CategoryTechnique

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!

 

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

If you have been following me on Instagram and Facebook, you may have seen my most recent achievement – flipping my grip! I have always gained strength much more easily than flexibility, however a quick scan through my posts from the last few months and I’m starting to change my mind.

A long time ago I read somewhere that if you desire to be flexible you should start doing flexible tricks (der!). This sounds super obvious, yet it is surprisingly common to see people avoid certain aerial tricks or transitions because they have convinced themselves they can’t do them.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for ignoring signs that your body has had enough. Always listen to your body and never push your joints and muscles too far. But, with safe training in mind, have you considered that there could be some front split or side split moves that you can do, even though you don’t quite have a flat split floor?

At the beginning of June I made a commitment to myself to try more flexy moves rather than avoid them based on my assumption that I am not flexible. After just one week I was sorting out the videos of my phone and found screen shots like this –

Motivation much?

If you look closely in the third photo you can see the reflection of the pose in the mirror. I’ll be honest, appearing flexible is just as much about perspective and angles as it is actual mobility. Regardless, I felt that I was on to something!

Each training session, whether at home doing yoga, or in the studio in the air, I reminded myself to try a splitty trick, or a back bend pose. During my warm ups I also incorporated more dynamic kicks, silencing the voices that told me “your kicks are not high enough”, “you look silly”, “just do 5 pull ups, it’s much more impressive!”

Exploring these new poses, I was also able to find a way to make them work for me. Having hips like Cleo the Hurricane is not one of my short term goals, but in the right poses my splits can still present with good lines and be dramatic enough for an audience to say wow!

The final push into completely re-framing my perceptions of my dance abilities came during aerial hoop class just last week. I have a tendency to skip through the pose of splits under the bar, never thinking it was worth holding because my splits on the ground were still rubbish. But since adding more front split moves into my aerial repertoire, guess how they looked? My training buddy called out, “look at your splits!” and when I took them time to extend through the pose, I even shocked myself.

So my advice to you is to get out of your head! Stop comparing your body to other people’s and start focusing on what you’ve got. Visualization works for learning choreography and routines, so why not apply the same techniques to your flexibility training? Fake it, ’til you make it, and you might find you make it sooner than you think!

On a final note, before there are too many questions, I am continuing to train my square splits diligently, as well as doing my contortion drills from circus class. Believing you are flexible is just part of the journey, but a very important one to share.

Stall Bar Challenge

Join us in July for the #stallbarchallenge!

I’ve teamed up with Pole In Style and Mighty Grip to bring the best cross training challenge to the Internet! Stall bars are one of the most effective off the pole apparatus that pole dancers and aerialists can use to up their training game.

“Lots of aerial arts rely on creating tension between two points, usually with a “push vs pull” action. This motion is best performed when joints are stacked, and muscle engagement is coordinated with your breath. This is a lot to remember when you are learning an aerial trick, and poses can be even more difficult with the swing and sway of hoop, or the spin of pole!

Learning how to engage the appropriate muscles in your back, or work on activating your glutes from the ground, can be a safer and more effective way to train. Stall bars are a static apparatus and many of these exercises can be practiced with your feet only just off the floor. Training with good technique helps you to build muscle memory and strength, reducing the risk of injury or aggravating imbalances in your body.” – (Source)

Baby poler Mel in 2016!

I have been using stall bars as part of my warm ups and conditioning program since 2016, learning about muscle engagement and building up strength for moves before taking them in the air. Now I am ready to share some of my favourite exercises with you!

 

 

 

All entrants in the challenge will also go in the draw to win amazing pole wear from Pole In Style and grip aids from Mighty Grip!

What do you need to do?

Join the #stallbarchallenge from 1st to 31st July 2018.

