Tagstrength

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!

 

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!

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!

_______

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 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!

An Effective Warm Up

Whether you are training in a studio or at home, it is essential that you incorporate a warm up routine into your poledance or floorwork session. An effective warm up will prepare the body for exercise, lubricate the joints to support mobility, and increase blood flow, bringing oxygen to the muscles.

When leading a warm up, your instructor should be able to offer movements that prepare the entire body, and also include exercises which target muscles and joints that are specific to the pole moves you will be working on. For example, extra hip stretches for a class working on split moves, or some added shoulder and upper back exercises to help you engage the correct muscles for deadlifts and ayeshas.

At home, this can be a little tricky. You may remember movements from a warm up in class, but without the instruction and guidance from a teacher, you may be tempted to skip over reps or rush your routine just to get on the pole sooner.

I’ve seen many dancers do this in practice time too. Walking in, getting changed and doing a few shoulder rolls and hip circles before jumping on the pole and pulling out a crazy combo. Nine out of ten times you could do this and be fine. But you increase your chance of injury by not preparing the muscles to engage in such vigorous activity.

When planning your home practice, make sure you have included time for an effective warm up and cool down. Both should take about 10-20 minutes, longer if you are adding conditioning exercises, or working on flexibility and foam rolling.

“The warm-up should be a combination of rhythmic exercise which begins to raise the heartrate and raise muscle temperature, and static stretching through a full range of motion. “ (DanceProject.ca)

Consider the muscle groups that will be active in the types of tricks you are training. Working on Jade Splits? be sure to warm up your hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, and quads. Working on your Handspring? You will need to warm up your shoulders, back, forearms, and wrists.

When creating your own warm up, keep these points in mind:

Keep it Dynamic – you are aiming to increase blood flow and get your heart rate up. Don’t just sit in static stretches. Flow through the movement and explore your range of motion. Yoga flow can be a great way to get started.

Jump Around – Break up the kicks and stretches with some cardio, star jumps, burpees, mountain climbers, or just running on the spot. It will help you feel warm and support your stamina for those long pole routines.

Turn It Up – if you are lacking motivation for your warm up, put on some music that gets you moving. The hardest part is often getting started.

Make it Functional – consider the movements and tricks you want to train and ask, how can your warm up support these? Knee lifts and high kicks for hip mobility. Add a thera band and put in some resistance exercises to warm up your wrists, arms and shoulders.

Range of Motion – Explore the movements from all angles. Lay down on your back and do you leg kicks and extensions. Add a chest roll to your upper body movements, or pause in a pose and do some arm circles, and see how you can target and engage different muscles.

Coordination – remember, a warm up prepares your body for what it is about to do. Pole dancing requires lots of coordination and body awareness, a relationship between your mind and your body. Animal walks are a great way to get you brain in the right mindset for pole, offering exercises that alternate between both sides of the body.

Breath and Movement elevatED Education talk a lot about how breath supports movement. There is no use increasing blood flow if your breath is shallow and not spreading oxygen around the body. If you have been to a yoga class before, you would have been instructed to pair your movements with your inhale and exhale. Try this in your own warm up, finding your own rhythm and breathing into a stretch.

Add Weights – Use a medicine ball, kettle bell, or ankle weights to up the challenge. Keep the ankle weights on as you start some pole conditioning, doing some pencil spins or straight leg straddles!


On a final note, remember that during a warm up you also have a chance to check in with your body. Any injury or illness you have can often be recognized, and further injury prevented. It’s much safer to be alerted to a tight hamstring or unhappy hip flexor when you are still on the ground, rather than mid combo 2 metres up the pole!

Being a regular home poler, I found myself a consistent warm up routine that I have now recorded and can share with you.

 

If you are a subscriber to my newsletter you will also be granted access to my Dance Warm Up at the end of November, a fun way to freestyle around the pole before starting any big tricks. Great for some added cardio and to work on those staple pole moves – body rolls, hip circles and kicks.

 

Sunday Bumday!

sb2We are seeing more and more butt selfies taking over social media. Sunday rolls around and every pole dancers across the globe is snapping pics as they squat it out, strut towards the pole, or just lie in bed in sexy lingerie.

But, what do you really know about your butt?

It wasn’t until I was forced to see a physio for my hamstring injuries, that I began to learn about the importance of working my glutes – for stability, strength, and mobility.

My rehabilitation involved lots of glute strengthening to ensure that my now scarred hamstrings would remain stable and safe even after they healed.

So let’s break down our derrieres.

There are three muscles that are called glutes:
The gluteus maximus, gluteous medius, and gluteous minimus. There is also a muscle called the tensor fasciae latae (not to be ordered along with your cronut!)

They all have different roles to play in helping your leg move in the hip socket, including rotation, lifting, and abducting. The condition of your glutes also influences your posture, and the chance of you developing back, hip, and pelvic pain.

THE GLUTEOUS MAXIMUS
The gluteous maximus helps us extend and externally rotate the leg.
You engage this muscle when
– creating a turn out
– swinging your leg back behind your torso
– lifting you leg while holding a plank
– doing donkey kicks
Squats and hip thrusts, can also exercise the gluteus maximus.

THE GLUTEOUS MEDIUS
The gluteous medius assists in external rotation, and also works to help internally rotate the leg. It’s third job is to abduct – the action of lifting your leg out to the side, like lateral leg raises or a clamshell exercise.

THE GLUTEOUS MINIMUS
The gluteous minimus teams up with the TFL to internally rotate the leg, as well as support abduction.

 has great Gluteal Exercises to see and feel all of this in action. Using your hands to feel the muscles working, especially in the butt, can be enormously helpful in understanding what is activating and when. Imagine it as a hands on way to talk to your body and tell it what to do, physically creating a pathway from the brain to the butt while the neural pathways are being formed.

If you are having trouble with certain poses on the pole, you may need to think about strengthening your glutes.

 

Case in point – Cupid

cupidYour top leg is hooked on the pole, gripping and pulling with the pole behind your knee. Your bottom leg is straight, pushing against the pole through the foot.

Hip mobility will play a role in how this shape looks on your body. Your crotch might be close to the pole, or your top leg might be more a right angle. Either way, to be stable in the pose, and eventually be able to take your hands off, you will need to be activating your glutes. Instructions such as “push your hips forward” and “squeeze your bum” may help you connect to the muscles that need to be engaged, but learning how to engage the three different glute muscles when off the pole will help with your muscle memory when you return to the pose.

Even beginner spins, require a certain amount of glute engagement to create nice lines. Play with a stag leg back spin and see the difference when you actively pull your back leg up with your glutes.

Yoga and Barre involve many exercises that will help train your glutes, and don’t be afraid to take it slow while you consciously think about engagement and activation. Make it a regular part of your pole dance training and join the #SundayBumday movement with tush that you’re proud to show off!

Can’t get enough? Now there is #SaturdayLaturday too!