Thursday, January 26, 2012

Are you overtraining?

A lot of polers come to the art form with great passion and enthusiasm, but without a lot of intensive athletic experience. Sure, some are former or current gymnasts, ballerinas, cheerleaders, or other kinds of aerialists. But many are just everyday folk who fell into the art form and fell in love with it. They might be able to learn the moves, but might not know the ins and outs of athletic training. One of the biggest pitfalls for these people is overtraining.

Am I in danger of overtraining?

If you have to ask yourself this, the answer is probably yes. If you think you might be overtraining, or might fall into the trap of overtraining, you are probably a type A personality. An overdoer, overachiever, competitive with others or just with yourself, enthusiastic, determined, goal-setting individual. If your problem is not making yourself train, but making yourself leave time to heal, you probably have a tendency to overtrain.

The balance between training and rest lives on a very fine line. If you don't push yourself hard enough, you won't improve, or you won't become the best. If you push yourself too hard, you will get hurt, or decrease the quality of work you're able to do. If you were an Olympic gymnast or a pro football player, you'd have coaches figuring this stuff out for you. But most of us are on our own. You might have a personal trainer helping you map out your workouts, or pole instructors teaching you which moves to learn in which order, but as for your day-to-day training time, there's not much guidance available besides what your own body is telling you. And we don't always know how to listen.

How do I know if I'm overtraining?

If the symptoms were obvious, it would be easier to stop ourselves. However, overtraining masks itself as dedication and "no pain no gain," and we don't realize we've overdone it until it's too late.

Meanwhile, here are a few things to look out for:
  • The quality of your work decreases.
  • Your strength is inconsistent, beyond the little ups and downs that are normal.
  • You're working out muscles that are still sore from the last workout.
  • Your pole (or fabric) burn is compounding.
  • You become emotionally "burnt out" on pole/circus.
  • You start to panic if you feel you're falling behind on your training.
What can I do?

"Lay off the training" just isn't enough for the overzealous among us. You want to keep progressing towards your goals, after all. And how much down time is enough? Here are a few specific suggestions for chronic overtrainers:

  • Cross train. You can't ONLY work out on your primary apparatus. It's important to branch out. At least one a week, participate in another kind of exercise. Maybe you have another apparatus, like silks. Maybe you're a yoga person. Maybe you like a good run in the park. The important thing is to balance out the way you are using your body. (Also, try to be aware of how your cross-training activity of choice interacts with your poling.)
  • Mental rehearsal. Other competing athletes do it; you can too. Put on the song you're going to dance to, close your eyes, and visualize everything. As realistically as possible. Getting ready, putting your make-up on, warming up, waiting your turn, the stage lights in your eyes, and every move you are going to perform, as perfectly as you can possibly perform them. Sights, sounds, smells, the feel of the brass in your hands. Mental rehearsal takes concentration, but it costs nothing, and does not wear on your body.
  • Create a plan and stick to it. Plan out your week of practice, classes, teaching, and weight lifting in advance- including cross-training and REST! Then try your hardest to stick to it.
  • Don't work the same moves/muscles every day. Preferably not two days in a row. You need time to recover.
  • If it hurts, don't work it. That goes for muscle soreness, bruises, pole burn- everything!
  • Use the tools at your disposal to help you recover. Epsom salt baths for sore muscles, arnica for bruises, ice packs for swelling, A&D ointment for pole burn. However, these tools can only do so much. You can't erase a hard day of training with a hot bath.
  • Don't overdo a difficult new move. I know you want to reinforce it when it's going well, but you can end up pulling something that will leave you on the couch for a week or longer, and have to start from scratch when you finally recover.
  • Schedule shorter sessions. As I stated in Training when you don't have enough time, you don't have to practice for an hour. You can get plenty done in half an hour, still feel accomplished, and end up feeling fresh instead of wiped out.
  • Rest. I know you know you need to rest. Just a reminder.
Is there ever a time to push through the pain?

