Are you training to failure? Maybe you shouldn’t be.

Dean Somerset put out a musing today on his blog about training to failure, and it has me thinking about its applications in circus. The thing about strength training is that everything works to a degree. It might not be the most efficient use of your time but it usually does something.

“The balancing act of training is imparting enough stress to see positive adaptations, but not so much as to cause serious tissue damage or worsening performance.” – Dean

So what do I mean by failure exactly? Dean made this handy little graph.

“Technique failure” is when your form starts to break down. “Mechanical failure” is when you physically cannot do another rep.

In circus, we’re often trying to acquire new skills, which require new load demands on the body. Often as we try new things we fail. A lot. Sometimes it is because we’re not quite strong enough yet.

Aerialists, in particular, push themselves to mechanical failure on the regular.

Does pushing circus artists to mechanical failure matter?

Simply put, yes! Why?

1. A circus athlete’s skill level should guide their training program. 

Beginners will generally get the most benefits from stopping when they hit technique failure. Pushing to mechanical failure has limited benefit and risks injury.

Advanced circus athletes can benefit from higher stresses and are less likely to risk injury once their form starts to break down.

Think of all of the years of shoulder prehab work a professional aerialist has done. If she is doing 1-arm beats on straps and goes a little off course, those muscles kick in to protect her shoulder. A beginner has no guardrails.

2. A skill’s technical requirements should guide how far to push to mechanical failure.

All skills are not equal. If a movement has a low technical requirement, it is less risky to push to mechanical failure. Even a beginner can push to mechanical failure in toes to bar, for example, so long as they recover well from the exercise.

3. An athlete’s goals should guide their training.

No matter a circus artist’s level, waking up with severe Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) can be problematic. And training to mechanical failure is DOMS-land. Do you have a show the next day? Do you have to be active for your job? Do you just not want to feel like ass after training? Then think twice before training to mechanical failure.

Keep in mind that as training stress goes up, so do potential gains and risks. Going harder is not always the answer. Play with different approaches and see what works for your body. You can build the ability to tolerate stress over time and still see gains all over the place without trashing your body.

I just wanted to share this article that I read today on internal vs. external cueing and share some of my thoughts. In it, Matt Kuzdub, a high-level tennis athlete, discusses what the research has shown on cueing and why he thinks that it is not all that.

Hint: I agree! 

I like to think of external cueing as playing the short game and internal cueing as playing the long game.

We need both. If you want to see what all short game looks like, that’s the current political process in the US. Not the best model for high performance.

And all long game? Well, that’s academia. Where something might be happening. But it is not totally clear. I mean, if you have tenure, there’s no rush.

According to Matt, “I believe there’s a constant tug and pull, a back and forth, a mix and match type scenario that should occur. Sometimes, we need to focus on the positioning and/or execution of a particular body part. Other times, we should focus more on an external factor like the flight of the ball or a target. But this will all depend on the athlete, their preferences, their skill level, the time of year, the complexity of the task, the sport in question, and probably a host of other factors I haven’t yet considered.”

The problem I see in circus is an over-reliance not on internal cueing, but on non-specific internal cueing.

What does that mean?

I posted about this on Instagram.  

As I say in the post, instead of just saying, “I need you to lift your hips,” you should instead give specific details about HOW to achieve that, e.g., “by pulling the bottom of your ribs forward and your right shoulder blade back.” You don’t need to give 50 cues at once but you do need to be specific about a strategy for achieving a technical outcome.

And if you’re not a coach?

Get comfortable asking for the feedback you need.

If you’re not getting the feedback you need, ask your coach for it. Unsure how, try: “What remains stable and what moves?” That will help them focus on the specificity you just might need to move forward.

Interested in hearing more of the latest and greatest aerial and mobility training tips? Join my mailing list.

Get the Underbutt & Low Back Toasty for Dynamic Skills

Whether you’re looking to lift into cheststands or increase the height of your trapeze beats, you’ll want to thoroughly warm up your hip extension and back. After you’ve done some muscle activation work (think child’s pose leg lifts, woodpeckers, and slow cobras), consider adding some dynamic lifts. If you don’t train you need dynamic mobility, train it dynamically!

It’s important to do these off of the edge of a bench or spotting block, so your pelvis can curl as your legs come down and arch as you lift.

Place your arms overhead and hold on. Wrap your scapula around your armpits and close your ribs.

In the legs together versions, you are trying to lift them as high as you can using your underbutt.

In the legs apart versions, you are try to add in the back to lift as high as you can.

Let me know how it goes! Drop me a heart to let me kno

Here’s one of my favorite exercises to improve active shoulder flexion while in end-range thoracic extension. Cat Scratchers are great for Mexican handstands!

You can use a band, strap, or block between your elbows to encourage engagement through your arms.

1️⃣ Face the wall seated on your heels with your knees touching it. (If this exercise feels easy, just move your knees progressively away from the wall.

2️⃣ Bring your hands and rest them on the wall, palms facing each other, elbows straight.

3️⃣ Elevate your shoulders and externally rotate, wrapping your scapula around your armpits (like in a handstand).

4️⃣ Press your hands into the wall and start to slide them overhead. Look between your hands and lift your sternum while drawing your sits bones back in opposition. Stop when your sternum rests on the wall. (If you cannot reach the wall, lift your butt off of your heels just enough so you can without changing the position of your pelvis.)

5️⃣ Continue to wrap around the armpits and lift your arms off of the wall for 5-10 pulses. (If you cannot lift off of the wall, lift your butt off of your heels just enough so you can without changing the position of your pelvis.)

