Turn Up the Heat on Your Warm Up to Avoid Injury
Aerial training as a hobby is hard. Not only does it hurt, it requires a whole lot of strength and flexibility that the average person doesn’t naturally have. But it is fun, exciting and creatively fulfilling. So we do it. And, at some point we get good enough that we can practice our skills out of class - in open training sessions. Here are some things to keep in mind to help you avoid injury.
Training should start before you enter the building. On your way to your training space ask yourself what will a successful training session look like today? What will it look like in a month? What will it look like in a year? Write this in a notebook or your training diary. Roughly map out what you would like to do in your session today. Tracking your progress keeps you motivated and reminds you how far you have come. These are my notes from a cloud swing session from ten years ago. I have given myself technique reminders and listed trampoline drills to work through. My focus word is “soft”
If you get to the training space on public transport use this time to mentally walk through any difficult skills or transitions. Mental rehearsal is a chance to practice a skill, a chance to break the skill into stages and really see each of those pieces of a whole. This imagery training enables us to properly understand the skill that we are perfecting and it takes advantage of the predictive way the brain works. When we do a specific action -like cutting a lemon or even imagining cutting a lemon for example, our brain responds to ready us to eat or drink the sour fruit, starting with producing more saliva. When we start to imagine a movement, neurons in our motor cortex start to fire, to ready our body for that movement, they travel along neural pathways essential for learning and mastering a skill. We mentally carve a path that will be reinforced with physical practice later in our session.
Once you are in the space take a moment to check in with yourself. This is a quick way to help you observe any stress from work or home that you are still holding and to breathe through it. All that you need to do is spend a minute noticing your body and everything that you are feeling right now. To be fully aware of our bodies we need to be attuned and listening. We need to be able to notice where we are holding unnecessary tension. Where our breath is in our bodies. How much energy we have and how we are feeling. Whether we can feel any niggles and respond to them.
It may be that you notice that you have some muscle soreness from a previous training session or that you are holding tension from work. If this is this the case some self massage, or rolling (with a roller or these very portable Franklin balls) will increase arterial dilation, reduce fascial restrictions, enhance muscle elasticity and neurological feedback. It may be that you normally use foam rolling as a post workout exercise but this study here shows that it can be very effective as a part of the warm up when combined with dynamic stretching.
While you are rolling or massaging you may decide to choose a focus word for your session. This is a word associated with a quality that you would like to improve on, it should bring you motivation, focus and help set an intention for your session. It could be anything from “flowing” to “feet.” I used to write my word on my hand so that I’d be reminded of it throughout my session.
Now you are ready for your physical warm up. The goal here is to raise tissue temperature, increase heart rate and to ease our large muscle groups into movement. Our bodies are like butter, when we are warm synovial fluid and lymph flow increase. When muscles and joints are required to move “from cold” they increase tonicity to protect us. A gently raised heart rate prepares our blood vessels for extra load. The goal is to get to a level where you are a little breathless and talking is more difficult than usual. Perhaps have a jog up and down the stairs five times, run around the space, or skip for 5 minutes.
Then you can move into dynamic stretching which increases blood flow to muscles, further increases tissue temperature, and increases nerve conduction velocity. Static stretching is unhelpful in a warm up. Imagine your muscle is a rope with a series of knots tied in it. Static stretching serves to pull those knots tighter. To get more flexible a muscle needs to be strengthened eccentrically (under load). When training for aerials our muscles need to be strong enough to have control through their full range of motion. I love a 3m long band for shoulder, spine and hip resistance work. Put on some music and improvise a flowing sequence of movements. Think of skills from your apparatus, think of your moving your spine, shoulders and hips in all of their directions, try things on one leg, rolling on the floor, upside down and connected to the wall.
Then move into some floor conditioning. Pistol squats; lunges; horizontal pull and push; vertical pull and push; dish, arch and side lying; balance; rotation; and inversions are all skills that an aerialist needs to be competent at. These are the dominant movement patterns used in the air. I recommend incorporating these movements into a flow sequence. A flow because aerial is all about routines and transitioning smoothly from one move to another. Throughout your sequence play around with changing tempo, levels, direction, shapes and movement style. It is much easier to get strong at this approach to movement on the ground.
One last thing before you get on the equipment is to work through your floorials. This is a word for drills that can be trained on the floor. Elements of movements that you are having difficulty with in the air can be thought through on a mat. The body shapes, the timing, and understanding where you need to be in space. Can you break the trick into its constituent parts? This helps you to really understand the skill, to know it physically and mentally before trying it at height, using all your strength
In summary, a warm up can be as short as 10 minutes. It ideally includes
walking through difficult movements in your mind; picking a focus word;
raising your heart rate; moving through large joint movements; incorporating active flexibility; hitting the positions that you will be using in your session; and drilling difficult skills on the ground.