CategoryCross Training Series

Cross Training For Aerial – Part 9 : HIIT

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training, and may well come to become your new fitness best friend.

I have previous watched a few HIIT classes at the gym, and had heard people rave about the benefits, but it wasn’t until it was endorsed by Dr. Jennifer Crane (who has collaborated with The Artist Athlete) that I decided to try it out. She is just laying on the floor lifting her arms, I previously thought. Boy was I wrong!

Why do people do HIIT?

High Intensity Interval Training is where you set yourself a series of exercises with a short rest in between. For my program we do four exercises for 40 seconds each, with a 10 second rest in between, repeated 3 times. Yes, most of your workout is done just over 3 minutes! If you are super fit, do 6 sets! Add in a warm up, some focused body work and stretching and you can be done and dusted in 30 min or so.

This short session time is very appealing. For non-athletes, finding 30 minutes in your day, or even every second day, should not be that hard. Finding 3 min for a little heart rate burst (with a warm up first of course)  should be even easier! For aerialists and pole dancers, if you were to incorporate HIIT into your warm up, on your non-pole/aerial days, or use as part of your conditioning, you will reap the benefits in terms of stamina, agility, strength, and mobility gains.

Think of it as prehab: long enough to feel the burn and get things working, short enough to not reach failure so your form can stay strong for you to target the muscles that should be working. It’s amazing that such simple movements and exercises can be so challenging.

BUT, not all HIIT are made the same …

The four exercises in your sets should cover a whole body workout. Balance your sets to include both upper and lower body exercises as this will also help you give areas of your body a break to during the exercise. You should be focused on form, remembering cues about your abs, neck alignment, where to engage etc. It’s not about busting out as many as you can in 40 seconds, it’s about retraining your movement patterns to support safe and functional movement.

Dr. Jennifer Crane reiterated this idea of neural pathways during her HIIT coaching. It’s not just about your brain and muscles communicating about where they are in space and how to move. It’s about teaching the muscles to respond and keep the joints stable and safe. If you twist or are off balance, how do you ensure your stabilizing muscles will kick in and help and not just let your larger muscles try to grip? When some muscles are overworked and what should be their complimentary muscles are underdeveloped, injuries are likely to occur.

For example, the muscles in my lower back are currently a lot stronger than my abs. During planks and movements from this position I have tendency to arch, which continues to perpetuate this problem. There is usually a lot of core work involved in HIIT programs, and by slowing down and focusing on form, I can start to retrain my core to ensure my back is not taking all the load. This also helps my posture and conditions my abs to be able to support other movements, in the muggle world and the studio.

Need more convincing?

Train evenly – Pole dancers are always talking about the need to train both sides, and HIIT can support this as you work your whole body. This kind of balance will reduce your chance of injury and help you reach your goals as combos and tricks become easier on your goofy side.

Increase stamina – Find yourself exhausted after running your routine, or short of breath after a long combo? Many pole dancers and aerialists actually spend a lot of time in class standing around, listening to instructions or waiting for a turn. This down time is not useful and can actually let your muscles cool down too much between time spent in the air. Classes like this lack a cardio component and so when you go to run through your entire choreography, it’s exhausting! HIIT will get your heart rate up giving you a cardio workout along with your strength training. The 10 second rests are enough to catch your breath and reset for the next sequence, but you will be straight into the next exercise before you know it.

Coordination – Ever find yourself falling over as soon as you let go of the pole? Do you avoid adding dance and floor work to your routines because you feel off balance and uncoordinated?  By incorporating lateral movements (moving side to side), jumping, twisting, and functional movement patterns into your HIIT program, you will be training your brain and muscles to support yourself moving through these positions. Backward rolls, fish flops, stepping up from a lunge, and even pirouettes will suddenly become much cleaner and more achievable when your body is working as a whole.

On a final note, many HIIT programs can be done in your own home, no equipment necessary! So what are you waiting for? Feel free to email me if you have more questions!

If you already do HIIT, I’d love to hear about your favourite exercises and sets! Tag me on Instagram and  Facebook or send me a message with your tips!

 

Cross Training for Aerial – Part 8: Acroyoga

Yoga has always been a part of my bodywork practice. Even before dance, yoga showed me ways to start loving my body for what it could do. I still practice yoga almost everyday, but I am now learning about acroyoga and finding the benefits are tenfold in supporting my aerial dance practice!

For pole dance and aerial training, supplementing your program with acroyoga can support body awareness, core stability, balance, and be a great introduction to partner work on the pole or aerial apparatus.

