Work it - in more ways than one

WHAT'S A POLE DANCING WORKOUT?Put on your high heels, shed some clothes and gyrate to sexy music around a metal pole.

The general idea is to give women a supportive environment where they can express their sexuality and work out at the same time. Music can be erotic or sensual, and dim lighting may be used.

Wear snug-fitting clothing (tanks, short-shorts, yoga pants, etc.) that you feel comfortable and confident in. Collette Kakuk, owner of OC Pole Fitness in Aliso Viejo, Calif., has noticed that as her students' confidence rises, so do their hemlines.

As classes progress, the routines will probably get more technically complicated. Advanced students may do pole tricks like inverted poses.

BACKGROUND In 2001, actress Sheila Kelley founded S Factor. "Before S Factor there were only classes that were given by strippers for strippers," Kelley said in an e-mail interview. "It was completely new territory, which is kind of why we started."

Kakuk said pole dancing classes have been gaining momentum in the United States recently and have been popping up across Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom in the past several years.

BENEFITS Pole dancing can help improve muscle tone, increase strength and flexibility, improve posture, offer a good cardio workout, burn fat, and improve self-image and body confidence, Kakuk said.

"Fitness has become so 'manly' ... this treats us like women," Kakuk said. "This allows us to celebrate our sensuality, and to relish in the beauty of how are bodies look in motion."

The high-heeled shoes make women look sexy while strengthening the legs and gluts through isometric contraction. Kakuk recommends 6-inch heels with a 2-inch rise.

DRAWBACKSTouching yourself sensually and dancing more provocatively can be intimidating at first, but Kakuk assures the embarrassment quickly disappears in a supportive environment.

Pole dancing can be dangerous, Kakuk said. For example, pole inversions can cause serious head or neck injuries if done improperly. Students should avoid using lotion on their hands or bodies the day of class to avoid slipping.

Bruising can occur, especially in the first month or two, Kakuk said.

Some people may feel uncomfortable with pole dancing's association to strip clubs, she said. "Take away the nudity, the alcohol, dollar bills and a raucous male audience, and we have a very different concept here," she said.

WHO IT'S FORWomen who want a different type of workout and who are also interested in rediscovering their sensuality, Kakuk said.

WHAT IT WORKSTotal body. Arms can get incredibly sore because of the pole tricks.

A FIRST-TIMER'S TAKERubbing your half-naked body against a metal pole and crawling on the floor in 6-inch stilettos is hard work.

Sure it's hot, and pretty fun. But bottom line, it's a hell of a workout. I tried out pole dancing for myself to better understand the draw of this erotic exercise.

I wasn't sure what to expect during my very first class, which took place over two hours at S Factor. I figured I'd have a good time dancing to sexy music, but I never thought I'd enjoy it as much as I did.

The darkened class began with instructor Kristin Mason leading us through a slow, deep warm-up. Her hypnotic, sensual voice carried through the studio, making it easy for me to get into the moment.

We stretched our bodies through slow winding movements. Our abs got a good (and very painful) workout through a combination of engaged abs and controlled leg movements.

When Mason instructed us to touch ourselves, including our "center," I wasn't as weirded out by it as you'd think. At the time, it just felt right. And I only felt mildly strange when one of the moves involved rubbing our rear ends against a pole.

Some of the pole exercises looked intimidating at first, especially because I was dropping into a class that had met a few times already. Fortunately there were two other instructors helping Mason show us the moves on three different poles. Thanks to some one-on-one guidance, I was able to perform most of the moves passably.