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Why Is Popeye In My Trapeze Class? 5 Ways to Increase Aerial Stamina ( Part 1)

Miss Christen S works her back arch

What IS she doing? Why is he pounding on his forearms? Is it a new dance? Obscene gesture? Are they flashing gang signs? No! It’s the dreaded AERIAL POPEYE! If you’ve been giving your apparatus some quality time, you’ve probably experienced this delightful sensation, and wondered what you can do about it. Hang on tight – we’re talking aerial stamina!


The Why of Popeye (Hint: It Has Nothing to Do With Spinach)

It’s all about grip, baby! When we are working on new things, or approaching an apparatus for the first time, we naturally over grip. This is not a bad thing – it shows that your intuitive powers of self-preservation are functioning the way they should! (Remind me to tell you about “The Let-Go Guy” some time – he’s responsible for all 40 3 of my grey hairs).

Another cause is a repetitive grip-release pattern in your choreography – too many “grippy” moments too close together equals forearms like a sailor (worthy of a mermaid tattoo!).

OR, you could be dehydrated, or a little low on a vitamin/mineral essential to proper muscle contraction like calcium, manganese, and potassium.


When It Happens, Go To Your Happy Place

But what should you DO when you feel that tell-tale tingling in your forearms?

  1. Immediately assess your safety. Do not pass go or collect $200 – go immediately to a safe rest position on your apparatus, or come to the floor.
  2. Wait it out, relax, and stretch your forearms if you can (if you’re in performance, get creative with this! Spirit fingers!).
  3. Continue if you are safely able, or come down to the floor and go back up when you’re ready.


Popeye Prevention

  1. Train train train train train. Familiarity breeds comfort, which encourages relaxation, which reduces the likelihood of Popeye. It also makes for stronger, more capable muscles.
  2. Pay attention to the moments you are most likely to over-grip and consciously relax your hands as much as you safely can (don’t be droppin’ out of the sky and telling people Laura said to “relax”!).
  3. Stay in the moment. Breathe – it really does make a difference. Take your time.
  4. Drink your water! Electrolyte drinks might be helpful as well (coconut water is great, Gatorade, etc.) if you’re working particularly hard.
  5.  If you’ve been noticing a lot of muscle fatigue during your training, consider taking a trip to the doc to get your bod checked, or making an appointment with a nutritionist to make sure you’re getting what you need in your diet (I wish I could think of a Popeye/spinach joke to make here… but I can’t. Just eat your spinach.).


Join me next week when we tackle Part Deux of this post – how to finish a tough aerial piece without emerging a quivering mass of Jell-O (because nothing looks cooler than barfing or passing out when you’ve finished your act). Love and pull-ups, Laura


Click here to read Aerial Stamina – Part 2!




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2 comments on “Why Is Popeye In My Trapeze Class? 5 Ways to Increase Aerial Stamina ( Part 1)”

  1. Rebecca McMahon Reply

    Another cause of diminished grip strength that I have found to be common in aerialists is compression of nerve trunks as they leave the neck. This is called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and can be helped with exercise to improve posture and release tight muscles. Usually, the loss of strength is accompanied by arm pain and/or pins and needles.

    You can also do exercises to improve grip strength such as wrist flexion/extension exercises with small hand weights and lots of reps (to build endurance) and squeezing a stress ball (or you can get a specific hand putty) to strengthen intrinsic hand muscles.

    Happy Dangling!

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