For those new to the idea of acroyoga here is a definition from Maggie McCracken

“Acroyoga is a combination of acrobatics and yoga performed between two partners. One partner is the base while the other is the flyer. The base supports the flyer in a series of movements that combine balance, strength and acrobatics.”

At the circus we play around with group and partner shapes at the end of a handstands or flex class. It’s a great way to apply the skills that we are working and push through boundaries of fear and trust as we work with each other. I am constantly amazed with the breakthroughs I have been able to make. From not being able to hold a freestanding handstand, to being able to fly in the pose below was truly exhilarating!

Many pole and aerial studios offer classes for acroyoga, or use elements of the practice to add variety to a handstand class. Below are six benefits of acroyoga and how you can use the practice to support your aerial dancing.

– Increase in spatial and kinesthetic awareness
If you are a pole dancer or aerialist who forgets their left and right as soon as they are upside down, acroyoga could help! Kinesthetic awareness is about knowing where your body is in space. For example, you don’t need to see your foot to know how to grab it when you bend your knee up behind you. Many acroyoga poses require you to move your limbs while balancing and maintaining your focus out in front of you. Working as the base or the flyer in acro poses supports body awareness and challenges your body and brain to adapt to changes in position or balance quickly.

– Whole body workout
Many people who start acroyoga are initially surprised at how much of a workout it is, or under the impression that the base works harder than the flyer. This is simply untrue. If you are the flyer you will learn how to engage your core to create a stable centre of gravity of which to move around. Your arms are also pushing against the base in many poses, much like a handstand. Rather than being a “dead weight” the flyer supports their weight and compliments the forces applied by the base. The base offers support through a stable core and active legs as they hold the flyer in air. Acroyoga also requires stamina as you hold poses for a extended length of time. The encouragement you are able to provide to your partner, or group, is great motivation to work harder (within your body’s limits, of course). As you become more advanced you will discover muscles you didn’t even know you had in your core, back, hips, glutes, legs, and arms, that are activating and making small adjustments all the time, gaining strength as they keep you stable and respond to your partner.

– Learning how to fall
If you are a beginner I highly recommend working in teams of three, so someone can also act as a spotter. Learning to fall is all part of the fun, however a spotter is essential in maintaining the safety of both the base and flyer when entering poses and dismounting from them. With this in mind, it is also useful to play as both the base and the flyer, as each requires different skills and strengths and also allows you to understand the pose from two perspectives. For example, if you have tendency to push harder with your right hand than your left, you may be able to predict this behaviour and respond to it when your partner does the same. Knowing how to protect yourself and your partner is essential in preventing injury.

– Breath work
Matching your inhalations and exhalations with your partner can be an effective way to connect and enter or exit a pose. Learning how to breath through movement, exhaling into a stretch or inhaling through a strength based invert brings energy and oxygen into the body and helps you maintain focus. Making these techniques habit will allow them to transfer easily to your aerial training.

– Better communication

“In order to work closely with your partner or partners, you must consciously focus on maintaining presence without distraction. Your partner’s safety, as well as your own, depends on your ability and willingness to read each other’s physical, verbal, and visual cues without much discussion” (Source)

If you have aspirations for doubles pole or hoop, learning how to read the non-verbal cues of your partner is essential. Additionally, learning how to talk about positions and adjustments with your base or flyer, will support your kinesthetic awareness, and increase your communication skills as an aerial instructor and student.

If you need anymore convincing, take a look at this stunning acro inspired pole routine by trio Carolyn Chiu, Rosabelle Selavy, & Marcy Richardson.

Happy dancing!

Cross Training For Aerial – Part 7: Push Ups

It is one of the oldest and most traditional exercises out there – Push Ups! Do you know why the humble push up has stood the test of time? Because push ups simply work! Push ups target your arms, chest, core, glutes, and many stabilising muscles, and they can be tailored to any fitness level. They are one of the most efficient body weight exercises that you can do.

So many pole dancers ask about strength training and are seeking advice to nail their nemesis moves. If you are looking to invert for the first time, do a one handed spin like Emily Laura, or smash out a handspring on demand, I highly recommend adding push ups to your cross training program. Even just a few a day, when performed with proper technique, will support your progress in achieving your goals.

Below I outline a few push up variations and explain how they target different muscles in your upper body. I tried to gather information from as many sources as possible – personal trainers, physios, yogis, body builders, crossfitters, you name it! If you are trying out these at home, please film yourself or watch your form in a mirror to ensure that you are completing the exercise correctly. Just like any other exercise, doing push ups the wrong way may put your body at risk of injury.

