Everything Hurts and I’m Dying: How Much Soreness is Too Much?

Authored by Dr. Jennifer Crane, PT, DPT, OCS, ATC of Cirque Physio.

What does current performing arts culture tell us about muscle soreness? Aches and pains? Bruises, burns, and rope rash?

“CIRCUS HURTS.”
“Train through it.”
“Tears are for home, not circus”
“Here, have some circus candy (advil/ibuprofen).” 

These are all common “circus-isms” that I’ve heard, and I want to talk a bit about soreness- is it productive? How much is too much? How do you train optimally while simultaneously avoiding OVERtraining and subsequent injury?

This is a HUUUGEE topic, and I’m only going to address a small component of it in this post.

​I was recently reading an article on implementing pitch counts in little league players (woah, #notcircus?! I know…what was I thinking…) and it REALLY got my gears turning. Not because I love baseball (…I don’t), but because one of the criteria they used for progressing pitch intensity and frequency was something I felt could also be applied to circus artists who are returning to training after a long hiatus, or even to those who are wanting to progress skill and strength levels in an efficient amount of time, without getting injured.

THE SORENESS RULE

​This criteria for training progression is referred to as the “Soreness rule.” It was initially created for pitchers, but has since been adapted and modified to fit other sports as well (running, weight lifting, etc). These rules give athletes the ability to modify their progression of skill/strength according to the soreness they experience. If the athlete feels sore, tender, or stiff, then they can use the soreness rules to guide their training for the rest of that week.

BUT FIRST…

​Here are the ground rules before I dive into WHAT the actual soreness rules are:

  1. THESE DON’T APPLY IF YOU’RE INJURED.  If you have pain that is NOT from working out a muscle, GET IT CHECKED OUT by someone who’s qualified to do so.
  2. These rules are based on stepwise progression of overall training volume, strength or skill acquisition. This means that before you get started, you need to create multiple steps/phases of training- whether its breaking a trick down into 5 phases, or just generally increasing the number of hours you train per week. For example: if you’re an aerialist that is coming back from having a baby (and have been cleared to return to aerial by all involved healthcare providers), you should first sit down and create a multi-phase return-to-full-time-aerial plan. This must be well defined, so work with a qualified coach to do so, if you get stuck!
  3. Ok, sit down for this one…I’m serious, you’re not going to like it. EACH TRAINING DAY SHOULD HAVE ONE DAY OF REST BETWEEN to ensure proper recovery and adaptation to the stimulus and load!!
    1. Yeah, I said it. The “R” word. In this context, it doesn’t mean complete Netflix and chill bedrest status for 24 hours, it just means that if you’re working on an upper body skill, to give your upper body a break the next day. Yes, handstands count. Yes, contortion counts. Yes, vinyasa yoga counts. Yes, one day = 24 hours.
  4. Each step/phase in your progression should last for at least one week. This means that you should be working on whatever conditioning/training drills comprise ONE step for SEVEN DAYS- without soreness. You must be able to do step one, completely free of any muscle soreness, for 7 days before progressing to step 2. If you have soreness during step one, you stay on step 1 (with 24 hour break between each training session) until you’re doing it WITHOUT soreness. For 7 days.
    1.  I do realize I just said the exact same thing three times. I’ve had the rest day conversation with enough circus artists to know that repetition is key, and over-defining each term is required. It is also often required for me to define how many hours are in a day, and how many days are in a week. 

CLIFF NOTES VERSION

 ​Overwhelmed? Here’s the cliff notes version: Pick a skill to work on, or an overall training goal. Break the goal down into at least 5 steps. Assign drills and conditioning for each step. Start with step 1, and don’t move on to step 2 until you’ve been doing it every other day for one week, without any muscle soreness.

Oh yeah…one more thing. WORK WITH A QUALIFIED COACH.

​PRESENTING: THE SORENESS RULE



YOU’VE GOTTA BE KIDDING ME.

Alright, there we have it. The rules. You guys, I KNOW. Your heart rate and blood pressure just spiked, and you’re getting anxious just THINKING about all those rest days, and how slowly you think you’ll progress. I’m aware that in the circus world, these rules seem SUPER conservative.

