Sunday, April 1, 2012

Should aerialists run?

The fitness world is divided into two camps: those who run, and those who don't. Most people are firmly on one side of the fence or another. Although health benefits and drawbacks are often given as reasons, I find it tends to just come down to personal preference. Still, if you are an aerialist considering taking up jogging, you should weigh the pros and cons pretty seriously.

As a pole instructor and four-time marathoner, I find myself in a good position to advise students on their running habits and aspirations. I ran distances for years, and several of those years alongside aerial training, so I've been through it all. Here's what I've learned, first-hand and from observing my classmates and students.

Pro: Running will make you lose weight. As a person who's been through all kinds of diets and exercise throughout my lifetime, my thinnest, leanest body has always coincided with distance jogging. Whenever I take up a running regimen, I lose weight. I can do pole, circus, walking, circuit training, power lifting, and dance classes, but none of these shed the pounds for me like running does. I can diet obsessively and train hard, but I will still be at a much higher body fat percentage than when I am marathon training. In theory, there are many ways to lose weight. In my experience however, on all occasions, running works the best. 

Con: Running will destroy your flexibility. Back when I was a NYCA/Firefly student and running marathons, there were two other marathoners in my class. Whenever we all bent over for hip flexor stretches, the three of us would look at each other and laugh. We were literally the only three people in the class who couldn't get to the floor. This was no coincidence. Running is horrible for your flexibility. If your poling is going to suffer because you can't get a center split, chose another sport.

Pro: Running is amazing for your mental health. Most exercises are full of ups and downs. Aerial acrobatics especially are rife with frustrations. We have good days and bad days. We feel elated when we conquer a new trick, peeved and irritable when we can't. Running, on the other hand, is almost always a mood lifter. You can have fought with your boyfriend, boss, and mom all on the same day, then go for a jog in the park and feel like a million bucks. Really, what's more important than happiness?

Con: Distance running takes up a lot of time. If you are running marathons or half-marathons, you will have days when you are out on the trail two, three, even four hours at a time. If you have a day job and are poling or circusing as a hobby, you are probably already really, really busy. The time and energy spent in the park will likely cut directly into your poling time. This is OK if you are poling as a casual fun thing to do, but if you have set goals for yourself, time spent running might be a considerable setback.

Pro: Endurance. If you're moving your poling from doing a few tricks and sequences to performing an entire routine, you need some serious aerobic and anaerobic endurance. Running is a simple way to achieve that. You might need to do more HIIT than straightforward jogging, to get your heart rate up where it needs to be. But it's good to be able to train yourself to relax and breathe while you're doing strenuous things on the ground, rather than wait 'til your in the air.

Con: The weather. While running is the perfect way to enjoy a beautiful day, a beautiful day is not always what you get. Running in the cold or rain could weaken your immune system, and running under a heat wave isn't good for you either. You don't want to catch cold or have a stroke. On the other hand, restricting your jogging to nice days only is not really a good training plan. Of course there's always the treadmill, but if you are running for any sort of distances, that can be tedious. Hope there's a good Simpsons rerun on the gym TV.

Pro: Running works different muscles than aerial. Because pole and other apparatuses depend mostly on upper body and core strength, running can be an excellent complement. You will be using your quads and glutes a lot, which are relatively neglected when we are swinging around in the air. By running, you can tire out muscles that won't interfere with your poling, and create balance in your body.

Con: Injuries. You won't get as many injuries running as you will in the circus, but it can still happen. Knee complaints are common, and hip, IT band, and foot pain happen to the best of us. While sore glutes shouldn't mess up your aerial work too much, a pulled muscle needs to be rested, period. So it's still possible that running injuries can keep you off of the pole for awhile.

So, my dear aerialist, is running right for you? It depends on your priorities.

Are you overweight? Is your performance inhibited by extra pounds? After all, in aerial acrobatics, we are working with our body weight. Dropping some extra weight is one of the most efficient ways to improve performance, and overall health. And running is, for me and many people I've worked with, the most effective way to lose weight.

Are you training to become a professional performer or elite competitor in the near future? You will have to find some other way to keep thin. You need your flexibility in this profession.

If you decide that jogging is the right choice for you, here are some pointers:

  • It doesn't have to be all distances all the time. HIIT is an effective way to lose weight. Although I have to say that it is much more manageable on a treadmill, where you can control your speed. It can be too hard while running in the great outdoors to lose your concentration.
  • Stretch like crazy. You can't just stretch like a runner, soothing your calves before and after your workout. You need to stretch like a dancer. It will be time-consuming, but if your flexibility matters to you, you need to do this.
  • Get foam rollers and massage balls. I have these "barbells" from Trigger Point Therapy, which work WONDERS on overworked calves.
  • See a professional for help with your body. I had an IT band problem cured after one Feldenkreis session. I also visited a studio in NY that works with a lot of aerialists and dancers. Doing things like this is a cash and time investment, but it's important that you keep yourself aligned.
  • Go ahead and run a marathon. If you are an aerialist, you are probably already an overachiever. Running a marathon is a good life goal. But you can stop after one. Marathons have excellent marketing, and it's easy to get sucked into trying to beat your "PR" and seeing the world's greatest cities via mass running. That's fine if that's what you want, but you don't have to fall for the hype. Again: if you are an aerialist, you probably have the self-discipline to stick to a training regimen without such an extreme goal.
I describe myself as a former runner. I like to say that I ran four marathons, but I "retired." I decided that it was interfering with my flexibility too much. I am not a flexible person and never will be, but I care about the aerial arts enough to prioritize them. Plus, it's fun to look out the window on a freezing, snowy day and say, "Guess what? I don't have to go running!" But I don't regret a minute I spent in Central Park or along the Seine or the Charles River. I was happy, I was skinny, and I got to eat a lot of spaghetti.

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  1. I have to agree with you, at my lowest weight i was a i wanna take it up again lol

    1. Right?? Whenever I start thinking about how healthy I was and how much crap I could eat and not gain weight, I want to do it all over again!

  2. I too need to take running up again. I am at the chubbiest I've been in a very long time. Granted, I have some extra muscles, but I need to drop the LBS! :-)