Hey aerialist! How are your biceps, core, forearms, shoulders, back, and glutes?
My guess is that they're pretty damn sore! Or at least, if not now, then at least on some kind of regular basis.
Aerial disciplines definitely present opportunities to target every muscle group in many ways, but there are several common positions and actions that repeat themselves a lot, including straddle, hollow body, pulling, and hanging with hands at chest.
My guess is that mooost aerialists are not thanking their hardworking muscles with adequate stretches.
The right yoga class (restorative, yin, gentle) can work wonders on an aerialist's body, but some yoga classes can actually make you more sore. It can be really difficult to find the right yoga class and teacher for you. If you can find a gentle yoga class near you, see if you can get to class on a weekly basis.
In addition, or perhaps instead, do stretches at home. It takes a LOT of discipline to do this, so you may need to find a way to incentivize stretching. Maybe it's when you listen to your favorite podcast? I also have an amazing resource called Fit4Flight, which guides you through these and more counterpoint stretches at the end of aerial-specific workouts. One thing aerialists say they love about Fit4Flight is that it provides an easy-to-follow template for conditioning that can be done anytime and anywhere. The reality is that aerial requires great discipline. Every time you set an intention to care for or develop your body, you strengthen the very mindset that will take you further as an aerialist.
Try the following stretches after training to help soothe your hardworking aerial muscles.
It's not news to anybody that hydration is important. We've all been told more times than we can possibly remember that we should drink more water.
As an athlete you'll want to pay particular attention to hydration. We can't get away with forgetting to drink water--that's no small "oopsy." There are consequences to our health, our training, and even our happiness. After I got 3 migraines in 2 weeks, one of my mentors recommended that I drink 64oz per day for 10 days. I'm on day 4 and life is definitely different this way. I can feel myself functioning better, feeling better, and I'm literally feeling happier. I also pee 10x more than usual but this is a side-effect I'm willing to accept lol.
So instead of just vaguely telling you to drink more water, would you like to join the same challenge? Half a gallon of water aka 64oz per day for 10 days. And here's a tip: to make it easy for myself to keep track, I'm using a giant mason jar to drink out of. It has a measurement mark at 24oz so I drink about 2 and 2/3 of these per day. Turns out I really am this thirsty and it does not feel excessive at all. On some days I even drink more.
Some implications are:
I recommend finding a friend to do the challenge with. My aerial partner Caitlin (@cait.wellwood) and I have both been doing the challenge together and it helps me stay accountable to know that she's putting in the mindfulness too.
Got tingly muscles at night? Or foot cramps that keep cropping up in class? Worse yet, have you ever felt like there was a lacrosse-ball sized lump in your calf as your gastrocnemius seizes?
I've had all of these, and I actually used to get calf and foot cramps in every performance. NOT GOOD!
It's possible that getting more magnesium in your diet could help. Now let me be upfront: I am NOT a nutritionist. This is a synthesis of my own research. Make an appointment with a registered dietician if you want a professional perspective!
Some benefits of the mineral magnesium include:
If you have magnesium deficiency, you might experience some of these symptoms:
Now, of course, anyone can have this magnesium deficiency, aerialist or not. But since we practice intense muscle contraction such as in toe point, we might be a little more concerned than the average person about keeping cramps at bay.
If you want to up your magnesium intake, consider adding more of these magnesium-rich foods to your diet:
1. Squash & pumpkin seeds: 550mg magnesium/100 grams (131% DV)
Perfect timing for the fall and winter! If you are making pumpkin pies from sugar pumpkins, be sure to save the seeds and roast em! They're super yummy :P (Hemp, flax, sesame, and chia are slightly lower but also good sources)
2. Unsweetened cocoa: 499mg magnesium/100 grams (125% DV)
Wow this is amazing news. I recommend adding cacao to a protein smoothie. 85%+ dark chocolate is also a nice way to add in magnesium.
3. Cashews: 292mg/100grams (69% DV)
I'm excited about this because cashews are one of my favorite foods. And I always seem to crave them more right before my moon cycle, which is interesting considering they are hypothesized to calm smooth muscle spasms AKA cramps.
4. Almonds: 270mg magnesium/100 grams (64% DV)
If you think almond butter is expensive, you're right. I recommend buying raw almonds from the bulk aisle (with a reusable bag or jar) and snacking on those or blending them if you have a food processor.
5. Spinach: 87mg magnesium/100 grams (21% DV)
Chard, kale, and collard greens are also good sources. Cook with oil to improve absorption.
You can also supplement magnesium. I use the powdered form but you can also get it in pill form. I put a teaspoon in a glass of water and drink it for bed when I ramp up my training such as before a performance.