​However…as a circus PT, at least 80% of the injuries I treat are from overuse…too much training, and too little rest. These injuries tend to last upwards of 3 months (because again, no rest…) and can significantly impact performing artists career length and career quality. The kicker is, these injuries are caused predominantly by modifiable risk factors…aka, proper dosage of training and adequate rest. So yes…I understand that you’re panicking thinking about this. And yes, I understand that implementing any big change in training program is something that does NOT happen overnight, but I think these rules have a potentially huge positive impact on the overall rate of overuse injuries in circus artists, and I think there’s value to planting this seed in your minds…even if you don’t actually DO anything about it for a while!

As I said, the topic of adequate rest, proper training load and volume, as well as overall periodization of training in circus arts is a MASSIVE subject. I’ll likely have a few more posts on this topic, so if you have any specific requests, leave them in the comment section!



DR. JENNIFER CRANE, PT, DPT, OCS, ATC

Dr. Jennifer Crane is a physical therapist, athletic trainer, board certified orthopedic specialist, and published author. She has been a sports medicine professional for eight years, and has worked with a wide variety of athletes and performing artists throughout that time. Most recently, she worked as a physiotherapist living in China with the Chinese Olympic Teams in preparation for the Rio 2016 Olympics. While in China, she worked with multiple sports teams: diving, weight-lifting, fencing, gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and track and field. Of the athletes she worked with, 18 of them went on to get an Olympic gold medal in Rio.

Now happily back in San Francisco, Jen’s practice is based at Circus Center, where she specializes in injury prevention and treatment of athletes and performing artists. When she’s not working with circus artists, she can usually be found standing on her hands, swinging on flying trapeze, or spinning on a single point trapeze.

Click here to visit Cirque Physio.

How to Be Judgmental When You Enter a New Studio

Sometimes, it’s a good thing to be judgmental. Particularly when your well-being (and maybe your very life!) depends on it. The goal of this blog is to give you practical tools so that when you walk into a studio, you can make a call for yourself: Is it safe to do aerial here? Unfortunately, sometimes the answer will be NO! It pains me to say it –because I want to believe the best from every human being and every studio–but some people have starting teaching aerial before their safety wisdom has ripened. Stay away from them bad apples.

First — Look Up & Ask Questions

Whatever the rigging is attached to should be able to handle the load capacity for EVERY point that is in operation that day doing aerial things. Here’s a great video to show how a drop can generate 900 pounds in a split second!

How safe are you going to feel on a system that is designed to hold 1,000 pounds? Um, let me answer that for you: back away slowly. OSHA recommends a safety ratio of 10:1, meaning that ideally, the system should be able to handle 9,000 pounds if you are going to be putting 900 pounds on your system. Now, generally, 5,000 pounds is acceptable in the aerial world for each rig point, but hey, higher is always better and safer!!!

Look at what you are hanging from. If you are unsure about anything, ASK QUESTIONS! Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If the owner is insulted, this is a red-flag! Any studio owner who has put years of research into best practices and thousands of dollars into safety is proud to talk your ear off about why their system is super safe, and how the engineers backed up their load capacity numbers well over 5,000 pounds. They didn’t just take some shady chain and loop it around the nearest trussing. (In general, aerial riggers recommend staying far away from chain. It is unpredictable in load capacity around beams and not suitable for most aerial rigging.)

Look at the Attachments

The big beam holding all your weight should look and feel sturdy. Next, we want to draw your attention to all the attachment points. If carabineers are being used, are they closed and locked? Are carabineers turned sideways or tri-loaded? Here’s an example of a carabineers that should NOT be used EVER for aerial work:

carabineer

I have seen cases of the above being used for aerial hanging. I would use this carabineer to hang my keys in my purse, not to hang my life. It’s a fine carabineer for other uses, but NOT rated for aerial. It’s working load limit is a dinky 180 pounds.

While many aerial riggers have a preference for steel carabineers, this is not law, and aluminum is okay, as long as it’s one that is rated for a minimum of 2,000 pounds (again, higher = better). Some red flags to look for no matter what carabineer is up there is side-loading. Side-loading a carabineer is a big no-no. A carabineer has different ratings based on how it is loaded and the best (not to mention safest!) is to always double check your rigging to ensure that carabineers are in their normal vertical positions.

Another no-no when it comes to carabineers is leaving them unlocked or unscrewed. This is a no brainer, but I see it happen a lot with new/less experienced riggers! No leaves it open on purpose, everyone can be forgetful. That’s why I teach my teachers that they have to go “clickity-click-click-it” every time in an annoying — but helpful for memory — way.  Having a routine that requires you to double check everything helps to avoid simple mistakes.