Standard Push Up Guidelines
The aim of a push up is to lower and raise you body as an entire unit. If you cannot hold a plank position and maintain stability through your core and lower back, it is highly recommended that you perform push ups with your knees on the floor. You can also start with push ups standing against a wall (facing the wall and pushing out), or with your upper body raised on a table to allow you to begin to train without your entire body weight involved in the exercise.

When performing a standard push up, on your knees or planking on your toes, the position of your wrists under your shoulders should not change. By stacking the joints you increase stability. As you lower down, your elbows should track close to you body. Think about this like entering Chaturanga in yoga, don’t let your elbows wing out to the sides. Alignment is key and learning to do a push up properly will ensure you don’t injure yourself later on.

If you experience pain, aching, twinging, or otherwise, during a standard push up, you may like to read Eric Cressey’s article about changing the position of the feet to alleviate stress on the shoulders.

It needs to be remembered that a push up is a whole body exercise. Yes it will strengthen you arms and chest, but a successful push up requires you to think about your entire body. Squeeze your glutes and keep your back flat by hollowing your abs, keep your eyes focused ahead of your hands, not looking down. You are aiming to form a straight line from your head, through your neck, along your back and to your feet.

If you are on your knees, your abs and legs are working less hard, but it is still no excuse to let them sag! Your entire body from your knees to your head should move as an entire unit, with no dipping, curling, or sinking through the back.

 

 

Lastly, remember to breathe. Standard practice says to inhale on the way down and exhale as you push the floor away from you and rise up. Going down is often easier than coming back up, but working with your breath will help you engage your muscles and find strength to straighten your arms. The quality of the push up is way more important than how many you can do. Start small and with proper technique and you will be able to do more reps in no time!


Push Up Variations

– Wide Arm Push Ups
When done correctly these types of push ups will target your pecs and chest, rather than allowing your triceps to the bulk of the work. Place your hands wider than your shoulders and lower down until your elbows reach a 90 degree angle. Be wary of your elbows reaching over your wrists which will place unnecessary pressure on the joints. I like to put my focus on my chest, and think about my whole torso lowering and rising up within a box made my elbows. You can perform these on your knees as well, with the same emphasis on keeping a flat back and neutral neck as outlined above.

– Single Leg Push ups
Taking one leg off the ground, even just a few cm, will greatly increase the load on your abs and stabilising muscles. The temptation with these types of push ups is to rush. Take it slow and pause between changing legs so your form does not diminish in the transition. A good tip is to place your feet a little wider than you would normally to help with balance.

– Single-arm Medicine Ball Push Ups
You can use any prop like a yoga block or kettle bell to do these too. The change in angle will allow you to target you arms, pecs, and shoulders and may offer insight into how one side of your body is stronger than the other. Try not to allow the torso to rotate or twist during the exercise, remaining stable in the core and lower back.

– Elevated Push Ups
If you are looking to increase the challenge, try placing your feet on the edge of a couch or a bench. Your body will be angled down towards your hands, increasing the amount of your body weight involved in the exercise.

– Spiderman Push Ups
Start with a normal push up set up. Lower down keeping your elbows tracking close to your body. As you rise up raise one knee towards your elbow on the same side. Place it back. Lower down again, and on the next rise, lift the other knee. You will find that this exercise engages the core in a new way and will also work the legs as you balance through each knee lift.

– Dolphin Push Ups
From a downward dog position, bend your elbows to lower to your forearms to the floor.  The aim is to lower and raise both arms at the same time. Focus and breathe, it’s harder than it looks! If you find this too intense on your legs, feel free to bend your knees but try to maintain a long line from your hips through to your neck.

– Diamond Push Ups

Place your hands close together directly underneath your chest, making a diamond shape with your thumbs and forefingers. Watch your form and make sure that you are not leaning back which will make the exercise easier. Keep your elbows tucked and lower slowly until your chest touches your hands. This exercise will target your deltoid muscles (pictured in the diagram) and also engage your core as you balance over a smaller base. When performed with correct technique, this variation is also said to have best results for training your triceps.

– Superman Push Ups

From a standard push up position, lower down keeping your elbows tracking close to your body. As you rise to the top of the movement, lift your right arm off the ground at the same time as lifting your left leg. Aim to raise them straight out, front and back, at the same level. Pause at the top and maintain stability through the core. Replace the hands and feet to reach a plank position and then repeat a push up and superman on the other side. Be wary of your hips and torso wanting to rotate at the top of the movement and focus on keeping your hips stable.

– Tiger Push Ups
Think about the two positions, downward dog and upward dog. If you are familiar with yoga you may already flow from upward dog to downward dog during a Sun Salutation. A tiger push up is doing this in reverse.