How to enter:
1. Like and repost this photo on Instagram and tag your friends in the comments
2. Follow host @melnutter_baudelaire and sponsors @mighty_grip and @poleinstyle
3. Complete all 8 exercise challenges before 31st July
4. Make sure your Instagram profile is public so we can see your progress
5. Share your videos using hashtag #stallbarchallenge, and tag @melnutter_baudelaire @mighty_grip and @poleinstyle in each post

Exercises
July 1st – Tucks
July 5th – Push Ups
July 8th – Plank
July 12th – Sit Ups
July 15th – Dragon Flag
July 19th – Side Plank
July 22nd – Iguana Mount
July 26th – Split Grip

You can find stall bars in your local gym, pole studio, or even in playgrounds outdoors. Keep and eye out and prepare yourself for a month of strength building! See you on Instagram!

Spin City Instructor Training – Review

Aerialists and dancers are constantly bombarded with information and advice about training techniques. Stories flood forums with personal accounts of how someone got their splits in just 6 weeks, or how this one rehab exercise supported their recovery. It should be common sense to take such advice with caution and always compare it to research and personal experience before taking up someone else’s training practice. However, it can be all too easy to carried away in the excitement, and forget to consult the experts when it comes to body mechanics, anatomy, and strength and flexibility training.

Seeking to update my skill set and learn from the best in the business, I recently signed up for Instructor Training provided by Spin City Aerial Fitness. They offer a range of courses for pole dance and hoop, as well as training programs for burlesque, aerial fabric, stretching, and anatomy.

This review is focused on the online Stretching and Flexibility for Pole and Aerial course as of January 2018.

Spin City offer face to face as well as online courses, allowing students to complete training at their own pace and from the comfort of their own homes. Their courses are internationally accredited and provide ongoing support post-training including access to a huge library of training resources, manuals, tutorials, and workshops to ensure your skills are always up to date and in line with current best practice.

The material is thorough and full of practical ideas to incorporate into a pole or aerial class, or for cross training at home. If you are already an instructor it may only take you a few weekends to work through the modules in the Stretching and Flexibility for Pole and Aerial course and a following hour or so for revision and assessment. For someone new to pole and aerial training or with little knowledge of anatomy and body work, you may need more time to work through each unit. The team at Spin City generously give you 12 months to complete the course after signing up, so even if lots of life gets in the way, anyone and everyone should be able to manage to fit it in to their schedule.

The Best Parts

– Online training can sometimes be hit or miss with connectivity issues and bad design. This was, however, not the case with Spin City! The team have ensured that nothing is overlooked and you are even assigned a mentor at the beginning who is available for all of your questions about the course. The interface is seamless and caters to various learning styles with integrated videos streaming from Vimeo to supplement the written material.

– The online presentations compliment a PDF of the Stretching and Flexibility Manual which you can download and print off. I loved this as it is not always preferable to read on the screen. My print out is now covered in notes and highlights and I can take it to the mat or studio to work through the sequences. You also get teaching notes for leading a class in a variety of stretches and the videos are all still accessible after you complete the course to ensure you never forget how to complete each stretch or exercise.

– Spin City have ensured that all types of stretching are covered, dispelling the myths about how to stretch effectively. They talk about foam rolling, PNF, CR, as well as cite case studies outlining how different techniques worked for people with different body types and different training requirements. There is no one size fits all and it is great that Spin City stress this point, allowing instructors to develop an open mind when sharing skills and techniques with their students.

– Videos! Dancers are usually very kinesthetic learners. We like to actually do it, not just talk about it or read about it. The team at Spin City have created very clear videos so you can see the exercises in action. There are also hundreds of photographs in the manual to help explain what the positions and stretches look like, including partner stretches. My only additional comment here is that I would have like some verbal instruction to be included in the videos – for example, reminders about keeping the pelvis tucked in this stretch, or notes about using the breath to support going deeper. Lots of this information is in the slides, but hearing it while seeing it in action can really help you connect to the areas of your body as you are engaged in the stretch.

The Details

Spin City offer a range of courses for pole dance and hoop, as well as burlesque, aerial fabric, stretching, and anatomy. The courses range from £89 (about $116 USD) to £295  (about $400 USD). Choose a course that is right for you here.