Next time you get a cramp, ask yourself: do any of these listed foods sound appealing? If they do, maybe that's something your body needs.
Don't worry, even though I'm an ex-swim coach, I'm not going to tell you to swim laps (I certainly have no plans for the back-and-forth...I've done enough of that). Today's Self Care Sunday is about playful movement.
Note: If you have not had instruction in how to swim, use your judgment. You can still play in the shallow end with a friend and a lifeguard present.
Depending on the way you approach it, aerial can be a very playful activity. But chances are you also have goals that you're working toward. If you ever find yourself getting caught up in the goals and the drills and losing sight of the playfulness of aerial, you're not the only one! Our culture encourages and rewards progress and improvement. There's nothing wrong with that, but if we limited ourselves to only these aspects of aerial we would be depriving ourselves of one of its greatest gifts.
So why swimming? Like our medium of air, water allows us to perform a great variety of movements. You can go upside down, somersault without touching the ground, extend your body, twist, and bend in any direction. But here's the kicker: in aerial, you are only touched by your apparatus, or a partner if you are working on duo+ acts. When you swim, you are touched everywhere at all times by water.
I know I know. You're all, What are you getting at Sara?
What makes water interesting is that you can perform all the types of actions you normally do in aerial, but with additional stimulation that you don't normally receive. This can help you to move awareness more thoroughly into your body and observe familiar movement through a different lens. This is a key method for body awareness breakthrough.
Plus, water lends itself to play. You can do flips, handstands, and twirls--and all without the risk of falling. You can stretch your whole body in any direction, moving freely, structured only by your body and perhaps also by the pool floor or walls.
Playful movement can reconnect us with the happiness that is always resting somewhere inside the soul. It can break us out of overly rigid training patterns and help us remember spontaneous, creative, and joyful movement.
Water can promote a relaxation of mind and body, which opens doors for new ways of perceiving yourself and the world around you. Don't believe me? Try gathering a bundle of noodles and placing them under your knees, back, and neck and begin to f l o a t with no effort whatsoever. It's a beautiful sensation.
Finally, unless you are an aerialist AND a competitive swimmer, water movement does not contain the pressures you might find in aerial training. You don't have progress goals or role models you want to live up to. You're just moving for the sake of movement.
Anyway, I've found water to be transformational, but keep in mind I'm a Pisces! What do you think? Have you ever found water to be a therapeutic medium?
Early this year I was on the phone with Emily Cage, a very talented and also super kind aerialist and burlesque performer. We were discussing the challenges and rewards of raising an aerial community in a small town.
We also got on the topic of sustaining energy as aerialists and teachers of aerial. I told her I was feeling pretty drained from all the teaching (I had ZERO students to demo skills because literally none of my students had done aerial before). She encouraged me to start using protein powder. "You will actually gain more muscle and have more energy," she said. I was sold, but I had no idea what protein powder to buy, only that most kinds gave me stomach aches. Commence internet surfing.
Long story short, I came across Scott from Pure Food Company. Scott is a scientist who had worked in the protein powder industry long enough to find out that most companies cut corners and use ingredients and manufacturing processes that are not ideal for our health. He set out on his own to create a protein powder that didn't cut corners, didn't disturb the GI tract, AND didn't taste bad.
Scott provides ample research into different types of protein powder. I could tell he was invested in creating a quality product. His blog is FILLED with links to peer-reviewed scientific articles.
Here are some helpful points he makes about protein powder
You can tell he's an advocate for knowledge and health and prioritizes these over profit. I love this about him. He's completely honest and isn't trying to hide anything.
Scott has done the research and concluded that "Athletes need at least 1.8 g/kg of bodyweight."
I'm 128lbs which means I need at least 104.4 grams of protein per day. One serving of this powder gets me 1/3 of the way there.
I love having such an efficient source of protein that can easily be made into healthy pancakes or a smoothie (see recipe at end of the post!). I don't eat a whole lot of meat and almost never eat soy protein products. I also don't consume much dairy. I love that this protein powder gives me an energy boost that helps me avoid eating sugar and doesn't lead to a crash later.
Why I choose Scott's Product over and over again:
It feels so right to be partnering with Scott and I'm so grateful to Emily for making the suggestion to try protein powder! I've made huge muscle gains this year and I love having the protein powder to support that as I grow as an aerialist. I am happy to spread the word and help you find the right protein powder for your needs!
Energy Protein Smoothie Recipe
Blend and enjoy! This is a great breakfast option. I don't have much of an appetite when I wake up but I find this smoothie appealing and easy to digest.
