Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Blisters: soften or toughen

We usually think of aerial arts injuries as bruises, fabric burns, and the potential fall to death. But if you're training hard, you might occasionally have to deal with blisters, as well. There's more than one way to deal with them, and common wisdom and whatever Google turns up for you might not be what you need to help you reach your goals.

There are basically two ways of handling blisters: soften them or toughen them.

Most non-athletes, especially women, want to soften the skin. They like having smooth, touchable hands and feet. So most generic advice you hear about blisters will tell you to rub some sort of oil in them, or use a cream. This is a pleasant process that produces pleasant results. However, if you keep training on your softened blisters, they will be prone to breaking. More importantly, your skin will not toughen up as much as it could, so you'll probably keep getting blisters whenever you increase your training or try a new apparatus.

Most aerialists prefer to toughen the skin. It's more important to us that we be able to train more and harder than that we look like hand models. I mean, we're going to be bruised and burned and gimping around anyways; a couple callouses aren't going to make a world of difference. This method is sort of like a guitar player who needs to develop callouses on her fingers to be able to play without pain.

If you prefer to toughen your skin up, rather than sexy it up, you need to get a liquid bandage product. This will enable you to keep training (though if you're experiencing pain, you should still probably take a day or two off), and enable you to train longer and harder in the future.

I went through this a couple months ago when I overdid it on my new silks. I consulted with a pharmacist (this is the sort of thing uninsured people do) who was not an aerialist, but fortunately was a violist, so she knew what I was talking about. She pointed me towards the liquid bandages, and I'm a total convert. It's a fun product to use (it feels like painting!), and I was able to resume training without further problems. (To be fair, I also backed off quite a bit. I had just been so enthusiastic because I hadn't done silks in like a year!)

Disadvantage? You'll probably end up with rough, bumpy man hands and feet. I mean, if you shake my hand, you might notice it's kind of rough for a woman's hands. (I also play guitar.) I don't mind--it's one of those things, like my enlarged biceps, that I'm kind of proud of. And it's important to me that I can train hard when I want to.

But don't feel bad if that's not what you want for yourself. Pole in particular occupies a precarious spot in the athletic world. On one hand, it's (often, not always) an aerial art, and to excel at it requires hard training. On the other hand, many women are drawn to pole because it makes them feel sexy. Like yoga, a pole class is sometimes treated more as pampering than as hard exercise. Someone who goes to the pole in order to express her own beauty and femininity, even if they train to excel, might feel it's counter-productive to make herself less "feminine" in the process.

If you choose to rub deliciously scented oils into your battered hands and feet, that is fine. I just want you to know the options. If you keep poling, your skin will toughen up little by little anyways. Not to the same extent as someone going the callouses route, but it should get you through average, regular training.

Plus, there's no ultimatum here. You can switch it up depending on your needs at the time. If you find yourself needing to train harder for an event, you can start using liquid bandages, and then try to coax your skin back to normal afterwards.

Blisters aren't something you're going to encounter as much as bruises or burn, so it's not something you're going to have to deal with every day. Go into the injury equipped with the knowledge of your options, so you can get out of it and back to training.

Image from Gold Coast Aerial Fitness

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ice pack wine sleeve - clever injury treatment idea!

Aerialists, like most athletes, find that we're frequently icing some part of our body. When something is hurt or even the tiniest bit swollen, we're supposed to ice it a LOT. How much varies from coach to coach and doctor to doctor, but 15 minutes an hour or every other hour is not uncommon.

Icing is a pain in the butt, though. I mean, it's a great treatment, but often impractical. We polers often have wrist or hand injuries to deal with, which aren't convenient to ice because you can't really do anything else while you're waiting.

A month or two ago, I was icing my hands (I overdid it on silks when I first got them, and my fingers were so swollen I couldn't put any of my rings on), and my mom came up with the brilliant idea to use a wine chilling sleeve. I can stick my hands in it like a muff, or slide it over my wrist for a one-step wrap. No bandages to awkwardly try to tie on myself, and I can still use my arm while icing.

This has made me much more willing to ice my wrist (it's just tweaked a bit, nothing serious), as I can just throw it on and get back to whatever I was doing. So I thought I'd share!

*Disclaimer: I should probably have some sort of cloth under it so the ice pack is not against your skin. You're generally not supposed to have an ice pack right on the skin. But I do it anyways, because apparently I have to learn everything the hard way. I'll let you know if I get frostbite or something.

