We continue our exploration of body weight training disciplines this month with… boxing. Not one that naturally pops to mind right?!

Whilst boxing uses similar muscle groups as pole fitness, it obviously performs an entirely different function. We spoke to Kathy Lee, owner of The Pole Project Studio in Cape Town, about her experience of the two...


      1. How did you get into boxing and what keeps you going?

I was looking for a high intensity form of exercise that would spike my heart rate, build endurance and cardiovascular fitness. As a pole dancer, your heart rate only spikes when you are doing full routines, which doesn’t happen all the time. Boxing perfectly combines muscle-building strength training moves with bouts of cardio. I love that feeling of pushing yourself to a point where you are dripping in sweat, your heart is pounding and you are struggling to breathe. It’s highly addictive, especially when you feel yourself getting fitter and lasting longer each time.

Secondly, now that I turned pole dancing from a passion into my career, I needed another outlet for my “work-related stress”. Hitting stuff makes me feel really good! It’s an incredibly cathartic release when I get to punch my stress to smithereens.


Kathy boxing


2. What else have you tried?

I have recently started kickboxing. It appealed to me because it allows me to develop strength and power in both my arms and legs. It’s also a sport where my existing flexibility is an added bonus.


      3. How did you get into pole and aerial, and what keeps you going?

I started pole dancing back when I was working as a lawyer in London. I was always trying out different dance classes so a friend suggested that I try pole. I was instantly hooked to this beautiful and challenging melange of acrobatics, gymnastics and dance. I wanted to achieve what these super women were doing in class, performing amazing feats of strength with grace and elegance.

I started playing around with aerial hoop/lyra when I first opened The Pole Project studio in 2014. I picked it up pretty quickly, as a lot of the strength and skills you acquire from pole are transferable to other aerial arts. It’s been a while since I’ve done aerial though, I’d love to get back into it again once I find the time!

What keeps me going?

* My students! They energise and inspire me, to progress and push myself so I always have something to give them when they come to class.

* Good music – it feeds my soul, it feeds movement, it feeds my desire to flow through tricks and transitions… and just dance.


Kathy Pole 1


       4. Do you find that these activities complement one another and make it easier for you to progress

           through pole moves and/ or increase your endurance in the ring? If yes, how so?

How pole fitness complements boxing:

Being a pole dancer means I have great upper body and core strength. This definitely helps with being able to throw strong punches. Boxing also requires lots of fast rotational movements and a strong core allows me to punch hard without losing my balance. Moving lots of parts at the same time also requires good body coordination, which is something I build from pole fitness.

Boxing can also cause a lot of tightness in your muscles, particularly your shoulders. Since pole requires a balance of strength and flexibility, we do a lot of mobility work in pole, which helps improve your performance (at any sport) and lessens the chance of injury.


How boxing complements pole fitness:

Boxing forces your heart and lungs to work overtime, therefore enhancing your cardiovascular fitness, which helps when doing routines. It also improves your muscular endurance because boxing requires your muscles to contract repeatedly, consistent training means your muscles can keep contracting for longer durations without getting tired. Obviously, the increased strength and power that you build from boxing also helps in the execution of all the high-power strength moves in pole.


      5. Which discipline have you found more challenging?

Both offer a full body workout and are equally challenging in different respects.


Firstly, just to clarify, there are two types of boxing training: training that focusses on teaching boxers to compete in the ring, and training that focusses on helping “everyday athletes” get in better shape. I started off as the latter, but being the crazy competitive person that I am, decided to do a white-collar Fight Night in March this year, thereby transforming into the former.

Learning how to hit and be hit by a human opponent is an entirely different ball game. Boxing first and foremost requires much more beyond simple strength and power. It is also tremendously intensive and requires a lot of technique. Correctly and efficiently thrown punches use your hips, legs, glutes, core, obliques, shoulders, chest and arms. All of this becomes much more challenging when you are in the ring. You also have to practice things such as controlling distance, timing, speed, combinations, agility and focus in addition to cardiovascular and muscle endurance. It forces you to sharpen your skills, read your opponent, strategize, use your reflexes and control your aggression. My first time sparring felt like a near-death experience and I decided that boxing was categorically one of the most difficult sports I’ve ever done. I think it’s because anything can happen in the ring, and you have to react (and survive) accordingly. It’s very different with pole dancing, you are familiar with the routine you are presenting to the audience having practised it a million times and you are entirely in control of what happens on stage.


On the other hand, pole requires a good balance of strength, flexibility, coordination and grace. People don’t realise how hard it is to make pole dancing look effortless; there is an incredible amount of strength and control needed to achieve those gravity and death-defying moves!

The barriers one often faces include grip strength and getting different muscle groups to work in synergy in order to execute tricks. Some people also struggle with coordination, although fortunately my dance background has always helped in this respect. However, I think the most significant factor is that pole is painful! No matter what level you’re at, there is always a new trick or transition to learn, and new bruises to acquire. The process of growth never ends.


Kathy boxing and pole


6. Do you have any safety messages with regard movements and gear?

      * Always warm up properly. Take time to perform a very thorough warm-up regime, focussing on specific problem areas. Shoulder stiffness and/or pain is very common with both pole and boxing, especially with improper technique or overtraining.

      * Cool down is just as important. Take time to stretch out specific muscles, particularly those that have been overused e.g. shoulders. A thorough cool-down also helps you to relax, reduce the heart rate and respiration to normal levels and to realign muscles, joints and re-establish their normal range of movement. This will help prevent excessive cramping and muscle soreness.

      * Learn from certified instructors and use proper equipment. Some people try to figure things out with an improperly installed home pole and a YouTube instructional, which can be a recipe for disaster.

       * Build your strength progressively, always be safe. Don’t be reckless in your pursuit for progress – this does nothing for your pole longevity!

       * Rest. Listen to your body and let it recover.


For more on our body weight training series, click here to take a look at our previous features on acrobatics, calisthenics, yoga, running and parkour.


* All images courtesy of Kathy Lee and The Pole Project

Date added: 07/13/2017