Author Archives: Lewitwer

Getting Bent Into Shape – Creating Meaningful Gains in Flexibility

Streeeeeeeeetch!

Hello Dear Danglers! It’s been a while! Know why? I’ve been training my a$$ off. It’s been great, it’s been hard, it’s been up, it’s been down. Literally. One of the MOST fabulous things lately has been a wonderful increase in my flexibility – GLORY BE! I’ve been workin’ it hard, and figured I would share my Magical Secrets with you today (hint: they’re neither magical nor secret).

Pursuing Functional Flexibility

How flexible do you really need to be? Is all flexibility “good” flexibility? WHEN WILL I SIT ON MY OWN HEAD?

Great questions. Different disciplines call for different degrees of flexibility. For example, as an aerialist, you will probably want a sassy split, a nice back arch, and strong but mobile shoulders. As a contortionist, you’re gonna want to pursue extreme front and back bending, over-splits, handstand strength, etc. You NEED to be flexible enough to move safely and confidently through the range of motion necessary for a particular skill (functional flexibility) – everything else is gravy. Does that take a bit of pressure off? I hope so, because sitting on your own head is probably going to take a while.

Now. Contrary to what Instagram would have you believe, all flexibility is NOT necessarily desirable flexibility, and no conversation about bendy-boos would be complete without its partner in crime: strength. As an aerial coach, uncontrolled flexibility is TERRIFYING – it’s like training a hot noodle. I’m not even kidding. You’ve gotta control that shizzle! If you’re flopping around like an oiled rubber band on steroids, you’re courting major injury.

There’s a sweet spot to aim for – strong & controlled, but bendy. Know what’s great for getting you there? A good coach to whack your butt into alignment! A fabulous physical therapist is also a must – even when you’re not injured, they can help KEEP you injury free by identifying weak areas you betta strengthen pronto.

OK – Yeah Yeah – How do I GET the Flexibility?

Exercise science has come a looooooong way – if all you’re doing is passive stretching a few times a week, or – God forbid – pushing students into stretches they’re not ready for, the 80’s called and want their training back. People – it’s 2017! Time to re-evaluate.

It’s worth noting that I’ve always been stronger than I was bendy. I have to fight for every inch of flexibility – it ain’t natural! There are a range of techniques that can produce good results; today, I’m going to focus on what’s produced big results in my own training: tissue prep, end range control exercises, and active stretching. Imma break down my process in 5 easy (HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!) steps, and point you towards my favorite resources. Here we go!

  1. Step 1 – Get with a program. Set a goal (straddles, shoulders, all-over general flexibility, etc.). My favorite thing is to find a stretching program, guide, or coach that addresses this area (see below for my favorites). A good program or class will address at minimum both the stretches and the strength moves required for meaningful gains; a great program includes tissue prep, nerve glides, anatomy, etc.
  2. Step 2 – Set your schedule. There are two kinds of people when it comes to stretching: those who say they want to get more flexible but never actually take the steps to make that happen, and those who do the work. Guess which group actually sees increases? There is no substitute for consistency. Set a schedule and stick to it (I watch trashy reality TV while I stretch – my IQ may be dropping at an alarming rate, but I now have an over-split!).
  3. Step 3 – Actually stretch. Most well-rounded programs include a variety of stretching techniques, each appropriate for different parts of the body, or different days. I prefer active or moving stretches, with short (30-60 seconds) passive periods when it feels right, and use lots of approaches to keep myself out of a rut and injury free – see below.
  4. Step 4 – Measure your progress. Depending on the stretch, find a reliable method of measuring your progress. It can be an actual measurement (distance of straddle to the wall, for example), a feeling (a feeling of greater mobility or ease), or progress in a connected area (like easier handstands because your hammies are more flexible).
  5. Step 5 – Evaluate, educate, change it up. If you’re making progress doing what you’re doing, great! If you’re finding the process miserable, regressive, or (GAH!) you’re getting injured, time to change it up. You’d think stretching was a pretty DIY kind of thing, but not so much. Having a good coach and physical therapist can make the difference between an over-split and a perpetually torn hamstring! Take the time to learn good technique (and have it evaluated by a pro), brush up on your anatomy & physiology, and get current on new techniques and exercise science. I also recommend changing it up here and there, as boredom makes you less likely to stick with a program.

New Flexibility vs Re-Finding Old Flexibility

For the sake of this post, let’s refer to “old flexibility” as the range of motion you had within the past 3 years (rolling thru middle splits as a 9 year old doesn’t count, unless you’re 11, in which case this blog is NOT for you! Go clean your room.).