What are you training for? If you are training for a career in the circus, you will have to perform every day, whether you're tired or not. If you intend to compete, you might have to dance under non-ideal circumstances. It is desirable to be able to put on a good show on a bad day. Just be careful. Save the easier stuff for your tired days.

Take a lesson from me. I'm writing this today (though I've been meaning to write it for awhile) because I'm sitting with an ice pack on my neck, wondering if I'll be able to make Open Pole on Saturday. I broke all my own rules. I haven't been cross-training. I overdid a new move, and did it two days in a row. I kept going when I realized my neck was hurting. "Just two more rounds!" I knew all the right and wrong things to do, but I justified overworking (if I do it today, I can rest tomorrow and be fresh for Saturday!), and I got what I deserved. So I'm speaking to you from first-hand experience, as an aerialist and as a former distance runner. Overtraining is a real thing, and it's important not to wait until you hurt yourself to realize it.

(Don't worry, I'll be fine in no time! Will I have learned my lesson? Hmmmm... no promises, but I'm trying!)

Image from

Monday, January 9, 2012

Studio Review: Flirty Girl Fitness, Chicago

I usually train at home or at Rondi's, but yesterday I had a huge gap between two commitments downtown, and was looking for some way to fill the time. Of course the first thing I did was check the area pole studios to see what was happening. And I was in luck: Flirty Girl Fitness had an Open Pole class that perfectly coincided with my downtime!

I booked over the phone, and the lady who took down my info was friendly. I had to give a credit card number to reserve my spot, even though I would be paying in person the next day. I assume that's so they can charge no-shows.

I had lost my CTA card the previous day, so I had to walk like 50 minutes to get there. The whole area was really dead; I dunno if that's cause it was Sunday afternoon, or because I'm used to the intimate hustle-and-bustle of New York.

The studio was down the street from the Oprah building, so I had a little tourist moment.

I had been instructed to get to the studio early to sign a waver. I got there really early, because I wanted to have time to check the place out and get comfortable.

The studio was really gorgeous inside! It looked like a converted something. You know, farm or bath house or train station or whatever Chicagans convert into things. So it gave it this really hip, indie feel, with the exposed wood and brick.

I signed my waver and paid by credit card and was directed toward the dressing room and where my class would be. They had two studios, the "Marilyn Monroe" and the "Bette Davis." Marilyn Monroe was the pole studio, Bette Davis was an open studio that was used (while I was there) for abs workouts and belly dancing. I think there might have been a third, smaller studio off to the side, but I didn't get a good look.

The locker room was really sweet. But I think I'll take this moment to broadcast a PSA to all pole studios everywhere. PLEASE LAY OFF THE HOT PINK. WE ARE FEMALE. I GET IT. WE ALL GET IT. IT'S A REALLY OBNOXIOUS COLOR. I mean, I LIKE pink. a LOT. I'm wearing pink right now. Put come ON already. Hot pink does not go with anything else, so when you chose to center your color scheme on it, you are completely restricted to hot pink, black, and white, and it becomes a little nauseating.

That said, I did like my hot pink towel.

I talked to a couple women in the locker room. One was there for belly dancing, and was talking with another woman about how she was afraid to try pole because she has sweaty hands, so the topic of *product* came up. I had some Dry Hands with me so I let her try it. Then she asked where to get it, and that's where it got awkward because I mentioned it's the brand we carried at my studio, but I had to stop there, because the LAST thing you want to do when you're a GUEST at another studio is start talking about where YOU work (or YOUR private lessons). That is just bad business etiquette and not fair to the studio. So I tried to downplay it when someone asked where I worked and be just like, "oh, it's wayyyyy out in the suburbs. Like, SO FAR."

So here was something awkward: I hadn't realized how big the studio would be (many are just one room), and since I was told class was barefoot (or in socks), I hadn't brought any shoes to walk around in. So I was timidly walking around the lobby barefoot, hoping not to get in trouble for a health code violation or something. Everyone else had socks, sneakers, ballet slippers, or flip-flops. I had come straight from a gig (in my other life as a musician), so all I had was pantyhose and business lady pumps. Nobody said anything, but I felt embarrassed to be the only asshole standing in the lobby with bare feet, like someone would think I was disgusting. (I personally don't mind, I got tough feet!)