Start in a downward dog pose. While bending your elbows and dropping your upper body towards the floor, push forward with the chest and rise up to an upward dog position. You may or may not need to roll over the toes also. In the upward dog position, imagine a string pulling from your tail bone to bring your torso back through your arms and then up to starting pose. Try not to let the elbows flare, maintaining stability for your shoulders, elbows and wrists.

 

If you feel like each of these variations are easy, you can move on to handstand push ups, one arm push ups, and dynamic variations like clapping in between reps! There should be more than enough to keep you moving and motivated each day.

The great thing with push ups is that you will improve and see results very quickly. One week you might only be able to do 3 or 5, but very quickly you will find yourself doing 8 or 10, creating moments for feelings of success and motivation! Try one of the variation above and then return to your standard push up in the next training session and see the results for yourself!

Cross Training for Aerial – Part 6: Barre

flat lay barreWhen someone asks to “meet you at the barre” you might want to check their spelling! Don’t get the barre confused for a place of cocktails and canapes, this barre is a place of strong toned women who are training like ballerinas!

I have blogged about joining ballet classes before, as a way to compliment pole dancing, foster elegant lines, correct body alignment and engagement. The barre originated in a ballet studio, but has now made friends with Pilates to create a burn in you core and legs that you have never felt before!

Joining a barre class on a Sunday morning I foolishly thought it would be a great way to double up in the studio. A long warm up in barre to prep for an advanced pole technique class. About 15 minutes in, however, I realised that my stamina for this kind of exercise is truly lacking. My legs did not want to participate in the following pole class.

My complaining aside though, if you’re up for the challenge a barre class is a great way to cross train and perhaps add some balance to our upper body strong pole dancer bodies.

Here’s what’s being served at the barre:

Aperitif
Warm up in the middle of the room, getting in touch with your breath and tuning in to the body. A little bit of yoga with some general loosening up of shoulder, hips, back, and neck.

Wine Course
The barre is set at the perfect height for balance. While you squat, plie, and do leg lifts, try not to grip the barre with white knuckles, we are aiming to be graceful ballerinas after all.

High Balls
Be careful with those mixed drinks. They taste sweet and fruity, but really hide a devilish cocktail of hard liquor. With a ball held behind my knee I aim to look poised and in control as I lift the ball up and away and out to the side. It’s not the squeezing of the ball that hits me, but the effort required to stablise through my standing leg, especially after all those squats and plie’s. How many shots in this drink again?

Digestiv
A little bitter-sweet, we are then offered resistance bands. The relief of now working our arms and back, quickly turns sour. The movement intensified by the requirement to stay in a squat, everyone begins to pant and moan as we work though three songs of shoulder blade squeezes, bicep curls, and arm raises. Surely it’s time to call last drinks?!

Shots
Now we are all legless and can no longer stand up at the barre, we best lie down – for crunches, dips, push ups, and planks that is! I sweat my way through the final countdown, and then struggle to my feet and make my way to the door. The DOMS hangover for this class is going to be long.

 

This review has been written with all respect for barre instructors and enthusiasts. Let’s leave the drinking to the real bar and rise to the challenge!

Cross Training for Aerial – Part 5: Foam Rolling

I first started foam rolling after subscribing to StudioVeena who recommended it for use before stretching.

In her tutorials she would outline how to roll the large muscles in the legs before flexibility training, as a way to increase blood flow to the muscles and loosen up knots and tight areas before working on regular stretching sequences.

Physios and massage therapists sell a variety of foam rollers and spiky balls of all shapes, sizes, and firmness depending on how they will be used. As well as being a great asset to your flexibility training, foam rolling can work wonders on DOMS, and be generally soothing for an active body. Chunky rollers are great for larger muscles. Spiky balls are perfect for getting into smaller muscle groups in the back and shoulders, or for massaging the forearms after training.

When choosing your foam roller, keep in mind your tolerance during a regular massage. The softer the roller the softer the pressure, and the firmer or spikier the roller, the more it will dig in to those tight spots. A deep tissue experience can be effective but you don’t want to be in so much pain that you can’t commit to rolling up and down your leg!

My preference has been a hard, smooth roller that I picked up at the local Clark Rubber supplier! It’s the perfect density to use everyday, before stretching or after training, large enough to roll my hamstrings, quads, and glutes, but also small enough to throw in the car if I need to bring it along to a comp or showcase.

