A few weeks ago, I saw an article in my local paper entitled ‘Grunty gym bloke, it’s time to shut the hell up.’ Being one of those people who happily gets the blood pumping of a morning by reading something in the paper that I know will piss me off, I clicked on the link ready to decry everything the author had to say on the matter of noise and exercise. Anyone who has ever been in a pole class with me will know just how avidly I adhere to the theory that the odd grunt, yelp or inarticulate war-cry really can help you nail that impossible move.
Once I started reading, though, I had to admit that the author made several good points. There is some really strong, and strongly gender-biased, messaging out there that says that exercise needs to be about machismo for blokes and guilt and weight loss for women. It can lead us to judge others for being-in-the-wrong-part-of-the-gym, can encourage body image issues, and most worryingly can lead us all to lose sight of the many other reasons for which one might choose, and for which it should be ok for one to choose, to exercise.
The Pole World
It struck me that the pole world is often quite different to the gym world portrayed in the article. It’s rare that you hear much discourse in class or at comps and other shows about people needing to look better. Often we’ll remark upon how great someone already looks – how hot, how strong, how sexy – but there’s never much sense of ‘He could be hotter’ or ‘She just needs to lay off the cupcakes.’
To wit, at the recent Miss Pole Dance Australia finals there was a new sponsor: a cosmetic surgeon. They had a stall out the front, got a mention from the comperes (like all the sponsors did), and offered an amount of ‘cosmetic enhancements’ as one of the major giveaways on the night. The girl who won seemed happy with her prize and there was no booing or hissing from the crowd on the grounds that this was anti-feminist or objectifying women or anything like that – as polers we already have a particular way of seeing those issues. What interested me, though, was that in the couple of different classes I went to the following week, most of the discussion was about how a cosmetic surgeon was seen as an odd choice to sponsor a pole show since we’re, apparently, the ones who are least concerned about what our bodies look like because we’re most interested in what crazy shit our bodies can do.
What do you all think of this? Is it true? Is it true when we’re talking about other polers but not when we look at ourselves? Or was I chatting with people who just don’t happen to be all that representative of the rest of the pole community? To what extent can we use pole to celebrate being sexy regardless of what we’ve got to work with?
Food Is Fuel
If you read my last blog post, you might have seen that my own experience of putting myself out there as a poler has at least some dimensions of wanting to look my best (I think that much at least is fairly natural), and that when the stakes are high I’ll go to some significant diet, exercise and supplement lengths (opinions will be more divided on how normal or not this is) to try to achieve this, or at least to fake it.
In my recent experience, I got it wrong. I forgot about a key fact: that engines need fuel to run at all, and that they need fuel of good enough quality and enough quantity if they want to perform well. In the human body, food is fuel. A high performing body needs enough good quality food to keep performing, and this applies just as much to exercise and training as it does to busting out something awesome on the big day.
For five weeks I cut carbs out of my diet and restricted myself to 1200 cals a day. For both of these approaches there is some evidence base that they can be short-term effective. However, the evidence base doesn’t look at how well these approaches work when you combine them AND when you do this at the same time as doubling your exercise efforts which were already high. My experience (and it is only my experience) was that putting all three of these things together did not work. I was grumpy, tired and headachey, and I stayed almost exactly the same size and weight. OK, I did lose 1cm from my waist and 600g in weight, but over five weeks of solid effort you’d expect better results than that, right?
Wrong. When you’re using up way more energy than your body is absorbing it will go into starvation mode. Every scrap of food you eat has every last skerrick of energy squeezed out of it and stored in your body, your body who is trying its best to keep you alive and functioning in what it interprets as an environment where your next meal isn’t guaranteed.
So What Does The Science Say?
To be honest it’s been hard to track down. I’m no scholar and not a nutritionist, so when I’ve gone googling for evidence to back up the anecdotal info I’ve been given by trainers at the gym and a psychologist friend who specialises in eating disorders I’ve come up close to empty handed. There’s loads of info out there that tells you how to lose weight by cutting calories and increasing exercise, but there’s less out there that tells you how to do this safely if your diet is already good and activity levels already high.
The best nutrition advice that I could find for superstars like us – whether trying to lose weight, tone up, maximise performance or just get healthier – was to get personalised advice from a qualified dietician. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Sure, it’s not faddish and doesn’t offer a quick fix, but what it does offer is access to the expert mechanic who is going to make your engine run like a dream – as opposed to the DIY kit you bought off the shelf, got home, realised didn’t fit and then tried to make fit anyway.
The other – more important – bit of advice is around body love, or at least body acceptance. Let’s not lose sight of all that crazy shit our bodies really can do! Even before you get on a pole your body is pretty amazing just for all the things that it does to get you through the day. On top of that, think about how confident and sexy you are when you strut your stuff, how insanely strong you must be to be able to invert, spin, climb and hang by your arms/knee/armpit/waist/[insert other body part you never knew you’d use before you started pole].
Guys and gals of the pole community, we really do have super powers. Find yours, feed it (both metaphorically and in the nutritional sense!) and be the poler you want to be.