Regaining elasticity is generally easier than courting new flexibility. For example, a few years ago I could easily get my cooter to the floor in an open split. In May of this year, I couldn’t (that’s what happens when you stop training, people). Regaining that cooter-to-the-floor splits is way easier than if I had never felt my lady bits hit the ground. Many students have a nice initial jump in flexibility simply because their bodies “re-find” what they’d had, and are disappointed when that progress slows down. But here’s an important concept:


90% of your effort will always be spent on the final 10% of your goal.


My goal is in INCREASE in flexibility – it’s my final 10%. I should expect it to take a good long time. Months or years, not days, people. If you’re looking for fast and easy, may I suggest taking up another pursuit? ‘Cause circus ain’t it.

To recap – set a goal, find a coach to check your form and progress, and set up a stretch routine for yourself (I alternate programs – upper back one day, then straddles the next, with a quick “all over maintenance” routine daily). And actually do it (that’s the sticky wicket, am I right?). Love and pull-ups, Laura

Resources

Here are some of my FAVORITE resources – enjoy!!!!

  • Jen Crane/Cirque Physio, Catie Brier, & PhysioFlex – amazing training designed by a circus PT and contortion coach. HIGHLY recommended, especially if you’re (ahem) of a certain age.
  • GymnasticBodies.com – good stuff!
  • Easyflexiblility.com – Haha – not easy. I do like the methods though – the dynamic/active stretches work well for lots of bodies.

Training Without a Coach – Step Awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay from that Edge

So. You’re a bazillion miles away from a coach, much less a circus school. Aside from gluing yourself to YouTube and Instagram, what options do you have for learning? Turns out, more than you may think.

Your Options Spelled Out

Back in the olden days, before the circus revolution, we had two options: Montreal, San Francisco. Small circus enclaves existed elsewhere, but unless you got lucky, you didn’t find them. Fast forward to now, where it seems a new aerial school is sprouting on every corner, and it’s a whole new world! You have more options for training than ever before – and that’s crazy exciting. BUT, you might not be near a studio, or despise the coaches that are in your area. Legit. What’s a circus lover to do?

  • Move. I’m not kidding. When I decided I wanted to be a career circus performer, I moved – first to California, then to Montreal. If you want to perform full time, a dedicated program might be a great fit for you. Consider packin’ it up, and moving to be a part of a program or school.
  • Commute. I have a 90 minute commute each way to teach, so I’ll admit – I’m not the person who’s gonna give you a lot of sympathy when you complain that the nearest circus classes are 45 minutes away (love you lots!). If you can’t commute weekly, what CAN you commit to? Monthly training is better than no training.
  • Train-cations and Intensives. Like to travel? Nearest school a flight away? Try to schedule a few “train-cations” each year, or create an intensive for yourself.
  • Skype. We live in the future, friends! Many coaches, myself included, offer Skype sessions to help with technique, vocabulary, and a variety of other sticky wickets. It does NOT replace hands-on coaching, but can help to tide you over until you’re able to train with a teacher again. Most teachers have an evaluation process to see if you’re a good candidate (aka not going to kill yourself in the first 30 minutes), and are strict about safety measures (always train with a friend, proper rigging & matting, low and slow, etc).
  • Books, manuals, and online resources. There are a number of phenomenal books (my faves come from Rebekah Leach), blogs, newsletters, and forums for everything from aerial work to rigging. Again – they don’t REPLACE your coach, but they can supplement your training in helpful ways.
  • YouTube and Instagram. You need to be at a certain training level to meaningfully grow your vocabulary off the internet. It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of students sourcing material & attempting to recreate it on their own, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Seeing what others are doing is fabulously inspiring! I think where online sharing really shines is when it helps us understand what we’re doing in classes a bit better – online tutorials, examples of other performers work, etc can inform our training in tons of helpful ways. BUT, don’t think for even a second that an online tutorial or a trick you swiped off Instagram replaces a coach. Train with live humans every chance you get.

But Laura, What About Safety?

Yep – I hear you. A few years ago, I took a great rigging workshop with Brett Copes. One thing that really stayed with me was the “cliff concept”. Imagine a cliff, with a steep drop off; every step we take back from the edge of that cliff is progress. Knowledge, understanding, and community all serve to take us a couple more steps away from the edge, and that’s a good thing. I liken it to abstinence-only education – you can tell the people not to try stuff they’ve seen on the interwebs, or not to train unless they have a good coach, but you guys – it’s happening. I hate that it’s happening, but it’s happening. If a student has to choose between training on their own with no input, or training with a skype coach and getting some input, I’ll always come down on the side of some input. BUT.

Students, hear me now. Nothing – nothing – replaces training with a good coach. In person. Private lessons are better than group, group are better than virtual, virtual is better than none. Training with a good coach will get you to your destination faster, with less wasted time and money, and GREATLY reduces the risk of injury – catastrophic, repetitive stress, and otherwise. I can always spot a self-taught aerialist – it’s in the technique. Do your damnedest to get to classes with real humans!!! But step awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay from that edge in every way you can. Love and pull-ups, Laura

Practice Makes Permanent – Are You Sabotaging Your Circus Training?

