The steps outlined here apply to everyone, but the tone of the post is intended for those who haven’t really considered what negative effects their practice might have on their body, and how to prevent them. To be clear, we’re not talking about bruises or callouses, but internal damage to muscles, tendons or ligaments.
You may have heard people talk about injury risk during exercise before, but I suspect for many people it doesn’t feel like a real threat until you feel the first hints of pain yourself (or maybe that’s just me…). If that’s you, you need to take care of any niggling aches or pains. Stop doing whatever is causing it, and preferably go see a physical therapist or a medical professional. It can be hard to put a pause on doing something you love, but if you try to push through it, it is very likely it will get worse and limit your progress for longe. In the worst case, you might never be able to do certain moves again.
If you’re currently feeling completely fine, that doesn’t mean you’re not at risk. Broadly speaking, there’s two kinds of injury:
- Accidental: sudden, easy to spot, likely quite intense.
- Overuse: accumulates slowly over time, and could therefore be underway already without you knowing it. It could feel subtle and only appear occasionally first, then develop into a more consistent pain. Could be due to bad technique or muscle imbalance.
To prevent the first kind, be focused on what you’re doing and make sure that safety conditions for your training are met. This post will focus more on the latter kind.
Risk Areas and Factors
Some of the most common areas of injury for aerialists are shoulders (good old rotator cuff…), lower back and hips. Here are some of the many factors that can make you more prone to injury:
- insufficient warm-up
- hypermobility (if this is you, you should really look into special considerations for hypermobile people)
- a desk job (if this applies to you, try to break up long periods of sitting every 20 minutes)
- bad posture
- being tired
- imbalanced/weak muscle groups, causing other tissues to overcompensate
- bad technique
- training alone (or more specifically, not having anyone check your form)
- training too much/too often
- having had a previous injury
The key steps to preventing injury and extending your aerial career are:
- Proper warm-up. A typical warm-up might last ~15-20 minutes. Long static stretches (>60s) are not usually recommended during warm-up. Other contents will vary based on what exactly you’re warming up for, but some of the common parts are:
- raising your heart rate (e.g. jogging or jumping)
- mobilising all parts of the body about to be used (e.g. rotating your wrists, ankles, shoulders…)
- “waking up”/activating your underactive muscles (e.g. core with dead bugs, glutes with single leg glute bridges)
- Allowing for sufficient rest and recovery. This means enough quality sleep (for most people, 7-10 hours per day) and rest days (or occasionally longer periods). This also includes not pushing too hard when you’re body is not ready for it. For example, don’t do the hardest moves at the end of the class if you’re already exhausted. Or don’t overcompensate by cramming in 2 sessions a day for a week after that business trip you’re still jetlagged from – it’s not worth it.
- A solid foundation of functional general strength. This means that circus should probably not be your only form of exercise. You need to do some bodyweight or weight-assisted actual strength training for a healthy, balanced body. Some commonly underactive muscles are the glutes, often compensated for by hamstrings. Similarly, if you sit a lot, perhaps you might have a weak core and hip flexors.
- Bonus: get an assessment of your movement/body/technique by a coach/physical therapist/instructor. I realize it’s not practical for everyone to hire a coach or regularly visit a PT. However, if you are able to, it could be one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself.
Those are general guidelines – specifics will vary depending on your situation. For more thorough reading on injury prevention, I recommend this blog.