BODY WEIGHT TRAINING – Running VS Pole Fitness

So, it’s not strictly a body weight training discipline, but as it’s the month of the Two Oceans our focus this month is running… another great cross training exercise for pole fitness nonetheless.

This month we got Deputy Editor of Women’s Health SA magazine, Wanita Nicol, to give us her thoughts on running vs pole dance.

Wanita running

Wanita, give us a bit of background on your fitness activities, how you got into running and what keeps you going…

I was never a runner – I didn’t enjoy it and I wasn’t any good at it. Then shortly after I joined Women’s Health I went to the launch of an adidas running shoe and the event involved a four-kay run. I’d never run that far in my life. Somehow, though, I made it. For me it was a massive accomplishment and it inspired me to take up running more regularly.

I started with weekly three-kay Red Sock runs, which were tough for me at first. Slowly I got better and started pushing my distance and speed. I’m no long-distance runner and have no desire to be one – I’d rather focus on running five and ten kays better. The fact that I can even run 10 kays still amazes me constantly.

Aside from running, my main training focus is calisthenics (body-weight training) and I also do Krav Maga (military-style self-defence).

Wanita calisthenics


So, what was your pole dancing experience and where are you with it currently?

Every year Women’s Health does a staff fitness challenge during winter. For my fitness challenge in 2016 I spent three months learning pole dancing. I wanted to get stronger – and, in particular, build core strength – so that I could progress better with my gym training. I didn’t expect to fall in love with pole fitness the way I did.

My first few classes, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even spin once around the pole, because I was holding on for dear life and gripping it too tightly. Trying to sit and stand on the pole hurt too much and I wasn’t flexible enough to do any of the acrobatic movements. I also had zero coordination so I couldn’t master the routines and I wasn’t graceful or sexy – more just awkward and clumsy. By the end of the three months, I was doing several of the basic spins one handed, I’d learnt to point my toes (and touch them!) and I could sit, stand and climb on the pole. I even managed some more advanced poses for my post-challenge photo shoot. There’s a pole at one of the Virgin Active gyms where I train and I still practise my moves there. I also use what I learnt doing pole in my calisthenics training and it’s amazing how much it helps.

Did you find that your background in running made it easier to perform some of the pole moves you’ve been taught?

When you’re a beginner pole dancer, you aren’t getting your heart rate to spike that much in training because you can’t do much and you’re going slowly. I found that supplementing the pole training with running helped keep my metabolism up so I stayed lean while building muscle in the pole classes. That lean muscle helped me enormously with the strength moves. I was able to manage some that were quite advanced for my level.

On the flip side, running can cause a lot of tightness in your muscles. The mobility work we did in pole helped me stretch out so I wasn’t so stiff. I still use those mobility exercises for warming up before workouts and runs, and stretching after. 

In addition, because pole fitness involves lifting your bodyweight having less body fat makes it easier to do the moves. Think of it this way – if you’ve put on five kilos because you were doing a lot of strength training and built five kilos worth of muscle (which would be seriously impressive, FYI) then even though you’re weighing more, that muscle will help you when you’re trying to pull yourself up on the pole, so it’s all good – the muscle is literally pulling its own weight. But five kilos of fat won’t help you do anything, it will just weigh you down. So, it’s like trying to pull yourself up with a five-kilo weight strapped to you. Ideally you want to be lean (thanks, running) and strong (yay pole!). 


Which discipline have you found more challenging?

The two are equally challenging in different ways.

Running spikes your heart rate and if you push yourself you reach a point where you’re struggling to breathe and your heart is pounding.

Pole requires strength, coordination and grace. If these don’t come naturally to you and you don’t have experience in this kind of training, it can take a long time to get something right.

With both sports though, it’s a mental game. The frustration you feel when you can’t get something right in pole is very similar to the despair you feel when you’re running and you feel like you just can’t go any further – in both cases you want to give up. But if you don’t give up, in both cases you feel on an absolute high when your perseverance is rewarded and you nail the move or cross the finish line.

Wanita pole dancing


Thanks, Wanita. Before we let you go, do you have any safety messages with regard movements and gear?

Warming up for both running and pole is very important – and not just a quick, cursory warm-up. Take time to perform a thorough dynamic (moving) stretching routine, especially when it’s cold and with special focus on your problem areas (like if you have a stiff neck, spend extra time on it). For running, gear is very important – get your feet and gait analysed at a specialist store and get shoes that are right for your feet. You also need comfortable clothes – overheating, being drenched with sweat and feeling weighed down are all factors that can hamper your performance. 


And there you have it! You can follow Wanita on Facebook and Instagram, and for more on our body weight training series, click here to take a look at our previous features on acrobatics, calisthenics and yoga.

* All images courtesy of Wanita Nicol

Date added: 04/05/2017