We have this one (I know the plastic image of Provence is cheesy--it came in an auction basket, we didn't pick it). A good investment if you have wrist problems, or wine!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Studio Review: Pole Chicks, Rockford IL

When I first moved here, I poured over the website of every single pole studio in the area. I was looking for work, and I didn't want to solicit any studios without having a firm idea of what they were up to. Pole Chicks in Rockford made an instant impression in my mind. It was the only site that had pictures of people doing really advanced moves. When I realized how far away it was, I knew there was no way I could work there. But I also felt like, "Well, they probably don't need somebody like me. Looks like they got it covered!"

Rockford is over an hour and a half's drive from me, so I had never intended on going there myself. But when Whitney announced on Facebook that they were offering $5 classes as a special, I reasoned that the trip was justifiable. Even if I spent $20 on gas, the cost for drop-ins at some places is $25, so I'd be kinda breaking even, you know? Well, it made sense to me anyway.

Some pole studios only offer one or two classes a night, but Pole Chicks has a full range. Today alone, I could choose from 10am, 11am, 5pm, 6pm, and 7pm. I decided 5pm would put me least in the way of Chicago rush hour traffic. Leave here around 3, leave there around 6. It worked. Smooth sailing the whole way!

All Pole Chicks' classes are mixed level, and I wasn't sure exactly how that would play out. These are instructed classes, after all, not open pole. It made more sense when I got there. The place is small, and only has a total of six poles. It's not like there was going to be a big class.

One thing I appreciated was the lack of obnoxiously feminine colors. No pink or purple; the room was white and orange, and the one silk they had was black. You can tell it's the kind of place people go to train.

There were four students: me and one other advanced poler, and two beginners (I assume they were beginners--I wasn't really watching to see what they were working on; could have been intermediate). So basically the way it worked was the instructor (Whitney) mostly focused on the beginners, and let the advanced students mostly train on our own, open pole style. She did toss out ideas and suggestions (Pippi, do you know this move? What about this one?), to me at least--I think the other woman was a regular, or another instructor, or something, who was just there to train. It was interesting, because although they didn't show me any moves I didn't know, they had different combos and transitions. For example, getting into a back elbow hold from a brass monkey, whereas I always do it from a pencil/iguana/whatever you call it. (It was a more interesting transition, but doing it from the floor I didn't have room to put my bottom arm straight, which I think is prettier than holding behind the neck).

They mostly just had spin poles, which was awkward for me since I don't spin to much. But it's good for me to be forced to practice like that. At home I tend to just stick to static. I'm a teacher, rather than a performer, and most of my students come to me for help on static. I don't have any problem with dizziness--I mean, I get dizzy, but it doesn't bother me--but some students have major motion sickness problems. Of course that can be combatted to an extent, but if they don't want to learn spin, I don't feel the need to force it on them. That's what you get when you take private lessons--you get to pick what to work on. (Long version of why I don't spin much.)

The poles were nice and grippy, but if I have one complaint it's that the room was a bit too hot. I had to change clothes early on (I had started in my fun grippy vinyl shorts, but was sweating balls), and I had to wipe my shoulder down with a towel three times before I was comfortable doing a fonji. There was a fan, but it wasn't doing a whole lot of good, even if you stood right in front of it.

The ceilings were 10 feet, which is a decent height for poles, but not for silks. I know because that's about what I have for my silks, and there's a ton that I just can't do on them because of that. But at least the ceilings were very easy to work with--there were no stray beams or pipes to worry about bumping, and no drop ceiling. Once I determined I wasn't sweating too much, I was able to do a solid ceiling lay without having to navigate around any ceiling obstacles, which I can't say about a ton of places.

I didn't get to talk to the beginners that much, since they were busy with their instructor. The other advanced student (who I had met briefly before but didn't really know) was very nice, and we got to exchange tricks and ideas (along with the instructor). It's good to be in that kind of environment where people are cooperative and not competitive.

I can't say too much about the quality of instruction, as my part of the class was mostly unstructured, but I can tell you that the beginners did conditioning both before and after, and had a thorough stretch down at the end. Whitney seemed like a really positive and encouraging teacher.

It's rare to find a place where you can do a drop-in at practically any time of day and receive advanced instruction. If I didn't live so far away, and they kept offering classes at $5(!!), I'd probably be in there multiple times a week.

Pole Chicks
Equipment: 6 10' 50mm permanent poles, Markstaar, stainless steel, 5 spinning and 1 static. 1 aerial silk.
Amenities: Two bathrooms that double as changing rooms.
Drop-in price: Normally $15. For June 2012, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday classes are only $5. Get over there!!

I forgot to take a picture again, so the photo is from Pole Chicks' Facebook Page.