DISCLAIMER: The LAST thing I want to do is tell you how you should feel or what you should do. It is paramount to me to respect and embrace your experience just as it is. Your experience may be very different from what's outlined here and that's completely valid. That said, I also find it necessary to make generalizations in order to raise valuable discussions about this important and under-discussed topic. I do my best to inform without insisting. Please comment to share your perspective. P.S. Seeking moon apparatus pics for this blog! Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any!
Many women experience a ~30-day hormonal cycle. A very simplistic summary is that we predictably experience a rise and fall in energy during each menstrual cycle. I'll outline the biology of these phases on a very basic level (I am NOT a medical professional) and I will also pass along some other ideas about the cycle that I learned from a workshop I attended in Costa Rica as well as from personal experience. The latter are not science-based but they provide a helpful framework for understanding our menstrual cycles and our personal experiences a little bit better.
The phases of the menstrual cycle
Biology: uterine lining is shed. Estrogen and progesterone levels drop.
Experience: may prefer solitude, enjoy reflection, creative work. May experience cramps and body tension most intensely at the beginning
Biology: Time between first day of period and ovulation. Estrogen is rising, body is preparing to release an egg.
Experience: Return of energy, feeling motivated and fresh. Clarity. Eager to return to higher-intensity activities but likely to require a gentle transition in.
Biology: Uterine lining builds back up to receive an egg.
Experience: See above
Biology: Ovary releases an egg. Estrogen peaks right before, and drops soon after.
Experience: Continued rise of energy as well as confidence. May feel more outgoing, friendly, and sexy. Heightened attractiveness. Poised to get work done efficiently. Likely to feel physically well and strong relative to other phases. In short, feeling like a #bossbabe
Biology: Body prepares for possible pregnancy. Progesterone peaks and then drops.
Experience: Transition between above and below.
Biology: No, that doesn't say secretary!! Haha. Secretory, like secrete or release. During this phase, if fertilization has occurred, uterine lining produces chemicals to support development of the fetus. If not, it produces chemicals to prepare the lining to break down and shed. I'll continue on with the assumption that pregnancy does not occur.
Experience: Likely drop in energy. Possible intensification of existing anxieties, feelings of depression, and neuroses. Possible decrease in self-confidence. Heightened awareness of personal values, loss of patience and decreased willingness to put up with inequality, injustice, and difficult people. Self-critical. Feeling under-appreciated. In need of more nurturing than usual. Possible re-surfacing of unresolved past issues. Reactive.
A good time to gain clarity on one's values, but also an important time to practice self-awareness. Not a good time to make big decisions as judgement can be clouded by physical and emotional strain due to drop in progesterone and estrogen.
This is a time for preparing for a potential baby, AKA "nesting," when we feel a boost in pleasure from activities like cleaning, shopping, organizing, and making things. Likely to be a highly creative time.
A time that offers strong spiritual insight and connection if we are willing to slow down. Music, nature, art, journaling, and meditation can highlight the spiritual power and beauty of an otherwise rather physically difficult time. Self-care and rest are crucial during this time.
Your Cycle and your Training
The reality is that if you menstruate, your body has a specific set of priorities in the days before your period begins. Exercising hard is not one of them. Your body's resources are directed toward initiating the chemical reaction that will trigger the uterine lining to shed. During this time, light exercise can promote healthy circulation and improved mood, but let's face it--aerial just isn't light exercise. It's mentally, physically, and often emotionally demanding.
My favorite example of my body protesting my not-exactly-cycle-conscious training regimen was on one particularly demoralizing conditioning day. I was working on some straight-arm hip key rollups, which I've done hundreds of this year. But I felt heavy and weak and found myself literally not letting go of the pole on my way up, blocking myself with my own body, and trickling dejectedly to the ground (lol in retrospect but frustrating in the moment). My poor performance worsened my mood. I didn't feel pleasure from the training session, and I was frustrated with myself for not being on my A-game. Not an overall positive experience.
Everybody is different, and if you find it empowering and pleasurable to work out hard during your period, that's great. If however if you find yourself feeling weaker, heavier, and dejected during training, your body probably wants something different.
Since we menstruate approximately every 30 days, we can actually enjoy this time as a built-in rest period--a natural rhythm to help organize our training schedules.
My approach is to take a break from aerial training the two days before my period and the first two days of flow. I know--this means your plan depends on a consistent period. Chances are you will end up with three or four days before, and other times none. Do your best to read your body's schedule within the seven days before your next expected period. Either way, try four consecutive days of rest each month (I recommend seven consecutive days of rest every three months at least).
If you do not menstruate, you may still want to consider incorporating a 4-day body reset once a month. I have heard that women who do not have a period still have an "energy cycle" that lasts ~28 days. I have not been able to find any scientific research to support this (if you have, please send) but intuitively it sounds plausible.
Four days of rest and self-care can work wonders. To sweeten the deal, I soak in hot water for the four consecutive days of rest. Think less pain and more pleasure.
