The Not-So-Sexy Answer To Everything

This post is about attaining your goal–any goal.

Sadly, there is no quick way to accomplish your goal–whatever that goal may be:

Get more flexible.

Be stronger.

Change your body composition.

Do your first pull-up.

It all takes work to accomplish. As well as time and detailed programming to mitigate any risk of injury (meaning a plan).

Today we live in a very instantaneous society where it often feels like if we have to wait more than 2 minutes for something, it’s been an eternity. But when it comes to goals for your body, things are going to take time. You did not get where you are now overnight. Whether that’s feeling inflexible or able to do back levers, your body’s adaptations took time and so will achieving your goal. The length of time is TBD.

For many of the circus arts students I teach, they were looking for a fun way to become more active. And I think that is great. Circus arts does get you moving and using your body, but sometimes that doesn’t always mean our bodies are ready for the movements being asked of it and over time this can trickle down into a few things:

  • You feel this twinge somewhere and when you try to push past a certain skill/drill, the twinge flares up and puts you on the DL for a bit.
  • And sometimes a cycle like this begins: You feel the twinge, you take a short break. Then you are fine. Then you feel the twinge flare up again, so you take another break until you feel “fine” again… and the cycle continues.
  • The twinge actually becomes an injury.
  • Frustration happens because you haven’t progressed from your present level to the next level of skill development because either
    • a twinge/ache or an injury happens (again), and/or
    • you don’t have the strength, mobility, flexibility, or stability/control to do those skills needed for progressing.

See a pattern here? Either there’s potential for injury or there is frustration. Often times there is both. Another pattern I see a lot–especially amongst circus arts students–is they become injured and need to see a PT and they also need to take a break from circus arts while they recover. Then they come back to their circus activity only to relapse into the same or a similar injury some time later. Sometimes that is within the year; sometimes it takes a little longer.

The latter pattern happens because traditional insurance-based physical therapy generally only gets you as strong as you were before–the place you were when you first started to experience the injury. An injury occurs when the forces put upon that tissue are more than the tissue can handle. This happens in any scenario that an injury occur: either all at once (like in a car accident or a bad fall) or gradually, over time (like when you try over and over to get into a position or perform a skill that your body can’t perform without great effort.

This is where strength training helps, because after you have gone to physical therapy for rehab, you then have to get even stronger than you were before you sustained the injury. Specific, programmed strength training is needed to take you beyond where you were before–because where you were before is where you sustained your injury.

And there you have it, The Not-So-Sexy Answer to Everything:

Strength Training.

(I mean, strength training after you’ve had a movement assessment and had a progressive strength and mobility program designed for you.)

I see these patterns often, which is why I have several students who are now also strength training clients. There is this conversation I try to have with folks in my circus arts classes that usually goes like this:

‘Yes, this can be a way to get more active in your life, but if you want to stave off potential injury and not hit a brick wall in your learning, eventually you will need to add strength training to your life. This (insert circus arts discipline here) has to be the reason you workout.’

One simple exercise will not help you attain your goal. There is no hack that if you add this one thing that your goal will magically be attained. Things just don’t happen that easily.

I often say we don’t live in Photoshop: we can’t just make this one spot on your body become leaner or stronger or more flexible. A combination of things is needed to ensure we approach our goal with our individual needs in mind.

We all move differently. We all live different lives that have us create different compensatory patterns. A movement screen is something I do with every single client and I highly recommend everyone get one before taking on a strength training regimen. Again, we don’t all move the same and although the strength training program I make for one person and another person might look similar, there will be differences based on what I saw in their individual movement assessment.

When we have a program designed with our unique compensatory movement patterns in mind that will help to regain good, human movement quality, then we’ll see that not only are we feeling more capable of accomplishing some of those skills/drills that felt impossible, but we feel more in control of our bodies while attempting these more challenging positions. This control means less potential for injury as well.

So there you have it: Strength Training.

I know I have just made many folks make a sad face, scoff or think it’s not needed, but it really is.

Still Not On Board with Strength Training?

Well aside from getting you stronger to help achieve skills and drills with ease and helping to prevent injury, strength training can help with your mobility and flexibility.

In many instances, one’s limited range of motion–one’s lack of mobility and flexibility–can be because of a lack of strength. Your body knows if you are not strong enough not to hurt yourself in those greater ranges of motion–and your body will respond by simply not letting you have access to a greater range of motion. Our body has a natural self-preservation mechanism and if it thinks it’s going to get hurt, it will stop us from doing that movement.

Some examples of this are a lateral squat. Not only does it strengthen your glutes, quads and hamstrings, but it also helps with creating strength through the whole length of the adductors. As you get stronger, you’ll find your range of motion increases. This means that strength is being developed through the whole range of motion, especially at the tendons, which means more control in those deeper ranges of motion. All of this tells your body know that you are strong enough to control those greater ranges of motion and should help your straddle flexibility.

Here’s a video of my partner demoing. Progression to this include adding a light weight in the hands reaching out or holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in goblet grip and close to the chest while performing the squat.

Another way that strength training is used to increase flexibility is seen in active flexibility training techniques. Active flexibility uses strength training on one side of the joint to increase the ability to pull yourself deeper into a pike or deeper into a straddle, for example. In those exercises you are focusing on strengthening your hip flexors to fold your body in half more at your hip.

At the end of the day, I am a huge proponent of strength training. Not just because I have seen how it has made my circus arts journey easier and relatively injury-free. Sure I have sustained a couple of injuries along my almost 20 year career, but I am happy to say none of them have been reoccurring injuries. Injuries still may occur. We can’t eliminate risk entirely, but strength training can greatly reduce their occurrence.

I am also a huge proponent because what I have seen it do for my clients. Whether they are into circus arts or just wanting to be active and feel good.

So My Not-So-Sexy Answer to Everything is Strength Training. My hope is that I may have convinced or even swayed you otherwise and that you will consider that actually, The Sexy Answer to Everything is Strength Training!

Happy Training! Theresa