This week, the glorious Liza Rose from Fly Circus Space in New Orleans put up a delicious little blurb on the F-books about the importance of practicing good aerial habits. Are you drilling crappy technique into your body? Practicing things week after week with le poo form? Then friend, you’re in for a world of hurt when it comes time to clean that sh*t up.


“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect permanent.”


I am not a huge fan of DIY in circus. I have no fewer than six internet-based handstand programs – some with training videos, some with PDF’s and photos. Know what none of them have? My coach. During a session, she never stops correcting, spotting, encouraging, educating, and reprimanding when I’m being a lazy ass. It’s constant – push here, squeeze your butt, you’re rotating there, close your chest, squeeze your butt, open the chest, push up more, squeeze your butt, that’s correct, everyone hates this, squeeze your butt, push up more…. Friends, I absolutely cannot evaluate myself that way, even with video. Even with online resources. Even if it *looks* right to me, it’s often only part of the equation.

Last year, I had a lovely student who came in from out of town. She had a few aerial classes under her belt, but had been training a lot on her own. I gave her a small sequence which required an in-air inversion.

Lovely Student: “Oh, I can’t do that, I’ve been trying to get that for years. It just won’t happen.”

Ms Laura: “I’ll bet it will.” She showed every sign of readiness, the technique was just off. Two corrections and one spot later, BOOM. Inversions.

What a Good Coach Really Does

Teaches you all the cool moves, right? Nope. That’s part of what I do, but honestly, a trained monkey could show you a bunch of fancy silk tricks. In a typical class or private, I will:

  • Build strong foundations. Every apparatus or discipline has “building blocks” – the foundation skills or movements that you’ve gotta be proficient in before you can move on to the bigger stuff. DIY students (and, let’s be honest, some teachers) often have NO IDEA what those are. Consequently, training frequently consists of flitting around to whatever you happen to have in front of you, like a demented bumble bee. No foundation = building your skills on shifting sands, and tackling training in a way that doesn’t make sense.
  • Determine readiness. I see it ALL THE TIME in students coming to me for the first time – the hunger to jump into moves they are nowhere near ready to be chasing. Whether it’s big drops or in-air basic hip key, I evaluate whether a student is ready – from strength to technique to the vocabulary they have under their belt. Flinging yourself into moves a couple of levels away is a one-way ticket to InjuryVille or CrapTechnique Town. Population: you.
  • Introduce appropriate progressions. Good coaches build bridges to address your particular weaknesses en route to a skill. For example, many students struggle with in-air inversions. Rather than have them repeatedly heave themselves backwards in hopes that they’ll get it eventually, we look at the kinetic chain for inversions (legs to 90, pelvic tuck, push). Where are they weak? What needs to be addressed? There’s an exercise or progression for that.
  • Correct. We boss you around! We also determine what corrections you’re ready to hear and apply. If I gave you all the corrections I had for you at once, you’d keel over dead. Seriously. There’s an unfolding of correction – from biggies (safety, general movement pattern, technique basics) to teenies (point your toes, dammit!). A good coach knows when you need to hear them.
  • Educate. We teach you the cool moves! And how they work and why.
  • Manage expectations. I tell you when that shizzle is HARD. I tell you how long it took me, and how long it may take you. I tell you that you will not be dropping that triple for a long time, and why. I remind you that you love this. I understand when you cry. I tell you to do it again, and not to get snot on my fabrics, and that I am invested in your success.
  • Encourage – a good coach knows when you need a win, when to smack you with a big old high five, or when to give you The Talk about holding yourself to a higher standard. It’s a lot of reminding students that a) this is hard, and b) if you train it correctly it will come.

 

CAN you train without a coach? You betcha! But the fact is that you will learn faster and better with a good teacher.

BUT, what if you live, like, 10,000 miles from the closest aerial or circus space? Tune in next week when we look at how the miracle of technology, connections, and some good old fashioned travel can make training with a coach a thing – even if you live a bazillion miles away. Love and pull-ups, Laura

Top photo by Brigid Marz

When You Just Have SO Far to Go – Circus Reality Hits Hard

So, today’s post was going to be all about flexibility, but then I had a really hard day yesterday so today’s post is actually going to be about that. Because training is hard and feelings are hard and tears happen.

*Also? This is a photo of my splits. My handstands are too awful to post photos of. You will get a photo the minute I get a pic I don’t squeal and delete immediately.*

In case you missed it, I’ve started training again after letting myself get super de-conditioned; I’m not being modest, I legit lost 90% of my high skills. In any case, it’s been going really well! I’ve been regaining my strength, training around old injuries, and making big strides in my flexibility. All wins and glitter, right? Not so fast.