I wasn't totally sure when class was starting, because I think most of the students in the class before Open Pole stayed for Open Pole, so there wasn't a big diaspora of students coming out. So I poked my head in timidly and a nice blonde Russian girl smiled at me to indicate that I was in the right place, and the teacher called me over and took my "attendance chip" and offered me the pole in front of her. (Yeah, they give you a poker chip to hand into your teacher for attendance, not sure what that's all about.)

The class before us was, I think, "Beginner Pole Tricks," and they were just wrapping up. Looked like they were working on the "Split heel." With all due respect for Pantera, is there a new name for this move yet? Now that most people dance barefoot, it's a bit of a misnomer. I direct my students to "step up" when using this mount, but that's not really a name, just a description of the transition.

So, the teacher's name was Diana, and she seemed really great, like really friendly and a lot of personality. But since it was Open Pole, she wasn't teaching per se, so I don't know what her teaching style is like.

My fear going into this was that, because it was the middle of Sunday afternoon, there would only be like 2 other people. Wow, was I wrong! The class was packed! Some people were sharing poles, but I don't know if that was because there weren't enough to go around or just because they were training together. It was hard to tell how many people were in class, because I never knew how many people were just overlapping from previous and next classes.

There were 13 50mm poles (I forgot to count but the lady at the front desk told me). Nobody could tell me the material or height. I think they were stainless steel, based on the way they looked. I'm a horrible estimator of height, but it took me six shoulder mount climbs to get to a ceiling lay both times I tried, so I'd say that's 11 or 12 feet. Plenty tall for most tricks. The pole was extremely grippy, because it was warm from the last person who used it, and also I think there was some grip product on it. I didn't see what the club sold, but the teacher (or somebody who's stuff was near the teacher's) had a bottle of Mighty Grip, so I assume that was their standard. I didn't have to put on anything or wipe the pole down.

I think the poles were homemade. They were just straight sticks permanently affixed to the floor and ceiling; nothing to imply that they were X-Poles or Platinum Stages or anything. But I'm just theorizing; I figured if no one could tell me the height or material they certainly wouldn't know the manufacturer.

The teacher took music requests, and I didn't ask for anything. I think it was mostly hip-hop with some standard club rock.

Since I didn't know anyone, I tried really hard to mind my own business and not stare at anyone else. In retrospect I probably should have been a little more smiley and gregarious, because I really did want to meet people. Anyways, from what I caught out of the corner of my eye, the levels were across the board. I saw people trying to learn Fireman spins, and people doing yoginis and spatchcocks. Again, I tried not to watch, because, you know, some people are competitive, and I'm advanced, and I didn't want anyone to think I was throwing down. I hope I didn't come off as a snob, because no one talked to me the whole time. And I didn't talk to anyone, so that's fair.

One other thing I should mention was that they had TONS of pole mats! There was more than enough for everyone, some people even had more than 1. It was the square kind that you velcro around the pole (if somebody knows the brand name I'll link to it).

The class was only one hour, but I had a really great workout. I enjoyed the atmosphere, the pole was just right, and I left feeling energized and in a great mood.

I was too shy to talk to anyone in the locker room. I did enjoy a nice hot shower.

On my way out, I asked permission to snap the photograph you see at the top of the page. The white walls are the perimeter of the pole room. See how it doesn't go all the way to the ceiling? I wonder if they do that to make it cheaper to heat, or for pole stability. I mean, if I had a tall ceiling like that, I'd want my poles to go all the way up!

My only one complaint about this class was the price. Open Pole was $25, for 1 hour. I can see charging $25 for an instructed class, or charging $25 for two hours of Open Pole. But $25 for one hour of open training is a lot. However, they have monthly memberships that seem like a really good deal, and I think most people who were there had memberships. Unfortunately I probably won't go again because of the price. But if I lived nearby and needed a place to train, I would love to be a member here!