You are given 12 months to complete the courses online, and get to do a mock assessment before embarking on the real thing. Spin City have structured the course to support your success! Failing is not really an option, as it is more about learning and providing the safest and most effective advice about stretching and flexibility training to reduce injury and make better dance teachers.

After you complete the course you will also receive a certificate in the mail and a digital stamp to include on your studio’s website or personal instructor page. Spin City’s approach to training and teaching is effective, organised, and professional, allowing you to trust them for your first course and right through your career in physical fitness.

On a final noted, I personally liked how the courses acts as a great reminder of the fundamental movement skills that are sometimes forgotten in the endless quests for the best tricks. Consider your pole and aerial goals that you have just set for yourself at the beginning of this year, and consider how many of those nemesis tricks would be more achievable with a more effective approach to stretching and flexibility training.

Read more about Spin City courses here.

Safety with Back Bends

Ask any pole dancer or aerialist about their goals and no doubt they include working on back flexibility. If they were a gymnast or ballerina as a child they may remember doing walk overs and wearing “foot-hats” and hope that their muscle memory allows them to return to being so supple and bendy. Yet, even for dancers who only took up the practice as adults, we all dream of beautiful lines and elegant shapes created by a strong and flexible back arch.

But what is the best way to practice bending backwards? Are all bodies able to do back bends?

Firstly, let’s look at what you are trying to achieve. Vertical Wise published a great article in 2016 showing how, depending on which part of your back is naturally more flexible, what your back bend may look like (in an ideal world where we can all sit on our heads!)

It has been said that although you can lengthen the muscles, tendons, and fascia, that support the spine, the actual space between the bones is set as of puberty (Source). This does not mean that we should all stop flexibility training all together, but it does help us set realistic goals and learn to approach the practice of back bending from a safe perspective.

When you attempt a back bend pose on the floor, you are enlisting the help of your hips, glutes, quads, shoulder, lats, and your neck. Therefore, one of the first points to consider when embarking on safe back bending is that you also need to stretch and learn to engage these other parts of your body. Injuries, especially in your lower back, may occur from continually putting pressure on the spine in an attempt to push deeper and deeper.

Lat stretches included in #SaturdayLaturday can be effective in helping to “open up” the upper back. Lunges and reclining poses that focus on the quads, hip flexors, and psoas, will also help to ensure the final poses are not putting too much strain on your lower back.

In each of these preparatory poses, try to think of opening the chest and staying long through the spine. Try not to throw your neck back more than necessary as this is also a common area for sprains and injuries. Yoga wheels and other props can help you form a safe shape as you learn to bend backwards, however learning how to hold a strong back bend should always be the goal, not just learning how to fall into one.

Different practitioners have opposing views about whether it’s a good idea to engage the glutes during back bends. It is possible that by engaging your glutes you can increase the stretch in your hip flexors, and reduce the load on your lumbar spine, but squeezing your butt may also externally rotate the legs and put you out of alignment. The glutes are made up of three muscles, two of which externally rotate the hip and one that internally rotates the hip. Learning to engage the lower gluteus minimus separately from the others may work in your favour to stabilise and increase the range of motion in your back bends. Practicing bridges from the floor with proper alignment will help you connect with this muscle. I also recommend reading this article by Roger Cole, Ph.D, for some simple and effective exercises to learn how to engage your glutes for safe back bends.

From a personal stand point, I have seen more improvement in my back flex and strength since joining a contortion class at the circus. I believe this is not only due to having professional instructors, but also due to the added diversity and consistency of my practice. In two, hour long classes a week we explore back bending from every angle – bridges and wheel pose, camel pose, bow pose, forearm stands, dancers pose, chest stands, as well as classic contortion positions for the more flexible students. Rather than just holding each shape as a static pose, we are encouraged to be actively entering and exiting the pose working to build strength in the posture as well as increasing our range of motion.

