Healthy Concepts
Olivia Meese

Olivia Meese

Olivia Meese is an instructor at Aerial Dance Pole Exercise in Appleton. With a degree in dance, multiple fitness degrees and a passion for the art form, join her for an inspiring class by registering online at or call 920-750-1441.

Wednesday, 01 August 2018 03:04

Overtraining and recovery

Training hard for your sport is important. Being diligent and consistent in your conditioning is what will bring you success and progress. While no one wants to plateau, overtraining can also hinder your journey toward your goals. When creating a training plan we must take into consideration how to split up our workouts to most benefit us without burning out. When we don’t give certain muscle groups and actions time to rest and recover, we will stop seeing the progress we desire. For instance, most weight lifters use a training split of upper and lower body, or pushing and pulling motions. Whatever is focused on one day, should be swapped out for another focus the next to give the body a chance to recuperate.

What is overtraining and how can we recognize it?

When we continue to push ourselves past our limits, our body will begin to respond. Signs that we are taking our training too far can be an unusually low or elevated resting heart rate, extended and excessive soreness, decreased motivation, and halted progress. These signs are the body’s response to not being able to appropriately recover. When our muscles grow we are essentially creating small micro tears in the fibers. Our body then uses protein to build the muscle back up. We must allow this process to happen in order to see the gains we want!

As aerialists, we have many, many goals we try to focus on all at once. Our bodies must be strong, but flexible, to perform beautiful shapes and lines just as dancers do. It is easy to want to attain a new move so badly that we run our bodies into the ground to get there. Eventually this can lead to injuries due to chronic overuse, or simply not listening to what our bodies are trying to tell us because of our drive toward getting what we want. However, being injured is one thousand times more frustrating than working hard toward a physical goal and not quite being where we want with it. With injury comes rehab, fear and way more time off than a rest day.

Not all rest days are created equal. Just because we are not in the gym or studio working toward our goals does not mean we are just sitting on the couch all day — or maybe it does. What your body needs to relax is just as important as what our mental and emotional needs are. Perhaps an off day looks like a long hike through the woods. This is still staying active, but likely in a different way than we have been training throughout the week. Perhaps an off day looks like getting a massage and foam rolling tired and sore muscles. Listening to what our needs are and making sure they are met is an imperative part of our health.

For some of us, it may help to think of it this way:

Instead of taking a rest day, think of it as training recovery. This way it is a part of the training program. Scheduling rest in the world we live in helps us to avoid burnout. Feeling motivated and rested for a workout will ensure that our time is used wisely when we are training. We all want to be able to live a long and active life, and while injuries happen and are sometimes unavoidable, if we are smart about our training and commit to listening to our bodies we can further ensure that we are able to continue our favorite activities throughout life. 

Monday, 26 March 2018 20:23

The impact dancing has on your brain

We all know that dance can not only be fun, but it can be used in many different forms for fitness. There are aerobic dance formats galore like Zumba, ballet barre workouts, pole fitness which uses a metal vertical dance pole, aerial dance which uses any type of hanging apparatus like hammock, hoop or silks to create a dance off the ground. All of these types of dance include strength training, balance, agility and grace. Did you know that not only does dancing help athleticism but also affects the brain in outstanding ways?As a fitness and dance instructor, one of the hardest things to teach is body awareness, or how to increase the use of proprioception in the body. Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of one’s own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. In other words, it is how the body knows what muscles are working at what length and tension, and how it knows its place in space relative to other objects.

Pretend that you have just been spinning around upside down in an aerial hoop, on a pole or even turning multiple times right side up in ballet. How does one know where they are in space or where to finish their movement? This skill is learned by the brain and integrates information from proprioception and from the vestibular system into its overall sense of body position, movement, and acceleration. This same part of the brain is tested by officers in field sobriety tests. So, by constantly challenging the body with different directional facings, balance points and muscle use, dancers are making themselves smarter!

Did you know that dancing is proven to be the most helpful activity benefiting the brain to protect against dementia? This is because of the increased connections and complexity of neural synapses that fire. When we lose memory and brain function it is due to the fact that there is only one neural pathway to fire. Dancing eliminates habitual patterns of thinking and living, and helps to create as many pathways as possible to create solutions to different problems. For instance, when a dancer is right side dominant in the body and has to figure out how to do something on the opposite side by themselves or with a partner. These puzzles are helping to keep those pathways firing, along with with our proprioception!

