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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!

 

The Artist Athlete

For those who have been following my aerial dance journey, you will know that I have transitioned from calling myself a pole dancer to now an aerialist. I train with many apparatus since having been adopted by the circus and as much as I cannot wait to return to pole (yes it will happen!) I am loving the new discoveries I am making about my body, movement, and dance while on hammock, silks, and lyra.

The title of this post is not mine. Shannon McKenna is The Artist Athlete and is my most recent girl crush and go to for training advice and circus knowledge. Anyone in the world of circus, or aerial, or pole for that matter falls into the mixed up world of artists and athletes. We ask our bodies to do amazing feats of strength and flexibility, twisting, lifting, and bending, and then attempt to merge these movements with grace, story telling, emotion, and meaning. Jamilla Deville straddles these worlds quite successfully, training cross-fit alongside pole to balance her body, reduce training bias, and prevent injuries. I would love to know some more dancers who also train this way.

This is now, an invitation to you, as pole dancers, to reach a little further and come and visit the world of The Artist Athlete. Let’s bridge the gap –

Do pole dancers consider themselves “aerialists”? 

What could the lineage of circus and pole offer each other in terms of show creation and training advice?”

I don’t know if these ideas were part of Shannon McKenna’s  goal when she created The Artist Athlete, but I am so glad to have found a source of knowledge and experience that can guide me through the tents and fanfare of the circus, right to the nitty-gritty stuff. She asks the questions that keep me awake at night. And finds people to interview that actually know some of the answers!

You can find The Artist Athlete in the usual places, but I highly recommend you listen to her podcast! She is currently up to episode 16, so you have lots to binge on if you are just getting started. Her interviews with contortionists, circus coaches, physiotherapist, and acrobats are going to open your mind to the range of talent and knowledge that could help you in your aerial dance journey.

If you still need convincing, here are some of my favourite snippets that I related to with regards to my dance practice, choreography creation, and how I think about dance and circus as I get older, Whether dance for you is your full time job, a hobby, or just a way to stay fit and healthy, these insights into the artists’ practice may help you find new inspiration, new motivation, or just comfort that your journey is shared by others.

Episode 2: Liza Rose
“In a world where every trick and transition under the sun is already out on Instagram and YouTube, how do you go about making art that is truly your own? … aerialist, choreographer, and studio owner Liza Rose … found ways to create her own art and her own opportunities. ”

“… dedicated to finding transitions, finding story within the phrases I am working through, finding ways that I can make choices in the air … instead of my shapes looking like what I’ve learned in class or what would be known as traditional. I try to spend a lot of time finding my points of contact, assessing what I need to engage in my body to stay up in the air and stay safe while I’m there and then making choices with all the rest of my body. That’s my process of trying to create authentic movement.”

“… that’s the way you are going to be able to make your own style, if you are able to assess your own personal safety and you’re able to move in between these places of rest, these places that you know will keep you on the thing”

 

Episode 11: Laura Stokes
How [has] your relationship to the material changed …?
“… it’s so complex and it’s also like my relationship to the material is more physical than it is linguistic. But, yes my relationship has changed … it still feels relevant to the audiences that we play to, it doesn’t feel relevant to me and my current interest artistically but it doesn’t feel like a penance to perform it. Sometimes I thought like wow it’s so strange to have a time based piece of art that in order for it to be seen I have to enact it. It would be so different for me to travel with a painting or a sculpture that I made five years ago and say here is this piece of work that I still believe in, I’d like you to look at it. But the enactment and embodiment of it sometimes is a bit of a push, but there is also a practice and there is something that also becomes deeply familiar and comfortable … and there are discoveries in that, I am always looking for new moments and maybe it’s similar to a relationship with a person where trying to keep the lens of what is new, who are you today?, keeps it fresh while also appreciating the comfort that can come from deep familiarity. It’s not this raw edgy new relationship it’s something that I can sink into”

 

Episode 12: Brandon Scott
“The thing that I would tell myself when I quit gymnastics was this is not the peak of your athleticism. Because at the time that is what I thought … when am I ever going to be in the same shape as I am as teenage boy in competitive gymnastics. This is the peak, I was just resigned to it. And now as a person who is far stronger and far more flexible when I was at that time, I just want to give that past self the reassurance that you can always keep progressing especially if it’s something that you love there is so much more time and so much more to learn and there is so much more growth to be had …. at any point in your life”

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Want more? Shannon McKenna has also released a set of E Manuals to help you learn about how to hang upside down safely, efficiently, and consistently – we all want to be able to do aerials forever right?

Join the conversation – aerialist? pole dancer? circus artist? all of the above? I would love to hear your thoughts – hit me up on Facebook or Instagram!

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!

 

 

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!