So what about progression?
In part one, we started looking at how injuries happen—since that’s how most folks end up “doing PT”. The focus was on tissue capacity. We looked at how that plays a role in injuries:
Load > Capacity = Injury
And then we looked at the process of rehabbing that injury. By some definitions, the last phase of rehabilitation is focused on restoring strength and adding sport-specific movements. After that, it’s “return to sport”.
Load ≤ Capacity = Rehab
This is how we end up with a situation where some folks graduate from rehab and then continue doing their “PT exercises” with that same green theraband…every training day from now until the end of time.
Making a mental shift
The thing is, words matter and, as I mentioned earlier, the current dominant perspective on physical therapy is that it’s what you do after you’ve been injured.
And thus, we arrive at “doing your PT exercises” to prevent injury.
And don’t get me wrong: I am in favor of preventing injury.
But at what point do you make the shift from avoiding injury to preparing your body for optimal performance?
Part one of my question is essentially this:
At what point do you stop “recovering from injury”?
Until such time as we—as a society or just within the circus arts community—make the shift and embrace the idea that physical therapy is more than just what you do when you’re injured, that it can be performance therapy as well, then if you’re not currently injured or actively rehabbing an injury, I would like to suggest that you stop “doing PT” before you train.
[Yes, I know what I just said. Bear with me.]
Because “PT” still means “physical therapy”.
And “physical therapy” still means “what you do when you’re injured”.
What I would like to suggest you do instead is start thinking about how to best prepare and fine tune your body for optimal performance.
Optimizing movement quality and building capacity to optimize performance
[I know, who—other than me—speaks like that in the circus world? If you do, please let me know. I’d love to connect. Heck, even if you don’t but you feel like reaching out, go for it. Ok, I digress…]
Check out equation number three:
Capacity >> Load = Real Prevention
Yeah, that’s right: two ‘greater than’ signs.
What if capacity is much, much greater than the expected load?
Let’s illustrate with an example.
You know the pre-training rotator cuff theraband exercises, right? External rotations, full cans, “letters” (I, Y, T, U), etc.
As part of your pre-circus routine, I’m all for it…but what if we were to frame this as an activation series to prime the muscles for action and ready them for the demands to come. Movement prep, if you will.
(I would add some additional exercises like rhythmic stabilizations (if you’ve got a friend nearby) and/or bear crawls to get your rotator cuff muscles responding to more dynamic demands).
Let’s call it getting your rotator cuff all fired up and ready to do its job.
Let us not, however, think that the bands are going to really strengthen your cuff.
Sure, at first, they might feel challenging to do for a set of 10. At that point, they probably are strengthening your cuff.
[Which raises another question for me: why are you doing strength work that fatigues your rotator cuff right before you train on your apparatus—when you will need your rotator cuff to be ready to go? There’s a time and place for pre-fatiguing a muscle, but pre-circus class is not it.]
I’m assuming here that you’re doing something more like sets of 15 to 20 and feeling mild ‘burn’.
This rotator cuff series with the band is great for your movement prep time.
My point being that at some point, it would be beneficial for you to go from recovering from an injury (and just hoping to avoid another one) and transition into doing your individualized activations and movement prep work.
I’m hoping the significances of the shift is clear.
I have a follow-up question though:
At what point do you start strengthening and building more (and more!) capacity?
If you’ve had rotator cuff problems in the past, wouldn’t it make sense to make your cuff much stronger than the demands your circus training places on it?
For example, keep doing your pre-class rotator cuff prep work, but twice per week, at the end of a workout or training session, why not add a weighted version of these exercises? Perhaps 2-3 sets of 8 to 10 reps with 5 to 10 lbs? This would stimulate increased rotator cuff strength.
In fact, wouldn’t this make sense for your whole body? Regardless of whether you’ve been injured in the past?
Yes: let us always seek to reduce the likelihood of injuries through smart and safe training practices. Make sure your technique is amazing when you’re in the air (or upside down or holding someone else in the air…possibly also upside down…)
But let us also recognize that developing your body’s capacity such that it becomes greater than the demands that circus places on it is the real key to injury prevention…and, by the way, doing all of the cool circus-y things you dream of doing.
Aye, there’s the rub: how to strengthen and build capacity?
I’ll give you a hint: it doesn’t happen in the ten minutes of ab work at the end of class and bodyweight exercise alone isn’t going to be sufficient.
You’re going to need external resistance, i.e., you need to lift heavy things. (With good, functional form, of course!)
Which exercises? How often? How heavy? All good questions…which we’ll have to look at another time.
In the meantime, if you need help structuring your training or could use a little extra accountability to stay on track, check out my fully individualized online personal training program⇒ Get Circus Strong!
***Applications for new trainees are now open for the Get Circus Strong online training program!
Apply now for the next round of the program, starting January, 10th 2018! Learn more here.