The many ways to enter/exit wheel pose include:

  • lying on your back, hands over head, push up
  • drop backs or walking your hands down a wall to the floor (and reverse back to standing)
  • from a handstand, flipping over to land your feet on the floor or mat (and reverse back to standing)
  • sitting, externally rotate one hand and push up, drawing an arc with your other hand until it reaches the floor underneath you (both sides)

Once you are in wheel pose there are also variations like lifting one leg, straightening both legs, or sinking your butt down to create a hollow back shape.

Some of these entries may feel better for your body than others. I still cannot drop back into a wheel pose, but I can get quite deep bends using the strength in my arms and legs to push up. I am still practicing my drop backs though, going back as far as I can from standing, holding and breathing, and then returning to standing with control and with focus on alignment.

“An honest way to train yourself into deeper backbends is to practice hands-free. When you remove your hands from backbends, you’re forced to work your core and spinal muscles. You can’t cheat how deep you get when your hands aren’t pushing you past what you can hold with integrity”

(Source)

Dancers who have a tendency to hyperextend their elbows, may also benefit from practicing hands free as they won’t be putting any pressure on the joint until their hands touch the floor in the final presentation of the pose.

You can also go hands free dropping back in camel pose.

Or lifting hands free from the floor.

These are great exercises to add to your practice as they will strengthen your back and core and help you learn to connect with the muscles that will support your back bends. Training this way will ensure you are also not falling into a bend that you don’t have the strength to maintain.

It can be scary to start practicing back bends on your own. Try joining a flexibility or contortion class or start small and train with a friend to help as a spotter. From a yoga perspective, back bends are considered to

“stimulate the proper functioning of the digestive system, help preserve the health of the vertebrae and spinal disks, and open the body to deep diaphragmatic breathing.” (ref)

You may also find that regularly practicing back bends improves your posture as well, countering bad habits of slouching at you desk and in front of your computer. A friend used to move her laptop to the floor and work in sphinx pose, challenging her upper back and shoulders for up to 20 minutes or more. If you have a flexible work space this is a great way to add some extra back bend practice to your day. Just be careful not to overdue it, remembering to pull your shoulders back and down and keep the neck long as you look forwards.

Finally, every back bending session should be matched with counter poses. Coming from a yoga background I would suggest, if your training involved lots of back bends, on the floor or the on the pole (e.g ballerinas, cocoons, crescent moons, allegras, and brass bridges), counter these poses with some forward bends off the pole – seated forward bends, plough pose, wall assisted forward bends, and some spinal twists. Don’t forget to breathe deeply into the upper, middle, and lower back in these poses and remember to lengthen and extend. Relaxing with shavasana and giving your body time to assimilate your practice will also support you adapting to your new bendy self!

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This post was requested by Su Ma Zaw, the winner of the October Shoutout Competition. If you would like to be involved in further competitions and be in the loop for all announcements, performance updates, and special gifts, sign up to my newsletter here!

 

 

Wrist Care

As humans, we have spent a lifetime walking on our feet and ankles. As pole dancers and aerialists we now spend hours a day trying to balance and hold ourselves up on our hands and wrists. If you are finding that your wrists and/or forearms hurt when attempting various pole tricks, or ache after a workout, you are not alone. Aside from shoulder injuries and torn hamstrings, wrist injuries are one of the most common aliments for pole dancers and aerialists.

Personally, I have a genetic predisposition to Carpul Tunnel Syndrome. My mother, grandmother, and great aunt, have all had various surgeries to reduce pain and support their mobility and well being in their wrists. Hopefully, the strength and mobility I have attained from pole and aerial training is working in my favour. I still get odd nerve pains and tenderness, but have found massage, nerve flossing, and rest (which even included learning how to use my computer mouse with my left hand!) are all effective in reducing pain and allowing me to continue my aerial training.