I encourage every aerialist to practice body awareness and try a variety of strategies when it comes to rest and recovery. There is no one-size-fits-all solution! You may enjoy my strategy, or it may not work for you at all. Listen to your body, ask what she wants, and try different approaches.
We are in this together! If you have questions, ideas, or other tips, please comment below!
This fresh condition of mind and body sets you up to have learning breakthroughs and connects you more deeply with your apparatus.
This is proooobably not what you want to hear...but here goes...
Taking more than two rest days in a row is okay.
For me, the thought of taking several days off aerial silks used to be nerve wracking. I was afraid if I missed my weekly conditioning then I would rapidly regress. I wanted to stick to my training schedule and not break my streak.
But there is actually magic in taking up to a week (or even two or three) off training. Well, it's science, but it feels like magic. And why? Full recovery from high-intensity exercise--which in your case might be an aerial class or aerial conditioning session--takes 48-72 hours. For this reason I advise my students to take at least one day off between classes. This is also why I have a week-long break between sessions at my studio.
So what happens when you take more than 72 hours off? You lose all your muscles and forget how to hip key, right?
If you don't rest enough, you might end up with an injury or fatigue that puts you out for much longer than several days. Furthermore, overtraining can lead to irritability, mood swings, depression, and even a loss of interest in the very thing you're so hell-bent on doing.
When you take more than a couple days off training, your body gets an extended opportunity to catch up with your aerial antics. Muscles and tendons have more time and energy available to recover and repair, and any injuries you've been living with can have a chance to really heal. Want to make this hiatus even more potent? Pledge to soak in hot water every one of those rest days.
Last month I took five consecutive days off (gasp).
Did I lose all my muscles?
And forget how to hip key?
I felt like a BRAND NEW PERSON. I felt happier! My body didn't hurt everywhere all day. I felt excited to train and I immediately discovered new pathways and sequences on aerial silks. I felt more cheerful and energetic overall. Now, I'm not saying you have to stop THINKING about aerial! When I rest, I stay connected to my discipline by studying aerial online and watching inspirational aerial videos on instagram.
But I know what you're thinking. Taking time off can be mentally difficult when aerial helps you feel more grounded and happy. It's also easy to get so excited about what you're working on that you don't even realize how little rest you've taken.
Perhaps the hardest situation is when you are forced by circumstances to take more rest than you'd like due to travel, sickness, simple busyness, or a particularly juicy Netflix series (ok, you have only yourself to blame for that one!).
There is no need to panic if you need to take some time off.
Research shows that it takes 7-21 consecutive days away from training to noticeably lose strength. I am recommending a mere 4-6 consecutive off days.
But it also makes a difference if you are a long-time aerialist or new to aerial arts. Athletes who have established a foundation of regular over a year or more in their sport or discipline can actually go longer without noticeable losses. If you are newer to aerial, research says you will be liable to lose your gains a little faster, but it's totally still okay to take a break. This time off doesn't have to be (and shouldn't be) sedentary. Switch up the types of exercise you do and keep it light to moderate. Walks, jogs, yoga, and playing frisbee with friends are a few great options. Explore other creative outlets that interest you, such as painting, singing, or sewing.
If you still feel anxious about taking time off, let me ask you this:
Have you ever lost sight of the joy and the fun of aerial because you were so fixated on a particular goal?
Do you worry about keeping up with people around you, or aerialists you follow on social
Are you afraid of losing everything you worked for by taking a break?
These are common issues, often unconsciously promoted and reinforced through our achievement-oriented culture. This mindset actually works against your development as your own unique aerialist and also puts you at risk of injury and fatigue.
Now ask yourself:
1. Why do I do aerial?
2. What is my practice rooted in? (More on this in a future post.)
Now lets consider the benefits that rest can have on your brain and your aerial intellect.
After a period of rest you may very well find that you come back to your apparatus with a clearer head and a heightened body awareness. You might notice that you feel especially connected and you might enter a flow state more easily. During your time away your brain has been processing your recent training sessions. I have a theory that there is usually a backlog of processing, and it gets taken care of when we take a break. You then come back "more in relationship" with the apparatus, a phrase I owe to a philosophy professor friend of mine.
This fresh condition of mind and body sets you up to have learning breakthroughs and connects you more deeply with your apparatus.
So try an extended break. Rejuvenate your body, mind, and practice by spending time away from aerial.
Next Sunday I'll be sharing a piece for women about strategizing rest around your menstrual cycle. I am VERY excited to open that conversation and eager to hear your insights and ideas, so please check back in to find out how to work WITH and not against your body. If you want to be sure not to miss it, sign up for regular updates by dropping your email in the box below.