Circus PT Jen Crane encouraged me at the beginning of this ride to drop an aerial class and pick up a handstand class to strengthen my shoulders. Please believe me when I say that I had never, ever considered training handstands. So, I jumped into the Muse’s Wednesday night group class (taught by the effervescent Ms Ivory Fox), and away we went. Everything was going along just fine until…. I realized how much I looked forward to Wednesdays. Uh oh. I DO NOT NEED TO FALL IN LOVE WITH ANOTHER CIRCUS DISCIPLINE! But you guys…. I totally did.

Oh. No.

See, here’s the thing. When I don’t love something (lyra, Chinese pole, broccoli, etc.), it’s easy to do it because it’s good for me and leave it at that. But when I find something I love and a coach I really like – OH – the tears, the longing, the drama! First, I binge on YouTube videos. Then, I imagine myself doing whatever glorious thing it is. I sign up for all the classes, commit to privates, and then…. tears. I realize that I am just forever away from the skills I want and what am I doing and why am I spending all this money and time and I suck and I am the worst and most stupid human ever. And tears. And pity party. And delicious pint of Cherry Garcia.

The Arc of Training

There are phases we go through whenever we approach something new.

  1.  Infatuation/Honeymoon – In the beginning, everything is GLITTER! RAINBOWS! STAR DROPS! This is the infatuation phase, and it’s a serotonin and oxytocin-filled paradise. Enjoy! Revel in it! Spend hours dreaming, YouTubing, and planning. You’re essentially “filling the tank” for what comes next. Let yourself get really giddy and dream big, because soon….
  2. Reality Hits. One day, you will catch a glimpse of The Chasm. You’ll see – with stark, horrible clarity – how far it is from where you are to where you want to be. Years. YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAARRRRRS. Years. It’s horrible. BUT. Don’t push this phase away too quickly! It also brings perspective. What you are doing is HARD, and that realization is essential if you’re going to actually get good at silks or handstands or macrame or whatever it is you’re trying to master. SEE the craziness of your pursuit, and, if it doesn’t send you running for the hills, embrace it with everything that’s in you. (Oh – and in case you think you pass out of this phase never to return, heh heh heh. You will bounce in and out of the Reality/Doubt Zone frequently. Sometimes daily.)
  3. Do the Work. Are you still in the game? Great. Now is the time to actually do the hard things. Set SMALL, manageable goals, celebrate every blessed victory no matter how tiny, and go hard.
  4. Small Progress is Made. One day, you’ll realize you’re not sucking as much. HOORAY! Now brace yourself – you’re probably about to be slingshotted back to phase 2 for a while when you realize it’s time to level up. Sorry.
  5. Big Progress is Made. One day, years later, you realize that you have achieved a major milestone: COMPETENCY. This is a beautiful thing! Congratulations! Mastery takes a lifetime, so don’t think you’ve reached the pinnacle of anything, but competency is a huge deal! Celebration wine! Now, get back to training.

Getting Through Phase Two Without Ben or Jerry

Phase two is le poo. It really is. In about 5 minutes, you go from a wiggly puppy of a student to completely smushed inside. If it had a sound effect, it would be the air being let out of a balloon. All my coach did yesterday was ask me to kick up into a handstand and let her spot me and DEMONS! FEAR! I CAN’T! THIS IS SO STUPID! I’M FAT! I’M WEAK! I’LL NEVER GET THERE! Oh my. Pass a spoon.


 We walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t build a condo there. 


Luckily, everything can be fixed with a checklist. 😉

  1. Cry.
  2. Cry some more. Get it all out. Need a tissue? A spoon? It’s ok. You throw the biggest, best pity party you’ve ever thrown. You get one day, so make it good. Now – pick yourself up, step awaaaaay from that pint of Chunky Monkey, and repeat after me: we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t build a condo there. 
  3. Accept that you suck, and will for a really long time. Please believe me when I tell you this is the most freeing thing in the world. Giving yourself permission to be a student means giving yourself permission to fail, to be just unbelievably awful, and to ask questions. It gives you permission to laugh at your mistakes, to be gentle with yourself (beyond a healthy discipline), and holds you to an appropriate standard of training. You suck. It’s ok.
  4. Make a plan and stick to it. What your plan looks like depends largely on your goals, but it should generally include solid training, open practice time, a home conditioning component, and supplemental disciplines (flexibility, PT, etc). Book a private with your coach to go over whether it’s too ambitious, solid, or not quite ambitious enough.
  5. Tell your inner bully to f*ck off. Your inner critic might tell you that you didn’t give your all during your lesson, that you skipped stretching and shouldn’t have, that you need to focus more during sessions. This is GREAT – you need that. What you don’t need? An inner bully. Your inner critic and your inner bully are two totally different things, can we all agree on that? My inner bully tells me I’m too old, too fat, too difficult, too scared, too much. He sounds like Trump. You know what? Fuck you, bully. I’m also happier than I’ve been in years, regaining my familiar body, and free to pursue whatever I damned well love. So suck it. Seriously – go f*ck yourself. Talk back to your bully, challenge all those automatic negative thoughts, and don’t stop until something resembling peace (or at least equilibrium) is more the norm than the exception.

