Let’s say—hypothetically—that you really like circus. Perhaps you like it so much that you’re training more than once per week. And you’ve been doing it this way for a while now.
Because you love it!
Let’s say also—again, hypothetically—that you’ve got an ache or a pain that has crept into your life. Maybe it’s your cranky shoulder that just needs a thorough warm-up because “it doesn’t hurt once I’ve warmed up”. Or maybe your (something else) has been hurting for a while now.
It’s hard to say when exactly it started hurting. And maybe you’re not quite sure if it was a specific event or action that made it start hurting, but you’re planning to get in to see a physical therapist soon.
First, get thee to a physio!
Body parts, in general, should not hurt on a regular basis. If performing certain movements causes pain (and ‘it doesn’t hurt once I’ve warmed up’ is not a free pass on this one), then you probably should stop performing those movements until you’ve had it checked out by an orthopedic doc and/or a physio.
Pain is a tricky thing and it changes things. It changes how you move, how your body sequences which muscles fire at what time…and while that’s handy for allowing you to get away from a sabretooth tiger, it is not so ideal over the long run.
That means that job one is getting you out of pain.
And yes, I do understand that that is easier said than done.
A little bit of nerdy background theory to explain the situation…
What we often see is that while individual stories, of course, vary, the general case is that at some point in time, a person starts doing circus multiple times per week…when hard physical training, multiple times per week, was not something they had been doing prior to the start of their circus adventure.
Exercise volume refers to how much you’re doing within a certain span of time. For example, we describe your weekly training volume in terms of the number of hours of training time in a given week.
A variable that goes hand-in-hand with training volume is intensity. Exercise intensity is, for all intents and purposes, a metric that is relative to the individual. What constitutes high intensity is going to be different from one person to another, based on a variety of factors such as strength, muscular endurance, relative state of recovery at any given moment, energy levels, etc.
Combined, volume + intensity = workload.
There does exist a growing body of research that suggests that higher regular workloads can have a protective effect with respect to injury. This same body of research also shows how sudden spikes in workload can be highly predictive of injury.
The rub here is that what constitutes high volume (as with high intensity) depends very much on the individual.
And, it is very important to note that the above does not mean that all high-volume/high-intensity, all the time, is going to be a good idea (because it’s not a good idea, no matter how many High-Intensity Tabata Insanity Killer Bootcamp Cross-training classes appear on the schedule at your local gym). Strategically varying both the volume and intensity of your training is a necessity over the long-term—but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let us also speak of strength.
In almost all of the cases where an injury occurs, what happened was that the injured tissues encountered a demand that was greater than the capacity of those tissues.
I know that’s nerdy, but it seems like the best, most-general way of saying that whatever it is you asked your muscles/joints/ligaments/body tissues to do, they weren’t strong enough to meet the demand of the task.
It is important to note here that what often happens is that the demands of the task only slightly exceed the maximum capabilities of the tissue. But before the tissue has time to fully recover from that experience, it happens again. And again. And again…eventually causing the tissue in question to break down. Nagging pain ensues.
Next, let’s talk longer-term prevention strategies
For a given training workload, there will be a minimum requisite level of physical (and mental and emotional) capacity.
Factors that we can influence to improve your training capacity include strength, nutrition and recovery. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. These are just three factors that we don’t spend nearly enough time talking about.
In short, the ideal scenario involves giving your body (and mind) enough time to rest and recover to adequately balance out the training time you’ve put in. The basic idea here is that if you stress your body (training is a stress), you need to give it time to recover.
The thing is, it’s not just about the time you spend resting, but the quality of that rest.
The specific type of rest we’re going to talk about here is sleep.
Here’s what we know (from science):
Sleep is a wonderful thing. Your body benefits from sleep in a variety of ways, but the key lies in quality sleep. Restless and/or light sleep doesn’t quite cut it.
Oh, and quantity: between 7 and 8 hours of sleep every night.
That last one (7-8 hours??? Every night???) seems to be the kicker for many people.
What I’d like to do here is offer a few quick suggestions for things that will help you to fall asleep faster and to get better quality sleep.
Things that help:
Controlling your exposure to light.
- To fall asleep faster, avoid bright lights and blue light two hours before bed. Yup: reduce your screen time before bed.
- To get better quality sleep, make your bedroom as dark as possible. This can mean blackout curtains, covering up the lights on any electronic devices…and/or wearing a sleep mask.
Control noise exposure.
- Noise can dramatically impact the quality of your sleep. I know it’s not always possible to make your bedroom perfectly silent, but if you can, that’s great! If not, consider earplugs or perhaps something to play some white noise or soothing music (at a low volume) to mask more irritating noises.
- A warm room can make falling asleep harder and reduce the quality of your sleep. On the other hand, cooler room temperatures can help you to fall asleep faster and to sleep more deeply.
- Caffeine can be a great performance enhancer, but even if you can fall asleep easily with caffeine in your system, it does impair quality sleep. Avoid caffeine within six hours of your bedtime.
As if it were that easy…
Here is where we encounter the limitations of a blog post. While all of the above have the potential to be very helpful when it comes to improving your sleep hygiene, it’s not always practical to try to implement a number of changes all at once.
So here is what I would do, if I were working with you:
Start by making an honest assessment of how much quality sleep you’re getting. The next step is to consider the question: what could you do to improve, if only by a little bit?
See how that feels and work from there.
If you’re feeling at all lost and/or overwhelmed, let us know and we’ll see if we can help you work it out.
Next up: nutrition for circus.
Until next time, if there’s anything we can help you with, please don’t hesitate to reach out.