Flirty Girl Fitness, Chicago
Equipment: 13 50mm poles, stainless steel (?), make unknown, static.
Amenities: spa, bar, nice locker room, gift shop
Price: $25 for a 1 hour class

Want your pole studio reviewed? Contact Pippi.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Masterclass with Cypher Zero

Proud to announce that our first pole masterclass at Rondi's SELF Fitness was a success!

Sorry for not announcing it, but the whole thing was very last-minute!

As some of you may know, I have almost no formal pole training, but trained in aerial silks and other acrobatic skills at the New York Circus Arts Academy. I started there when it was called Firefly Aerial Acrobatics, stuck around for the NYCAA phase (even pulled an all-nighter to help them move from the Brooklyn school to the Manhattan space), and then dropped out when the economy tanked and I couldn't afford lessons anymore. I did continue training in private lessons elsewhere, though, and when NYCAA became Circus Warehouse and started welcoming all alumns to train there (even if they weren't currently enrolled), I started renting a silk there with my training partner once a week or so. So I'm proud to say I trained at this school under all three of its incarnations!

The founder of the school is Cypher Zero, who sold his company in NY and moved it to California. I hadn't seen Cypher in several years, and when I moved out here to Chicago we were discussing a potential visit while he was touring with his "traveling workshops." At the last minute, we decided to turn the visit into a workshop at Rondi's, where I teach and run the pole program.

It was really hard to get word out, because not only was it last minute, but the only feasible date was the day after frigging Christmas. But we decided to go for it, because even if only a handful of people could benefit, it would still be helpful to them, and Cypher was going to be here anyways, so there was no loss pending.

Cypher built most of his career teaching silks, trapeze, and the like. But he did branch out into pole, after I introduced him to the art form, as we were planning on me launching an aerial pole program there years ago. They ended up going into Chinese pole instead of Western-style pole, and remain (at Circus Warehouse) one of the few places to get Chinese pole training in the US.

So, the workshop! We had a lot of back-and-forth about what exactly to cover. We decided since it would be a small group (and involving lots of conditioning) to open it up to all levels. We weren't sure Rondi's had a good set-up for silks, so we planned on doing "pole and then we'll see."

We brought a silk down with us and Cypher actually did find a perfect place to set it up. My boss was hesitant, since we'd advertised it as a pole workshop, not as a silks workshop. So we compromised: the full 90 minute workshop would be devoted to pole and conditioning, and then Cypher would (at no extra charge) add on an optional half hour at the end for whoever wanted to get an introduction to aerial silks.

For the workshop, Cypher gave us a handout of some conditioning exercises from New York Circus Arts, and went over them with us. Then we took it to the pole, dissecting some pole moves that were challenging the students (I had asked them to submit their "wish lists" beforehand).

Cypher gave us some good advice on spotting that's going to stay with me: try to spot with your whole chest, not just with your hands. If you just spot with your hands, the aerialist will fall right through them.

The other most important piece of advice I'm going to take away from the workshop is grip. Cypher reminded us not to death grip the pole or other apparatus, but to hold it like the hand of a child: firm but gentle. I'm guilty of choking the pole during my iron X's, and I don't need to be.

After the 90 minutes drew to a close, Cypher invited everyone to try silks (after I made him plug my conditioning class). DUH, everyone wanted to do it! So we learned some very basic stuff, and Cypher was able to transfer it into a very simple but elegant routine. No drops, but some elegant poses.

I got really good feedback about the workshop, so that made me happy. Obviously, with the last-minuteness and the holidays, it wasn't going to be a big money-maker for us, so I'm glad at least we left a good impression on our guest students, and everyone walked away feeling like they'd learned something.

In the following days, Cypher and I did some independent work with local polers, swung by The Actor's Gymnasium, and also visited King Spa! It's like New York's Spa Castle, but here in Chicagoland. I'm arranging a pole outing there on the 13th, so all area polers, please join us!!

Photo of Mandy, used with permission.