Thursday, December 15, 2011

Training when you don't have enough time

One of the primary complaints from polers is that they don't have time for all the training that pole encompasses. Learning moves, strength training, conditioning, flexibility, endurance, choreographing and practicing routines-- and all this on top of teaching, day jobs, schools, family, and just having a life. Basically, none of us have enough time for this, even those of us who do it for a living.

If you want to improve your poling but feel yourself extremely limited in the amount of time you have to commit to it, here are some ideas to help you maximize what little time you do have.

1. Get a good teacher.

A lot of polers are self-taught, and enjoy the challenge of figuring out moves for themselves. Or maybe they just don't have money for lessons, or don't know where to find a teacher near them. There are benefits to self-training, but there is the huge drawback that it is the least time-efficient way to learn.

A good teacher can look at a move that you could be frustrating yourself with for months, figure out on the spot what you're doing wrong, and tell you how to correct it. Sometimes it will be an instantaneous result, like if your positioning or weight distribution is off. Sometimes it will be a slow process towards correction, the path on which the teacher will set you, such as if you need to build strength or pain tolerance in a certain area. Either way, the idea is that the teacher can diagnose the problem quickly, and prescribe a remedy in a way that you can understand and execute.

Private, shared, or small group lessons are ideal for this. A class environment can work if it is a situation where you can get individual attention from the instructor, if only for a few minutes at a time. An overcrowded class where the teacher is just yelling out orders and demonstrating a routine will not be of much benefit as far as getting constructive feedback on your moves.

The idea is to find a teacher who is about two or more levels above you (this distinction being completely subjective, as there are no universally distinguishable "levels"), good at explaining moves and spotting mistakes, who can pay full attention to you. Training with friends and polers who are just learning to be instructors is fun and cheap, but not the fastest way to learn.

2. Get stronger

There are moves that are easier when you are more flexible, such as an iron X (the wider your straddle, the "lighter" you will be). There are moves that are easier when you are lighter, such as inverts (the less you weigh, the less you have to lift). But EVERY move is easier when you are stronger.

Aerialists who are physically stronger will usually advance much faster than their physically weaker counterparts. A strong person learning a new move can hold the position longer, fiddling with it until they find the positioning that works best for them. A weaker person might not be able to hold the move, thus has less time to think about it, and has to keep making fresh attempts. The catch: the stronger person is able to execute many attempts, while the weaker person will get worn out sooner.

I think teachers whose only advice to students is "get stronger" are not good teachers. At the same time, there's no denying that strength is one of the most useful skills in the aerial arts.

The good thing about strength training and conditioning is that it can be done without requiring much time, equipment, and space. There are plenty of bodyweight exercises that can be done anywhere you're not too embarrassed to get on the floor, and many coaches will tell you it's harder to keep an athlete from overtraining than undertraining. If you're not sure what exercises would benefit you most, talk to your pole teacher or a personal trainer about your needs and time constraints. Make sure they understand what muscle groups you need to prioritize for what reasons, so they give you a program tailored to your needs, and not just something generic out of a magazine.

(See also my post, Building Strength for Pole: From Global to Specific.)

3. Let yourself train for shorter intervals

There's no written rule that says you have to train for an hour. It's rather an arbitrary amount of time. If you don't have time for an hour of training, you might have time for a half hour. What's wrong with half an hour? You can practice a three minute routine ten times in half an hour!

You need to make sure you leave yourself enough time to warm up. Beyond that, you make the call. Besides, once you get going, you might not want to stop. (But be careful not to overtrain!)

4. Cycle your priorities

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you can't do everything at once. You can't lose weight, build muscle, get stronger, get more flexible, perfect a routine, and master a smattering of new moves all in the same day. You probably can't even do them all in the same month.

This concept has two parts: 1. prioritize. 2. plan to change your priorities.

You can take 12 weeks to work on your dream moves, and then 12 weeks to work on your performance routine. That doesn't mean that's all you will do, it just means that gets top priority in your training schedule. You might dedicate 2 practice sessions to your routine for every 1 to new moves you want to learn. Or, you might dedicate 40 minutes out of an hour to your routine, then the last 20 minutes to new moves. Or vice versa.

Cycling is complicated in that there are a lot of variables. The important questions to ask yourself are, "What do I need to work on most right now?" (a new routine, losing weight), and "How long do I need to focus on that?" (until the competition, until the photo shoot).

Trying to master everything at once will overwhelm anyone, let alone those who already don't have the time. A little forethought in this will help you from burning yourself out.

Those are just a few ideas, but there are room for many more. I hope to do some more posts soon on how to organize your practice time, but this is a start. Hope it helps!

Image from The Vernacular Vicar