The other incredible way dancing helps the brain stay healthy is the release of endorphins like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. These chemicals are a part of the pleasure and reward centers in the brain and are released in conjunction with music, expression and succeeding at physical challenge. This is why physical fitness is so important to a healthy, well-functioning brain. Layering the puzzles of dancing on top of that is an extra benefit.

The physical benefits of dancing alone are such great motivation to get out there, and with the added benefit to the brain there is no reason not to! The next time you think that it is too difficult, or you are not “good” at it, remember that the brain is a muscle to be flexed and used just like the rest of your body. The more you do it, the more likely you are to increase the brain functions that make it easier and more fun.

So what are you waiting for? Start dancing!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 19:37

Pole technique

I have been a dancer for many years, and in that time I have trained in many formats including ballet, modern, hip-hop and jazz. No matter what style of dance you are training in there are always certain techniques to be learned specific to that genre. In ballet, one must learn port de bras, or the carriage of the arms. In modern one must learn about fall and recovery, and contracting-releasing. These are all codified techniques from many dancers and choreographers over the many years the styles have been around.

I find this fascinating as a classically trained dancer because all forms of dance require control and certain skills the body must be trained in, including pole! Pole dance, however, is very young and while the techniques may not be codified, there are very specific ways to be able to use this apparatus correctly and without injury. The first and most important in my opinion is what we call push-pull. This means utilizing your grip on the pole to get enough leverage to take the feet off the floor into spins and tricks. We begin students with engaging their muscles in this push-pull motion without releasing their feet off the ground and gradually build up to that over time.

Another incredibly important skill is learning about pelvic tuck. This is vital in all of the aerial arts. Pelvic tuck is what enables someone to invert themselves while in the air. We begin training this movement with many different abdominal exercises from the floor. The tuck needed to invert oneself comes from the very deepest layers including the transverse abdominis and the pelvic floor.

One more major building block is shoulder and back engagement. This can be difficult particularly for women as we naturally tend to have less upper body strength and more leg strength. To protect the shoulder joint from wear and tear, a pole dancer must always be engaging the shoulder because of how much mobility the joint has. This is especially true when the dancer starts to take their feet off of the floor and lift their own body weight. The latissimus dorsi, a major back muscle, plays a role in this as well, particularly in the pushing and pulling mentioned above. There are 17 muscles that control shoulder movement and each has to be properly developed for a dancer’s full, consistent engagement.

The last piece of technique from a dancer’s perspective is artistry. Artistry can be seen in all genres and is where the execution of technique and one’s own creativity cross paths. This can be different for anyone and everyone. We begin finding this artistry with free dances and games, combining different movements in each woman’s own way. This combination of muscle and grace is where we find our strength and believe our beauty.

As an instructor I sometimes hear students say things like, “I had no idea this would be such a tough workout” or “You make it look so much easier,” and I believe that is what is so special about all types of dance. There are so many things to think about and execute at one time and yet it must look powerful but effortless. These pole techniques when mastered lead to exactly that — a powerful and breathtaking performance! 

Thursday, 31 August 2017 02:38

What are you really training for?

Everyone wants to be fit. We want to have the six-pack abs we see in every advertisement and look good at the beach, so we train at the gym and try to eat the right foods. In my past five years as a personal trainer in the fitness industry I have trained for many different types of things. I have worked out to look aesthetically pleasing. I have trained to gain strength for heavy Olympic lifting. When I started pole dance fitness I figured that I would be pretty good at it because of my experience with lifting weights. This is not necessarily the case as pole dance is a functional sport requiring movement-specific strength. When I began pole I was challenged by each new move that was introduced to me. Because I wanted to be able to execute it I was motivated to work toward it. Before I knew it I would have one move and be working on another, and another, soon after I was able to do things that I never believed my body could do while getting stronger in the process.

There is a difference in training methods between trying to lift more weight, or build more muscle, versus training to be able to perform a certain skill or movement. Exercising to build muscle would be called hypertrophy training. This means that you are including a certain amount of exercises, sets and reps to accomplish your muscle growth. When one is training for a skill or movement it is called functional training. Does this mean that your muscles will not get bigger or stronger as a result? Not at all! The repetition of functional training builds both strength and muscle mass while also accomplishing other goals. So while a powerlifter may be able to bench press an immense amount of weight, there are few real world skills or situations that it actually coincides with.

