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!)

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  1. always a good reminder. I hope you heal up soon and get back at it! :)

    1. Thanks! Still hurts today but it's manageable. Stay off it, Pippi!

  2. Great reminder, I hadn't thought about a lot of this stuff. I'm definitely working on my own.

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