Foam rolling is a “self-myofascial release technique” that works by massaging the fascia and muscle fibers. Research suggests,

“Self-myofascial release causes an increase in short-term flexibility that lasts for >10 minutes but does not affect athletic performance acutely. Self-myofascial release may also be able to increase flexibility long-term, in programs of >2 weeks.”

Sounds pretty good right?

Here are some photos of how I use my roller at home. You probably need a space similar to what you use for yoga to make sure you can lay down and roll in various directions. It’s a great practice to turn into a habit though, and once you know what you are doing, it’s easy to incorporate into your day, even while watching television!

I like to start on my legs and glutes, remembering to roll up and down the entire muscle and at various angles.

Foam Rolling glutes

 

While sitting on the foam roller, I angle my body to either side, rolling in the direction of the muscle fibers. By placing my foot on the floor or lifting it up, I can change how much of my body weight I am putting in to the motion. Listen to your own body as you roll, slow down on the “sweet spots” – those trigger points that seem to be more painful than others – or even pause for up to 30-60 seconds and you will find the tension begins to release.

Foam Roller HamstringsFoam Roller Calves

My roller is long enough for me to do my hamstrings, calves and quads side by side. Though once again, I can change the amount of pressure I’m applying by rolling them one at a time or leaning into  it at a different angle.

Foam Roller Quads

Fellow polers also roll their ITB. I find this incredibly painful but sometimes have the nerve to work up to it, rolling over from during my quads to catch it as I roll down my outer thigh.

Foam Roller Adductors

Rolling your adductors, or inner thigh, can be a bit tricky, however those with good hip flexibility may find this easier. Try and cover as much of the muscle as possible and don’t forget to slow down or pause over any trigger points.

Foam Rolling Stretch Foam Rolling Forearms

Recently I have been rolling my forearms and upper back and then using the roller to perform and overstretch for my shoulders. After rolling up and down my forearms, with the large foam roller and a tennis ball, I sink back into a child’s pose with my arms resting on the roller. Breathing into the stretch, I try to sink my chest down to the floor, feeling the stretch along my upper arms, down my lats under my shoulder, and across my shoulder blades. Coming out of the stretch I try to curl my spine in the opposite direction, remembering to breath as I come out slowly.

Don’t forget to drink lots of water post foam rolling session. Any type of massage increases blood flow around the area and staying hydrated will help the lymphatic system and circulatory system do it’s job, reducing the chance that you’ll feel groggy and need a nap after your session.

If you have a foam roller at home I’d love to see your favourite techniques and stretches! Post them here or tag me in your photos online!

Cross Training For Aerial – Part 4: Stall Bars

For both strength and flexibility training, sometimes your best choice is to try a new apparatus!

You might have stall bars in your studio, local gym, or maybe in an outdoor playground, and they can be a great asset to your pole training – just ask Oona.

I have been using the stall bars during my warm up and for added conditioning, supporting my strength and flexibility training as well as alignment. My work on the bars has also supported building strength and coordination on my goofy side, the horizontal format allowing me to focus on technique before taking those skills to the pole.

Here are just three ways I’ve been building my stall bar workout:

 

**Flexibility**
Stall-Bars-Back-Flex

I have many posts about how yoga has helped with my back bends, but the stall bars open up new opportunities for opening my chest and shoulders.
Drop backs can be scary and without a spotter or the right technique you risk crunching through your lower back or hurting your wrists as you land. The stall bars can support you as you walk your way down to the floor, or back up. It’s often gentler on the wrists to hold on to the rails and you can move slowly, allowing you to focus on alignment and technique.

 

**Speaking of Technique**
Stall-Bars-Technique

The theory behind pole moves talks a lot about push vs pull, stacking joints, muscle engagement, and breath. When you’re upside-down, however, it’s hard to remember which leg is your left and right let alone think about all those things!
Lots of work on the stall bars can happen with your feet on floor, or at least just off it, inviting you to work on engaging muscle groups and consider alignment before you go upside-down. This kind of training will build muscle memory and strength to reduce the risk of injury or poor technique in more advanced moves.

 

**Strength**
Stall-Bars-Leg-Lifts

Let’s face it, crunches are boring! If you’re a pole dancer, you probably find lots of other exercise boring, which is one of the reasons you started dancing in the first place! But, what if there was a way to make strength training fun again?
Hanging leg lifts are a great ab workout and will incorporate many more muscle groups than sit ups on the floor. Try them with bent knees, straight legs, to the side, air walking. Your straight leg straddles will thank you!

 

For more advanced stall bar tricks, please check out the experts – Oona and Nadia make their workout look just like kids on a jungle gym! What could be more fun than that?