So, the next time you find yourself walloped by Phase 2, remember that every single artist with a brain in their head has doubted, feared, worried. You’re in excellent company. Will it make you bitter or make you better? Now, get back to work. Love and pullups, Laura

 

Whoa, Nelly! What to Look for in an Aerial or Circus Class

As a coach, it’s impossible to go into other classes and not evaluate everything – how they’re structured, the feel of the class, pacing, etc, and reflect on whether you’re “delivering” for your own behbehs. Because students, particularly those new to circus, often have no idea what to look for in a class, here’s a (hopefully) helpful primer.

The Warm-up Should Be Functional

A warm up should prepare your body for the misery it’s about to encounter. What does that include? Excellent question, Watson. While warm-ups should be tailored to the apparatus or discipline (ideally with a spin towards what you’ll be working that day), you’ll likely encounter the following:

  • cardio to raise the body’s temp & get your blood pumping (for some classes, the cardio element is built into the warm up, as opposed to a separate section)
  • moves to “lube your joints” with synovial fluid
  • muscle activation to get your muscles firing
  • stretches to ease your body into the anticipated range of motion

I prefer an on-apparatus warm up for the most part, as I feel it increases familiarity with the silk/trapeze/bowling ball/whatever that you’re working with. That said, some coaches deliver an appropriate warm-up without it.

If each class starts with an 8 Minute Abs or Booty Blaster routine that pretty much has nothing to do with what you’re learning in class, you’re missing out on valuable training time.

Having a Teaching Philosophy is a Thing

Students will encounter two types of teachers: coaches who love to teach and have devoted time and energy to creating a style, pedagogy, and methodology, and those who teach because it’s a side gig. Aim for the first, folks. 

A good coach plans what they will teach, can easily rattle off the foundational skills of whatever discipline you’re working on, and has meaningful progressions in place to accommodate students of all levels. For example, aerial silks can be broken down into: climb, inversion, foot lock, hip key, ankle hang – everything else is a variation. You’re free to have a differing philosophy, but this is the framework for my classes. Almost every blessed session, students will do variations of those moves (including a split, drop, and sequencing). If, after a few classes, you still have NO IDEA what the building blocks of your apparatus might be, or your teacher asks (my all-time least favorite question) “so, what do you want to work on today?”, your coach may not have a developed teaching philosophy in place.

But what about progressions? Well, students come in at varying levels of strength, fear, flexibility, body awareness, etc. A great coach can break a move or concept down to teeny, bite-sized pieces, giving you challenging micro goals, attainable within a few sessions. No goal is too small. You should also have a good idea of what the end goal looks like. For example, when I give my handstand coach the “fear face” when the class is working on something terrifying, she gives me a crazy easy variation; she then helps me to connect the dots. BOOM. Progressions = progress.

Class Pacing – Faster…. Slower… a Little to the Left

A good pace is one in which students don’t feel rushed, but they also don’t have a lot of down time either (note to coaches – if you see phones starting to come out during class, and you’re pretty sure they’re not taking notes, adjust your pacing). Coaches structure classes differently, but you should feel reasonably engaged throughout the entire class. 

 

Theory & Technique

Theory is the “why”behind your discipline, technique is the how. It’s important that you, as a student, know how this crazy thing works, so that you can eventually pick up the reins and do some driving yourself. You really, really want your teacher to have a good grasp of why you wrap your thigh here, or how to avoid hitting your hoo-hoo on the pole there, or why you want your arms super straight in handstands (turns out, you fall on your head if they’re bent – who knew?).

Coaches who are light on theory are often light on technique, or have no idea what standard a student should be held to at any given stage in their progress. You want someone who knows where you ought to wind up, how to get you there, and what milestones you should hit (and celebrate – champagne and confetti!!!!) along the way.

Conditioning Should Be a Thing

That’s it, really. This is your time to safely push your muscles to fatigue (it’s why it’s put at the END of class), so don’t waste it. Again, it should be functional, and similar each time so as to actually accomplish the *conditioning* part of the equation. 😉

 

For more about choosing a great coach or class, here’s a bit more for you to chew on. I’m still learning every day, every class I take or teach, how to share what I love, and I hope it never ends. Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

The Post In Which Laura Witwer Has Her Ego Smashed

Oh circus training, you can be a cruel mistress. To catch yourself up on my recent circus comeback, click here. Or, you know, just dive in. I don’t care.