What I have come to find is that the obsession with how our bodies look and exercising for aesthetics can lead down a path of negativity. Perhaps we never get to the point that we would like and get frustrated or give up. Perhaps we compare ourselves to others who have different genetics and will always look different from us despite trying to change it. This is where functional training for something that your body can do comes into play in a healthy way. When one trains for functionality, they are focused on becoming successful at that particular movement. Once this is accomplished, it is motivation to continue working on more difficult movements and continue to push the boundaries of what your body can do! This is more than looking at a scale, or looking at yourself in the mirror. 

One day we will all be a bit older, and a bit larger than we were in our younger years. What really matters is what our older body can do. Can you move around with your pets and your loved ones? Can you get around without the assistance of another person or a cane? Focusing on what the body can do and achieve is so much more worthwhile than obsessing over the culturally approved way our bodies should look! Sure, working out in the gym will keep you moving, but is it entertaining? Do you enjoy it or is it a chore? Would you rather spend hours in the gym working toward an aesthetic goal? Or would you rather work toward something that is fun and functional while also receiving the benefits of exercise for your body? This is what pole and many other sports and activities can do. 

Find what works for you, find what you enjoy and push yourself to become better at it! This way when we grow old and grey, we are not confined to chairs or beds, we are able to enjoy the entirety of our lifetime.

Thursday, 30 March 2017 20:12

Do not give up on yourself and your passion

I have been dancing my entire life. When it was time to decide the next step after high school I knew that I wanted to major in dance. However, my love and passion while doing so began to fade. I was constantly competing with students next to me to be chosen to perform. I did not feel comfortable expressing myself verbally or through dance with the people around me. I felt judged for the things my body could not do in dance technique. By the time I graduated I was sure that I just wanted to find a normal desk job and let dance fall by the wayside. I was never chosen to perform much; I was criticized because my strong body was not as flexible as other students. I did not move in the same way as other students. Dance had become something that was a chore, and I did not believe myself to be skilled in it any longer. I had negative self-talk about how it was all a dream that would come to a stop after graduation, because sometimes we need to be realistic in our expectations of ourselves and come to terms with reality. Right? Wrong.

After graduation and finally finishing a bachelor’s degree in fine art, I did not feel proud. I felt that I had wasted my time while others were out getting degrees in science, and business. That was until I found a place that not only welcomed women but encouraged them to be strong, and to be themselves. I had always wanted to try pole dance. As a dancer whose feet were always on the ground and who admired the upper body strength I knew it had to take I was not sure if I would do well at it but I loved it anyway. My first class already felt successful. It was only day one and not only was I being encouraged and supported by the women around me for what my body could do, I also felt pride.

As a beginner in pole I was already addicted. It was the highlight of my Monday to know that I could go somewhere and practice and be guided by knowledgeable instructors. I had little successes every week and they were celebrated. I began to feel that passion for dance and movement again. As I moved past the beginner stages and into an intermediate place I was overwhelmed with joy that I did not quit dancing as I had considered so many times before. It was a revival to my heart and soul! I continued to progress and made friends along the way, bonding over our safe space to be ourselves, and the strength we were gaining physically and mentally. Our bodies are very vulnerable. To be judged based on the way it does or does not move can be debilitating. Pole showed me that I could be strong and flexible, and defy gravity in a way I never thought possible.

At this moment, I could not be more proud that not only have I found a way to continue dancing after college, but I have completely changed my mind and the judgments I had made toward my talent and my body. After six months of practicing the aerial arts I was able to show off what I had learned in the Aerial Dance Pole Exercise Christmas show performance. I was soon after offered a chance to train as a new instructor at the studio, which I am so grateful to be able to do.

My experience goes to show that if you have a passion for something it will seek you out. Do not give up on yourself. If I had decided that dance was no longer for me, and if I had let that negative self-talk win, I would not have had the same opportunities. Starting pole dance gave me my self-confidence back. I am doing things now I would have never thought possible. It is an avenue of becoming an even better version of oneself while building camaraderie with those who share the interest. Let pole show you what you can do for yourself, as it showed me. 

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