Manifesto 2016: ch-ch-ch-changes

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted. It’s time for that to change. In fact, many things are changing and I’d like to tell you about them.

But first, a story:

Not too long ago, I was at a party. All good stories start this way. At this party, I found myself involved in a conversation that started this way:

‘Hey! I haven’t seen you in a while! How are you?’

‘Oh, I’m good. I mean, my shoulder’s hurt and I can’t do circus right now, so in that way, I’m not so good. But otherwise, I’m good!’

In the conversation that followed, I learned that this person had had some shoulder pain for some time, then went to see an orthopedic surgeon who made a diagnosis.

(I’m not going to go into specifics about this person and their injury because while the interaction was significant enough for me to feel compelled to share, the specifics aren’t mine to share without their say-so. What’s most relevant is that it’s an overuse injury).

This person asked the doctor for more of an explanation of the injury and received what felt more like a brushing-off than what you’d think of as good patient education. This person was pointed in the direction of physical therapy and left feeling rather frustrated.

For me, this felt all too familiar.

If this story is sounding a bit generic to you, then please, read on because that’s really my point. What would be great is if this sort of situation were to unfold like this:

Injured circus athlete goes to an orthopedic surgeon who regularly treats athletes and understands that the end goal will be to resume training and return to play (in this case, circus). The orthopedic surgeon makes a diagnosis—which he or she explains in understandable language to our circus athlete—and then recommends a course of treatment. Because they prefer to avoid surgery unless absolutely necessary, the next step is usually physical therapy.

Just like the doctor, our athlete’s PT is accustomed to working with athletes. The PT not only helps the athlete to rehabilitate the injury, but they also take steps to address the underlying cause. In this example, it was an overuse injury so it’s likely that there were some faulty mechanics of the shoulder and/or some muscular strength imbalances that need to be sorted out.

In the event that health insurance and “approved PT visits” becomes a limitation, the PT can direct them to a Strength and Conditioning Coach who can help bridge the gap from physical therapy to readiness to return to circus by reinforcing the improved mechanics and muscular balance.

Yes, I think that would be great.

Injuries happen, particularly when you’ve developed a passion for circus arts because many of them place some pretty intense demands on the body, but having a great sports medicine team can make all the difference in the world.

A thorough rehab progression followed by targeted training can help most people not only recover from their injuries, but come back better and stronger.

Unfortunately, the above scenario is more reflective of the resources available to Cirque du Soleil artists and ENC students, and rarely seems to play out for the people I meet.

My experience has been that all too often this sort of situation plays out like this instead:

The (often-times chosen at random from the list of doctors the insurance company provides) orthopedic surgeon makes a diagnosis and recommends a course of treatment. In the case of recreational circus athletes, there are many doctors out there who will suggest that they simply find another activity to do. Maybe play golf or take up jogging. A real doctor told a friend of mine “you’re almost middle-aged and you have a desk job…find something else to do”. The next step usually remains physical therapy…unless they feel like surgery is the way to go, in which case they’ll suggest that. Either way, our circus athlete is going to end up in physical therapy.

In the phone book On the internet, one physical therapy clinic can look pretty much the same as another. The problem often stems from going to a clinic where they don’t usually treat athletes, let alone overhead athletes. The goals they’re used to reaching are things like able to tuck in shirts behind the back or able to fasten bra or able to reach cans of food on the top shelf in the pantry. (Ok, that last one might have been a tad facetious…). This often ends up meaning that the course of rehab won’t address the underlying faulty mechanics. It will usually make the rotator cuff and surrounding musculature strong, but not necessarily functional (I could go on a tangent here about the function of the rotator cuff is to dynamically stabilize your shoulder and how that’s something that requires more than just “rotator cuff strengthening” …but I’ll save that for another post). Ultimately, the athlete will be discharged from physical therapy feeling better than they went in. (If not, we have other things to talk about). But the underlying issues that caused the problem in the first place won’t have been addressed.

After returning to training, they’ll probably find that their shoulder “acts up” or “still feels sore”. They’ll likely find themselves saying “after the injury, it just wasn’t the same” and believing that’s just the way it is with injuries.

And the thing is, it just doesn’t have to be this way. This aerial student’s story has been stuck in the periphery of my thoughts for a couple of months now. Obviously, without doing an assessment myself, I can’t know for sure, but I’ve encountered so many others who have gone to physical therapy to have something treated—“tendinitis”, “impingement” or some other injury—and they’ve finished their course of therapy…and after some time, the same issue seems to flare up. I’ve watched them move and noticed the dysfunctional mechanics and, from where I sit, it all adds up: of course the pain is going to come back.