I knew it would be hard on my ego to “go back to school” and essentially rewind the tape on my training a bazillion years, but I was REALLY surprised at what shape my neurosis took as I hauled my ass back into classes.

ONE CLASS. That’s all it took for me to be a blithering blob of feelings sobbing in a corner. ONE CLASS. But, an hour and countless little tissue packets later, I was in a weirdly better headspace. Like, a better headspace than I had ever been in with training. I am not prone to cathartic moments of clarity and common sense, but I had an epiphany! Ready? Here it is.


Trust the process.


That’s it. I’m totally serious. But, it wouldn’t be much of a blog post if I left it at that, so I’ll elaborate. 🙂

Trust the Process

If you train, the things will come. Consistency matters. Did you miss that? I’ll say it again. Consistency matters. Want that inversion? Those splits? That muscle? Consistency, friends. If you show up and give 70-90%, the skill will come in time. Now, you don’t necessarily get to determine the time frame (thanks, Mother Nature), but you can rest in the process.

So, I promised myself I would schedule my classes, show up, and give 70-95% every time. Even when I didn’t feel like it. Oh hell, especially when I didn’t feel like it. And you know what? Progress happened.

Just One Thing

Measure your progress, but be careful how you do it. The barometer of your progress should NEVER be, “am I getting better at silks (or trapeze or farting glitter or whatever it is you’re trying to do)?” Too. Broad. Your answer will always be something along the lines of, “No, I still suck.” Enter: the micro-goal.

Instead of “trying to be better at silks”, set a series of micro goals that can be measured. No goal is too small. You heard me. Here are a few of mine:

  • 10 inversions in the air (micro-goal: I added one each week) CHECK!
  • kicking up to a handstand on my opposite side. CHECK!
  • doing my PT before every session. CHECK!
  • holding my handstand at the wall a full 30 seconds. CHECK!
  • Next week:  3 sets of pendulum inversions, kick up to a handstand on my opposite side again, and whatever else I decide is important between now and then.

I set a goal for each and every session, sometimes several. Sometimes, my goal is just to repeat what I did the last time. DO note that a goal doesn’t have to be result oriented (complete kick-up), but can be process oriented (practice kick-up 5x with good form). Practice counts, not just results!

I promised myself I would set and honor my micro-goals, and it’s been amazing.

Change Your Focus, and Let the Work Change YOU

Memory is a bitch. Remember when you could do 10 pull ups with one arm while reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy and eating popcorn? Remember when you were skinny? Remember when you could cough without peeing your pants? Whatever it is, make like Frozen and let it go. You are where you are, and you’re going where you want to go. Constantly comparing Now You to Past You is a recipe for self hatred, and ain’t nobody got time for that. Get going on your micro-goals.

What you focus on matters. Focusing on where you’re failing? How you’ve changed? How much you hate yourself right now for eating that entire box of ice cream sandwiches? M’kay, but what you focus on expands. Let the work be your focus, not you. Let the work change you.

Now, no discussion on focus is complete without a quick chat about judging results. Don’t. Evaluate, but don’t judge. I’ve thought a lot about this one recently since I’ve started taking handstand class. See, I can cartwheel just fine to my left, but my right side is HILARIOUS. It’s some weird sideways hop froggy thing that doesn’t even RESEMBLE a cartwheel. And, every time I do it, I make a face (I should never play poker for money), and Ivory yells “DON’T JUDGE IT!”, and I try not to judge it. Then I do. But, this week, my goal was to not judge my cartwheel – to try to find one inch of progress. I DID! I didn’t shriek when I did them. Don’t judge it. Evaluate it, “goal it”, and save the feelings for tonight’s episode of “The Bachelorette”.

I promised myself I would show up, be present, do the work, and just evaluate. I still have “moments”, but that’s all they are – moments. We walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death, friends, we don’t build a condo there. Tune in next week, when being a student makes me a better teacher. Love and pull-ups, Laura

The Blog in Which Jen Crane “Wonder Womans” My Circus Shoulders

WELL. After I decided to embark on my fancy Circus Intensive, I figured it would be good if I didn’t, you know, completely break myself the first week. Now, I’ve taken A LOT of injury prevention workshops (hell, I’ve even taught one), but I’m gonna be honest – none of them really addressed injury prevention in a way that seemed complete for me. For example, some dealt with shoulders, but shoulders aren’t the only places we’re likely to get injuries. Some focused solely on correct positioning. Mine focused a lot on preventing catastrophic injury (for example, students are more likely to get badly injured if they bring a friend to class, or when switching instructors). I needed an actual game plan for not blowing out MY body. I needed something that addressed my goals, my weaknesses, and my schedule.

Enter Cirque Physio’s resident miracle worker, Jen Crane.