Screw-gate carabineers should “screw-down so you don’t screw up!” This helps for long-term safety as gravity can unravel a carabineer.

Another no-no for carabineers is tri-loading. I see it all the time, but it’s not how a carabineer is supposed to be used. It shouldn’t be done! Here is a great video from Vertical Art Dance (highly recommend their equipment and rigging services) that discuss this topic and more:

Thank you Vertical Art Dance for spreading aerial knowledge!

Tragically, this past year, Sam Panda was in a rigging accident and broke her neck from 13 feet up. I post the following video only to encourage everyone to seriously consider the consequences of faulty rigging. Thankfully, Sam Panda was generously supported and funded by the aerial community to support life-transforming surgeries and she is recovering just fine!

Warning: The following video displays the fall and may be hard to watch.

Look at the Equipment

Recently,  I visited a studio where the fabric had a ton of holes in it.  It was a high-volume, high-use studio, so it was a natural part of the game. Thankfully, it was run by teachers who knew how to conduct proper inspections of equipment. For small holes, the holes were sown up, sealed, and marked with permanent black marker. If the holes got too big or grew, then the fabric was retired. Everything was kept track of, which is an important part of running a large operation. I’ve heard all the stories including wooden bars of a trapeze breaking when someone landed with a little extra force (wooden bars are no longer used for general aerial classes), lyra breaking, rigging splitting and coming down, ropes untying, and more. You name it, I’ve probably seen or heard of it happening. Better safe than sorry. Old equipment should be retired. New equipment should be bought from trusted vendors.

Look at the Mats

First of all, make sure that mats are present!!! While mats cannot guarantee protection, they are sure going to help. When it comes to mats, aerialists prefer ones that are at least 8 inches in thickness. As always, the more, the merrier. The thicker, the better. The wider, the safer. Some mats are pretty dinky, making a small target to hope that your head lands on when you are swinging around 10 feet up. Look for generous sizes and that they are used WHENEVER possible. There is no reason to leave the safety of mats when learning new moves. Some cases are exempted when the performer becomes advanced and wishes to incorporate ground choreography and the mat gets in the way. But, this is an exception. The rule should be that in all general aerial classes, especially those were the participants are learning new moves and their feet are leaving the ground, there should be mats. And not just some thin, dinky thing that does nothing. A good, sturdy, solid mat. It’s a display of caring about the students and the studio.

Look at the Teaching Methods

The big things we are looking for here is warm-ups and proper progressions. Just holding some stretches is not a warm-up. You must do something that builds heat in the body and then you must get mobility in the joints through any variety of methods. More on great warm-ups can be found on a previous blog here.

When we look at the curriculum, what we are looking for is how assessments are made, and how moves are ordered. If day 1 for a new fabric class is cross-back straddle, this is a problem. This may have been the first move 10 years ago, but there has been a ton of progress in aerial education since then! It is now understood that cross-back straddle can be a very difficult move for many beginners and that proper care must be taken to build up the strength required for its proper execution. It goes hand-in-hand with straddle inversion strength which should be assessed for before a student works at this level. (There are always exceptions. You may have a strong gymnast who can handle a cross-back straddle in a private lesson on their first day on fabric. However, even in this case, we would assume that strength was assessed and that they are skipping levels only because strength was assessed and they passed. We are addressing the general rule of thumb for classes to the general population.)

Many aerial teachers of today are aerialists who learned fast and learned many advanced moves early in their training. When they go to teach beginners to today, they often are at fault for teaching the same moves that they learned first. Many students are not ready to go that far that fast. The more that aerial grows, the more we must grow our depth of beginning programs and beginning material because we are attracted more and more people from non-gymnastics backgrounds who may take quite the journey to find their inversion strength. We must offer them the proper strength-training regime so that they are building strength safely and slowly.

If a studio lets you learn drops on day two, this is a huge red-flag!!! Drops are the candy of aerial, and some studios think that by letting people learn them, they will be a booming aerial business. I’m sure they will, but they will also have a booming business with the nearby rehabilitation center. Drops and other high-level candy of aerial must be earned through proper progressions and body awareness growth. If you go a studio and think “This is too easy and low to the ground,” you’ve probably found a SAFE studio. Don’t worry — you’ll eventually be flying. No one is out to keep your wings clipped. Safe instructors are there to prevent you from jumping out of the nest before you have strong wings period.

