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


  1. so if you use the liquid bandage you can keep poling? Or do you have to let it heal up first?

    1. Good question! Yes, you can keep poling. If it's really bad/painful, I would give it a day or two to rest. But you don't have to wait for the blisters to go away before you train, you just have to keep painting the bandage over them.