Cirque Physio

Are you familiar with Jen’s work? If not, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. Get over to her website right now. Jen is a physical therapist with an addition “orthopedic certified specialist” (OCS) behind her name. This is mui impressive on it’s own, but wait for it – SHE SPECIALIZES IN CIRCUS. She DOES circus. Friends – she totally gets what we do. She gets what we do better than WE do!

I’ve been following her excellent blog for a while now, so I decided to poke around on her site to see what I could glean. In addition to programs designed to support flexibility training (see below), Jen also offers Skype consultations for injury-free artists looking to prevent injury, increase range of motion, etc. So, I set mah-self up with an appointment!

What’s it Like Working Virtually with a PT?

I know what you’re wondering: how good could a Skype consult be? Could she really see anything? Could you?

Prior to the session, I filled out a detailed form which went through my medical & injury history, career, etc. On session day, after hammering out some technical difficulties on my end, Jen and I had a great chat about where I was in my training, my injury history in circus, and what I really wanted to get out of the session. Because I had filled out the form, we didn’t have to spend forever on backstory, and were able to move to the nitty-gritty quickly.

She asked me about my training schedule, and made some great recommendations (drop an aerial class, pick up a handstand class) to balance my training. She’s also making me rest. You can’t see my face right now, but it’s not cute. Nevertheless, she’s totally right – rest is essential. Grump grump.

She then took me through several exercises to evaluate my range of motion (spoiler: my ROM was not good). From there, we went through the exercises she was prescribing for me, which she then emailed in a lovely PDF.

The whole experience was remarkably empowering! I came out of it with a good understanding of what I needed to aim for form-wise, permission to take time off from training, and a game plan for addressing my weaknesses and keeping my body zoom zoom zoomin’ along. It was EXACTLY what I had hoped for!

Below is a list of Jen’s stuff that I have found fabulously helpful, as well as a couple of other resources in my “Keep It Together” arsenal. If you’re coming back from a break, just getting started, or want to troubleshoot problem areas, I cannot recommend a session enough – the exercises have already made a HUGE difference in my ROM and stability. Five stars!

Cirque Physio

 

Additional Stuff

Happy…. well, happy injury prevention! Love and pullups, Laura

Creating Your Circus Intensive (and Other Life Choices You May Rethink)

(Photo: Chinese pole class with the effervescent Ivory Fox.)

It all started in January. I was doing my silk solo on a gig; when I reached my final inversion to prep for my drop, it happened. I audibly grunted. I AUDIBLY GRUNTED AS I INVERTED. Let the horror of that sink in for you, unless it’s too much to bear, in which case skip immediately to the next section.

Now, the audience didn’t hear it, and nothing bad happened, except for the horrible terrible realization that I was a completely and appallingly de-conditioned mess. Somehow, in the flurry of teaching, gig prep, parenting, and all the other stuff I pack my days with, I had forgotten one very important thing: training. I had let myself slide into the De-conditioned Zone, and it was a dark, dark place, friends.

I spent the next few months in complete denial. Surely, if I just demo-ed more in class, it would all magically come back. I build muscle with lightening speed, and I would book time to train on my own. Of course I would! I would absolutely NOT book time and then cancel it….. or book time and spend it all on emails that suddenly HAD to be answered right then and there…. nope nope nope, definitely wouldn’t do that… except I did.

A few weeks and more than a few glasses of wine ago, I realized I was at the tipping point every performance athlete reaches: retire or stay in the game. And friends, when that realization sank in – really sank in – I was like a drowning woman fighting for air. There was no f**king way I was ready to retire, which left one thing. Stage a comeback. Oh sh*t.


“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect, and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” – Anna Quindlen


Creating a Circus Intensive

Know thyself. I knew that, if this was going to happen, I was going to need way more accountability than I had previously employed. It was time for A Circus Intensive. Lots of you expressed interest in how I did that outside of a dedicated program, so I figured I’d share my process with you in the hope that you’ll find it useful! As this journey of pain and triumph continues, I’ll keep you posted – I KNOW I’m not the only one who wants to get back in the arena, but is completely overwhelmed at the thought. Or maybe I’m just talking to myself. Who knows.

Step One – Set Some Lofty Goals

OK. What do you want to do? Here are some ideas that jumped out at me, but you do you.

  • Return to circus after a long hiatus (injury, pregnancy, life, etc).
  • Explore an aspect of circus you haven’t poked around in yet (a new apparatus, a different style of performance, injury prevention, etc.).
  • Get your act together – literally.

The list could go on forever. Whatever you decide, make sure it excites you, and scares you just a little bit.

Step Two – Set Your Parameters

  • How long do you want your intensive to be?
  • How much time and money can you realistically dedicate to this venture? I’m a big believer that good training is worth paying for – be really deliberate with your spending.