I have known many dancers who suffer from wrist ailments, such as ganglion cysts which all impact on their ability to pole. It is important to listen to your body and know when to stop or alter a move. There is no use pushing through and hoping the pain will go away. Many spins and tricks can be accomplished with the forearm on the pole, or in cup grip which allow the wrist to stay in a more neutral position. Variations for an Ayesha/Static V are pictured below.

 

Disclaimer – The following content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

The wrist is a very complex set of joints, ligaments, and nerves that support the movement of the hand in four directions – flexing, extending, and deviating side to side. The wrist can also twist, what is known as pronation and supination.  The structure of the wrist is made up for four main ligaments, three nerves, eight carpul bones, and five metacarpal bones. It goes without saying that a lot can go wrong if you fall on your wrist on put pressure on it in the wrong way!

It is important to warm up the wrists just like you warm up the rest of your body before pole. As well as wrist circles and stretches for the forearms and fingers, try this exercise:

Wrist lifts from all fours

 

Moving your hands closer or further away from your body will alter the amount of pressure and change the required strength to execute the move. What you are aiming for is quality of movement over quantity. Try to make the movement as smooth as possible. You also don’t want to fatigue the wrists. This exercise involves lots of tiny muscles, ligaments, and tendons, that may not be used to working out.  5-10 repetitions as part of your warm up is more than enough.

If you have a theraband there is also a great wrist exercise you can do with a pole or even just a railing. Standing next to the pole with the theraband at waist height, wrap the band around your palm and make a fist. Bring your elbow to you waist so your forearm is pointing out in front of you. Move away from the pole to increase the tension in the band. Fold your hand down (in flexion) with your hand in a fist and slowly release back to a neutral position. Repeat 5-10 times with both hands. The tension offered by the theraband will support muscle strength throughout the wrist joint.

Massage can be great for the wrists too, especially after an aerial session. You can massage your own wrists with the opposite hand, or if you are lucky to have a friend to help you, this is a great partner exercise –

Have you partner interlock their fingers with yours as they are facing you. Let your hands and arms go limp, as your partner shakes your hands up down. They can alternate with large motions or short and fast ones. I find this exercise is great for releasing lactic acid after a workout.

For the next section I talk about the split grip position on the pole. I am primarily talking about the pose known as a jamilla or an apprentice, where many dancers report feeling pain in their bottom hand.

When setting yourself up for a split grip, be extra mindful of your hand placement. Rather than gripping the pole and trying to support your weight, the action should be more of a sideways push. As your strength and technique increases you will soon be able to do this without your fingers wrapping around the pole at all.

Other things to remember for a successful and pain free split grip are:

  • Try not to place your bottom hand too high on the pole. Allow the wrist to remain in a neutral position rather than extending.
  • Point the index finger of bottom hand downwards reminding you to push rather than grip (you can see my bottom hand in this position in the video)
  • Bend your bottom arm just a little, don’t lock out the elbow
  • Remember to pull with your top arm, this will help take the weight away from your wrist in the bottom hand

Split grips like the apprentice/jamilla are not beginner pole moves. You need to be strong enough to carry most of your weight in your top arm.

The team at Vertical Wise also offer advice for other wrist intensive moves too.

“In moves like handspring, butterfly, flag, etc. it is best to keep a straight line from the elbow to the wrist.
This way, our body weight is evenly distributed and we don’t put too much pressure on the wrist joint.

By forming a straight line from the elbow to the wrist.

  • Our grip strength comes from the shoulder blade (scapula) and not from the wrist. This results in activating all of the muscles of the core body instead of using only one specific group, that of the forearm.
  • We prevent prolonged hyperextension of the wrist, which might even lead to a carpal tunnel syndrome.”

As pole dancers and aerialists we all dream of being able to continue flying forever and ever. But to do this, we need to take care of ourselves. Listening to our bodies, stopping moves that cause pain, and developing good technique to reduce injury are essential for any dancer. Taking appropriate rest days to let our bodies heal will also ensure we can dance with strong, healthy bodies right into our 80s!