aid?
1. Training safely
The fact of the matter is that grip-aid can be an important safety accessory for pole dancers.
There’s a long history of grip-aids being used across a range of sports without any controversy. Gymnasts, rock-climbers and powerlifters use chalk or magnesium to improve their grip for safety reasons. So why is it, then, that when using a grip-aid for pole, students are made to feel ashamed, as though they are taking the “easy way out”?
Pole is a sport in which we frequently put ourselves into potentially dangerous positions. We rely on the grip of very small surfaces of skin to support our entire body weight. That is the fundamental nature of this sport that we love so much. So what are we supposed to do if we’re unable to grip using that very small surface of skin? Should we endanger ourselves? Or would it be better for us to skip training that day?
The obvious answer is that neither of these options is the right choice.
When training new, potentially dangerous moves you should absolutely:
- train with a spotter;
- train with a crash mat; and
- use a grip-aid if it is helpful for you.
2. Training successfully
I want my students to love pole as much as I do. This means that I want each and every one of my students to feel like they’re succeeding in their training.
I can remember when I first started pole (in 2006!). A backwards knee hook made me feel like a superhero, and a basic invert seemed completely inaccessible. This was before dry-hands was even a thing. My studio had a stash of shaving cream for students to use as a grip-aid, and we were told that if our grip was really bad, we could wash our hands with Coke to get really grippy (gross, I know).
I was tiny and weak, and this was in the Australian summer, so I was also sweaty AF. You had best believe that I was applying sugary soft drinks to my body before every class. If I didn’t, I would slide down the pole like it was a waterslide.
My point is, without the help of a primitive grip-aid, I would have been completely unable to achieve anything in class. I would have been eternally frustrated, and I highly doubt I would have gone back after my first 8-week course.
What I expect from my students is that they turn up and work hard. I do NOT expect my students to butt their head against a brick wall. They shouldn’t be constantly missing moves because they’re sliding down the pole with preventable grip issues. If a drop of dry-hands or a touch of iTac will help them to feel successful and powerful in class, I’m totally here for that!
3. Progressive Overload
First, let me give you some clarification on what progressive overload actually is. As defined by Wikipedia:
Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed upon the body during exercise training.
It was developed by Thomas Delorme, M.D. while he rehabilitated soldiers after World War II. The technique is recognized as a fundamental principle for success in various forms of strength training programs including fitness training, weight lifting, high intensity training and physical therapy programs.
An example of progressive overload in pole dance is:
- Start learning how to invert on the pole, and hold a vertical break.
- When you feel confident with your vertical break, you start working towards your caterpillar.
- Once you’re strong in your caterpillar, you try a butterfly for the first time.
- As you feel more stable in your butterfly, you start experimenting with your extended butterfly.
- After spending a few weeks focussing on your extended butterfly, you can feel yourself getting stronger, so you try an inverted D for the first time.
- When you can get into a strong inverted D position every time, and hold it confidently, your teacher might suggest you try taking your legs off the pole and coming into your true-grip Ayesha.
This sequence of moves, learned in this order over an extended period of time is an example of progressive overload.
Again, I can hear you asking, how does this relate to using grip-aids??
Well, the first time that you try a new trick can be a little nerve-wracking. For some people, this CAN mean sweaty palms, a sweatier body and potentially less grip. But if you were to allow that to stop you from trying, you’d never get better or stronger on the pole.
Sometimes using a grip-aid just gives you the extra bit of confidence you need to try something difficult for the first time. The confidence that comes from knowing that you’re not going to be brought undone by sweaty hands or a slippery knee pit.
I use grip-aids in my training.
Because of the amount of time I spend training, I’m generally a pretty sweaty person. I also have somewhat oily skin. During warm weather, it becomes virtually impossible for me to grip the pole.
In the Summer I have to prepare for pole training by doing the following:
- Shower using harsh soap to strip my skin of oil.
- Spray every possible contact point on my body with a clinical strength antiperspirant deodorant.
- Take 2-3 towels with me to class, to wipe the sweat off my oily skin as it happens.
- When all else fails, I apply dry-hands to the contact points that I’ll be using for whatever we’re doing in class.
I’m passionate about pole, and confident in my pole skills. And yet without grip-aid, pole would be an inaccessible sport for me for a large part of the year, every year.
The grip-aid that works best for my skin is Dry Hands.
I recommend that some of my students train with grip-aids.
I have students in my classes that fall on the opposite end of the spectrum to me, in terms of skin type. They suffer from such dry skin that in the winter it cracks and peels. During the summer, their skin sticks to the pole like glue, but come winter, it seems like no matter how warm they are, they simply cannot get a grip on the pole. Using products like aloe vera or glycerin-based body moisturisers in combination with grip-aids like itac2 are really the only way that they can safely pole in the winter time.
Common misconceptions about grip-aids.
I have heard people say that grip issues are a beginners problem. I’ve heard them say that grip issues come from a lack of strength, or from a case of nerves causing sweaty palms, and for some people, this is definitely the case. But please don’t make the mistake of assuming this is the case for everyone. Again, I offer myself as a case in point. In ideal temperature conditions, I have no problem with my grip strength. My grip is just fine for an Ayesha. In the gym, I have no problems lifting a 110kg+ barbell without straps. However, in the height of summer, without the use of a grip-aid, I can not even do a simple chair spin.
Trust me when I say a chair spin does not make me nervous enough to have anxiety related sweaty palms.
Pole instructors and studio owners: before you declare that grip-aid is the enemy and make your students feel guilty for using it, consider that their journey may not be the same as your journey. There may be a genuine need to use grip-aid to progress safely as a pole dancer.
Pole students, I say go forward in your training, freely but judiciously using grip-aid. Before using it, consider if you really need it. Try washing your hands with a drop of dishwashing liquid to remove any residual oil or lotion you may have tainting your skin. If you feel like you can’t grip the pole without smothering both yourself and the pole in a thick layer of dry hands, I humbly suggest that you might want to check if either your grip strength, your skincare routine, or both are impacting on your pole training (hint – they very well could be).
The pole industry is passionate and loud-spoken about our inclusiveness – pole is for everybody! No matter if you are large, small, athletic or untrained, pole is for all! I 100% agree with this, but I would like to add that pole is also for very sweaty people (like me!) and for very dry skinned people. Without the benefit of grip-aid, pole becomes almost entirely inaccessible to these two populations for half of the year.
Do you train with grip-aid? Or do you completely disagree with me? Share your grip-aid story or change my mind by leaving a comment below.