Don’t skip this step! Setting parameters allows you to jump into training with your whole self. If you set flimsy boundaries, you won’t have edges to push towards. I set my intensive for 3 months, with a none-ya-business budget. 😉

Step Three – Get Your Ass in Class

Pick your classes and make your schedule! For a true intensive, you’ll want to pack as much circus-y goodness into a designated amount of time as you can. Here we go!

  • Keeping your parameters in mind, choose your classes. You can choose to make one studio your “training home”, or select classes from a bunch of schools. I chose The Muse in NYC as my home base. It’s close-ish to my apartment, has a great list of classes, lots of open workout time available, a good atmosphere, and oodles of options to suit any financial situation. I’ve been there for about three weeks now, and I’m really loving it.
  • Supplement with online training (in appropriate disciplines). I chose a couple of supplemental programs – mainly in flexibility and hula hooping. I snagged two of Cirque Physio’s programs (more on Jen Crane next week – she is AMAZING), and a bundle from Deanne Love.

Step Four – Add Sprinkles

Now that you’ve got your goals and parameters set, classes picked out, and supplemental training snagged, you’re ready to add “sprinkles”. This is the stuff you add because it just sounds like so much fun! I added a roller dance class, and a few other frills to reward myself for the ridiculously hard work I’m engaging in. My roller skates came yesterday – I am going to be a fabulous Magical Disco Mermaid! You might choose costume making, stage makeup, tassel twirling, or whatever floats your boat. Ideally, it’s a little ridiculous, and utterly fabulous.

 

And there you have it! Your intensive is real! Intensives can be one day or one year – whatever fits your life and goals. If you’re feeling stuck or lackluster about your training, or you’re looking to do (what feels like) the impossible, an intensive may be just the kick in the bloomers you need.

Stay tuned for the next few weeks as I blog about this process – opening a can of Whoop-Ass on my ego, getting my PT on, splitting my pants in flexibility class, and more. What intensive are you going to set up for yourself? Tell me all about it in the comments below! Love and pull-ups, Laura

New Stuff Happening at NECCA!

If you’re in NYC, you should come train with me. 😉

If you’re in Vermont, or looking for a great Pro Track program, you should check out NECCA! NECCA, the New England Center for Circus Arts, is expanding, which is great news for the USA circus community. Have a look!

Professional Training Program

(from Serenity Forchion)

NECCA’s newly expanded Professional Training program – With the opening of our new building (coming in June, in a few short weeks) we will have more high flying aerials (swinging trapeze and cloud swing and flying trapeze indoors and higher ceilings for duo trapeze) as well as expanded ground training with a trampoline and tramp wall and fabulous handstand, contortion and partner acrobatics coaches. The opportunities of our 40’ ceilings and new performance and training space are exciting and a higher level of facility to our high level program.

With the expansion into the new building, we find we still have a few openings in the program and I’d love it if you could point this out to any student or friend of yours who is still wondering what to do with their training aspirations. Applications are online, and we still have a few spots open and are taking applications now. Click here for more info!

New Facilities

Building a fabulous new circus facility takes a lot of hard work, and, of course, a lot of moo-lah. By investing in circus spaces across the USA, we invest in our own personal circus dreams, as well as the future of our community. Can you donate the price of a latte this week? I’ll bet you can. Click here to fund your sparkly, spin-y, flippy circus opportunities.

Help! I’m Falling and I Can’t Stay Up!

A couple of weeks ago, a young gentleman – let’s call him Gavin in honor of my recent trip to Ireland – wrote to ask about grip, and what I call “noodling out” or “bottoming out”. You know when you’re trying to wrap your feet in a foot knot or for splits and suddenly you’re on the ground with Popeye forearms and no foot wraps? Well, there’s an app – er, a fix for that.

Check Your Form

The #1 cause of noodling out is a “half mast” arm position – neither fully bent, nor fully straight. Think about it – ever tried to do a pull-up and just hold the halfway position? IT’S F$*KING HARD. You have two choices for stronger arm positions:

  1. Beginners should generally start with an engaged straight arm position – shoulders screwed into the sockets, arms overhead.
  2. As soon as you can hold yourself in a bent-armed position on the floor, you can begin wrapping this way in the air. Remember how Superman would grab his shirt and rip it off to show his delicious rippling muscle-y chest? You’re going for a similar movement pattern: separate the fabrics just between your bubbies, and move your hands to the front of your shoulders. Glue your elbows to your waist, and lift the bubbies a bit as you bring them through (like I always say: when in doubt, bubbies out!).

Werk Your Silk Grip

Look! Here are some exercises (thank you, Miss Rachel Feinstein!!!!) to help you get to “Superman” position!

Or this, if Superman’s not your thing. Sorry, I couldn’t resist (not sorry at all).

via GIPHY

Love and pull-ups, Laura