Trust goes both ways. A students must trust the studio and the studio must trust the student. A studio can only trust the student by giving them one small task at a time to see how they handle it. If you are flailing at 2 feet off the ground they shouldn’t trust you to go 10 feet up. You shouldn’t get to fly 10 feet up without demonstrating you are trustworthy first. You may feel like your being babied at the beginning, but as long as you see other students who are flying high at the studio, stay with them. Once you pass the assessments and show you have the proper strength and control, you will benefit from their progression training. You will soon find yourself SOARING HIGH with wings that have been molded and chiseled in a way that only diligent training time can give you.

Some things to look for: When you train too hard too fast, your elbows will start hurting you. This means that you are putting too much weight on bent arms without first building up the strength in increments. A good instructor will have the answer to this right away. If not, e-mail me and I’ll send you my program to help prevent this and heal in the next couple weeks!!!

For parents, it is important to note that your child should not be practicing footlocks without first being assessed for proper ankle strength. When a child does too many footlocks without having firmly established ankle strength, they are at risk for deforming their growing bone structures. We have seen studios break out with an epidemic of foot problems due to having young students (under 12) on footlocks, and allowing them to sickle, not watching for strength or body awareness. Anyone can teach a footlock and a basic leg roll-up. Few people know exactly when and how to properly teach it.

As you can hopefully tell, I’m extremely passionate about proper teaching methods. That’s why I started the Born to Fly Teacher Trainings & Support Systems for teachers. While I do not believe that every teacher should be trained under our system, it can be a powerful tool out there to help raise the standard for aerial education. When looking for an aerial teacher, you can check on their certification at the following link: http://www.borntoflyaerial.com/certificate-holders.html

We have had people falsely claim to be Born to Fly Certified when they were not. It is always good to check on certifications. No one who is certified will mind. Quite the contrary. The will be overjoyed that you value their hard-earned certificate!

One last important note:

Our studio directory on this website does not endorse the listed studios, nor can it vouch for the safety or training methods at the various studios. Please become as educated as you can and start asking all the right questions as you enter a studio, listed in our directory or elsewhere. Be safe and happy flying!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not All Bones Are Created Equal => Not Everyone Splits the Same

Have you ever heard one of your students say they don’t feel a stretch at all, but just that things feel stuck. One person recently put it this way, “When I’m in a seated straddle I can not forward fold over the center at all, there is no pain or stretch, when someone puts pressure on me I begin to feel something but it is very faint.” Our bodies are not all created equal and this article is going to highlight where some of those differences come from – particularly in the hip joint.

When someone can’t do the splits, we want to jump to the classic conclusion that they must be tight and inflexible, but that’s just simple not true. It may be true, but we can also be misled by anatomical variations of the hip joint.

Femur_Torsion_4

femur inclination

In the pictures above, do you notice the differences at the top of the femur? The ball on the end of this femur goes inside the socket of the hip joint. These two people are not going to squat the same, nor obtain the same flexibility level in their splits safely. One of these people will be able to perform a wide straddle with no issues. The other will experience pain and feel much comfortable in a narrow stance.

Hip_Socket_1

Above are two pelvic girdles. The person on the right might run into a block when trying to perform a forward fold in pike position. Below is a side view looking at the hip socket. One is pointing straight out and the other is pointing down and towards the front. Again, this lends itself to people having different positions where they are immediately comfortable and other areas where their bodies are sending them messages that say “Don’t go in that direction!”

Hip_Socket_3

Of course it would be great if every student could get perfect 180 degree splits in every direction, but if we honor the way our bodies are made, this simple isn’t anatomically possible for everyone to do safely. In the end, our goal should be to get to know our bodies better and to use our strengths, improve our weakness, and work safely to find the edge of our individual abilities and potential. Very few people are at the edge of their limits, so its important to keep working and not make excuses, but it also important to recognize anatomical limits that may exist! Most importantly, the race to flexibility is against yourself – never against the next person. Don’t compare your range of flexibility to anyone else’s. Embrace who you are and how God made you – bone structure and all.

 Photos used with permission from Paul Grilley.

www.paulgrilley.com