6️⃣ (Slide back down the wall if you have slid up.) Curl the pelvis and ripple to the spine to return to your start position.

Interested in hearing more of the latest and greatest aerial and mobility training tips? Join my mailing list. Or join a live mobility class.

Do you have a Cyber Monday confession?

Since COVID turned our lives into a big game of whack-a-mole, it’s been hard to focus on any one thing for too long. Especially since it might not be around tomorrow. *cue existential dread* The challenges just keep coming… and keep changing.

I recently sent out a survey asking if people felt more constrained by time or money, and I was shocked that most of you said time. Upon reflection, that makes sense. We’re in constant problem-solving mode these days, and it’s exhausting. Our time is not our own.

That’s why I’ve decided to open up my schedule to you–my friends, my clients, my cheerleaders–the week of Dec 7th. I’ve made over 30 hours available to you on my calendar. All you have to do is sign up, and let me do some of the problem-solving for you. Each 30-minute session is pay what you can (normally $50).

What are these consults good for?

Basically all things that I can rock from my living room, such as:

• nerding out on technique and biomechanics

• assessing your mobility strengths and weaknesses

• nailing a niggling aerial skill

• reining in your schedule & getting your programming on point

• telling you to do the thing already

• telling you to try doing it faster, with your other hand, spinning the other direction, and to better music (artistic direction & creative consulting)

• checking in on that custom program you bought last year (no judgment)

• talking about how I left my government job, moved across the country, & took my entire business online

• taking your confession (10 hail Mias)

• and many other things we haven’t thought of yet

Just use click this link to book through Monday. When the slots are gone, they’re gone. Don’t miss this chance to ask me (and my kitties) anything!

Am I Stretching the Correct Hip Flexor?

“My ‘hip flexors’ are sooo tight.” You’ve heard that, right? Maybe you’ve said it? But what exactly does that mean? How do you even know if you’re stretching the right muscles?

The hip flexors are a bunch of muscles that work together to lift the leg toward your torso. They literally flex the hips.

Tightness in these muscles will prevent the leg from going into extension and tip the pelvis forward. If you want a square front split, it’s important to understand which hip flexors are holding you back.

In this video, I’ll discuss the main culprits: the psoas, the rectus femoris, and the TFL. I’ll give you a way to self test these muscles to know where your tightness lies.

What to do with all you newfound knowledge?

1) Inhibit – Foam roll or peanut the muscle

2) Lengthen – Stretch the muscle

3) Activate – Either strengthen the muscle (if its weak) or strengthen the opposing muscle (if it’s overworked)

4) Integrate – Use all of that range in an integrated way (e.g., penches or curtsy lunges)

Here’s one of my favorite exercises to improve active shoulder flexion while in end-range thoracic extension. Cat Scratchers are great for Mexican handstands!

You can use a band, strap, or block between your elbows to encourage engagement through your arms.

1️⃣ Face the wall seated on your heels with your knees touching it. (If this exercise feels easy, just move your knees progressively away from the wall.

2️⃣ Bring your hands and rest them on the wall, palms facing each other, elbows straight.

3️⃣ Elevate your shoulders and externally rotate, wrapping your scapula around your armpits (like in a handstand).

4️⃣ Press your hands into the wall and start to slide them overhead. Look between your hands and lift your sternum while drawing your sits bones back in opposition. Stop when your sternum rests on the wall. (If you cannot reach the wall, lift your butt off of your heels just enough so you can without changing the position of your pelvis.)

5️⃣ Continue to wrap around the armpits and lift your arms off of the wall for 5-10 pulses. (If you cannot lift off of the wall, lift your butt off of your heels just enough so you can without changing the position of your pelvis.)

6️⃣ (Slide back down the wall if you have slid up.) Curl the pelvis and ripple to the spine to return to your start position.

Interested in hearing more of the latest and greatest aerial and mobility training tips? Join my mailing list. Or join a live mobility class.

Friday Five: Holiday Gift Guide (Artist Edition)

Draft of a playing card featuring Jessica John and Joshua Handal by Rachel Hipszer.

Wondering what to get for your favorite circus person for the holidays?

We all have our wishlists, but this year, why not also take the opportunity to support an underemployed artist? 

Here are some of my favorite things by circus artists:

1. Circus Playing Cards by Rachel Hipszer

Each of the 54 completely unique playing cards feature a different circus artist. Look closely and spot the familiar faces. Rachel Hipszer is a handbalancer and aerialist based in Brattleboro.

2. Juggling: What It Is and How to Do It by Thom Wall 

A modern textbook about juggling technique for beginners and professionals, this newly-released book lays out the steps from zero to five ball mastery. Thom Wall is a juggler and variety entertainer.

3. Living Sculptures by Courtney Prokopas 

Kokedamas and joyful plant sculptures lovingly made in Chicago but shipped to your door. Courtney Prokopas is a classically-trained ballerina turned aerialist and wire-dancer.

4. Custom Handstand Benches by Jan Damm 

Bespoke Chinese-style training benches made from select pine with an Ash hardwood tops. Jan Damm is a juggler and a clown, who also makes custom hoop diving sets.

5. Deathandstoriesfromafuneralhome by Justin Therrien 

Hand cut, hand folded, hand stitched, with 5 original linocut printings in each book, filled with stories about moving dead bodies for a living. Justin Therrien is a Bellingham-based entertainer who mixes traditional circus skills with sideshow stunts.

Do you know of any wondrous things made by circus artists that you’d like to share? Drop them in the comments below!

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