It doesn’t have to, though.

Trapeze School

Since injuring my own shoulder and working my way through rehab and then a second surgery followed by ‘retirement’, I’ve been on a quest to learn as much as I can about shoulder performance and injury reduction, particularly for recreational circus artists. It would be fair to say that I spend a great deal of time reading, studying and learning.

Until recently, it’s been my nerdy little hobby.

I have also not-so-secretly been using TSNY Boston as my movement laboratory where I’ve tried—in a very casual and informal kind of way—to help people get stronger and move better…all with a view to helping them to be better flyers and aerialists.

When I first started writing this blog, it was a feature of TSNY’s monthly newsletter as the Tip of the Month. Over time, I found myself feeling more drawn to writing about strength and conditioning and injury prevention topics and less about flying trapeze-specific topics.

As a writer, I began the exciting journey of finding my voice. The tricky part is that, given my place within the newsletter and my position within TSNY, the line was blurring between my voice and the official voice of TSNY.

Maybe we should have just had a disclaimer: the opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Trapeze School New York.

In the end, we made the decision to stop featuring my blog posts in the monthly newsletter. If anyone has been wondering about why I’ve been missing from the newsletter, now you know.

But wait, there’s more:

I had viewed this blog as my way of helping the students of TSNY to learn more about how to make and keep their bodies strong and functional for circus. I had come to think of the TSNY newsletter as the only reason my posts were being read. And then I went on a road trip and spoke to some people at other circus schools who had read some of what I’ve written. As people described situations to me that were similar to what I was seeing at home, I began to feel a need to make a greater contribution to the larger circus community.

And then I met this aerialist at that party and their story got stuck in my brain. It almost haunted me: I have tools and knowledge that could potentially be helpful, if not to this particular person, then to others. I felt compelled to write again.

Actually, I’ve been feeling compelled to do even more than just write. My own experiences with circus arts and with the people I’ve met within the circus community—both here in Boston and all over the place—have changed my life in so many wonderful ways. I also know the pain of having an injury that prevents you from being able to participate. I want to find a way to give back and to help make sure that people have the resources they need to stay strong and fit or for when an injury rears its ugly head.

And so, after a great deal of introspection, I’ve recently decided that, starting in January 2016, I will step down from my position as a manager with TSNY and as Curriculum Guy so that I can focus more of my energy on finding ways to share what I’ve learned about keeping shoulders (and bodies) healthy and strong for circus. Having first come to TSNY Beantown back in 2008, this represents a pretty significant change for me. In those early days, the Beantown team sparked in me a love of circus that has only grown throughout the years. And now it’s that love of circus that has prompted me to make this move.

Manifesto 2016

Being realistic is the most commonly traveled path to mediocrity—Wil Smith

My mission for 2016 and beyond is to revolutionize how we—the recreational circus arts community: teachers, coaches and students—approach strength and conditioning and injury prevention. I’m here to make sure people know their bodies: how they work and how to take good care of them. Ultimately, I would like to be able to help you find the quality care that you need if ever you do get injured. And I want to help you get Circus Strong for your comeback.

Currently, I’m developing a workshop series that will provide people with a solid foundation of understanding about the basics of how to keep their bodies strong and circus-ready. There will also be self-care tips and exercise progressions and live samples of my delightfully dry sense of humor.

Here in Boston, I will be offering assessments and strength-training program design for circus athlete-artists. That’s fancy talk for ‘I will ask you to move in various ways as a screen for movement dysfunction and/or muscular imbalances and then provide corrective exercises to help you sort those things out’.

Want to do more pull-ups? (Or do your first pull-up?) I will help you get there. I’ll design a strength program to get you there. We can train together regularly or I can just design the program for you and you can work out on your own and then check back with me when it’s time to progress.

And, of course, I’m going to continue writing. I’ve got so many thoughts and ideas swirling around in my head that I’ve just got to share.

Thanks for reading. Excuse me while I start on my next post…

2 thoughts on “Manifesto 2016: ch-ch-ch-changes”

  1. Thanks for this post. It’s so validating to know that others are having similar experiences with rehab and training.

  2. This is really great, and I encourage you to keep posting more. You have one of the few blogs out there about Trapeze where people can come and learn more about technical aspects and conditioning, it’s a valuable resource, and people will find it even if you don’t advertise, jut by googling. That’s how I found it. And the more you post the more likely people will find you and you’ll be able to spread the help. Keep it up!