Getting Back in the Air

by Lindsey Morgan

Lindsey MorganWith the re-opening of gyms and aerial studios, it’s tempting to rush back in and try to pick up where you left off. But for many of us, that means coming back from about a 2-3 month hiatus! Hopefully, you used some of your new-found free time during quarantine to do some aerial related conditioning at home. Even though that home-training surely blunted the inevitable loss of strength and flexibility, the smart aerialist should still aim to slowly build back up to their old training schedule!

The human body is all about efficiency, so it sends the most energy to the areas working the hardest. Meaning, if you do chin ups on the regular, your body will focus energy on hypertrophy of the biceps, making them bigger and stronger. On the flipside, if you stop using your arms for climbing, but instead start going on long walks every day, your body will essentially stop “wasting” energy to maintain your biceps, and instead shift its focus to your lower leg muscles. If this goes on for a period of time, the unfortunate reality is that our neglected muscles atrophy, or shrink, and lose strength. If you don’t use it, you lose it… literally!

Muscle strain happens when a muscle is asked to perform more than it is currently capable of. That could be the result of a number of situations: moving a load that is too heavy (intensity), being loaded more often than normal (frequency), or being loaded for longer than it has the endurance to sustain (duration). All three of these are factors when returning to your aerial practice!

The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure” is so true when it comes to taking care of our bodies. As excited as we are to jump back in, remember to take it slow when returning to in-the-air training so your body has time to adapt! This period of transition allows the body to start re-allocating resources to the muscles we may have neglected during our time away.

A special note on grip strength

grip strengthGrip strength is likely to be one of the biggest limiting factors when returning to aerial practice. We simply don’t use our hands and forearms to the same degree in our daily lives as we do when we hang from them several days per week.

There are a multitude of muscles that extend from the fingers and wrists all the way up to the elbow that allow us to climb, hang, and manipulate our bodies in the air. These forearm muscles connect at the bones on the inner and outer elbow called the epicondyles. Epicondylitis (which you may have heard called tennis or golfer’s elbow) is inflammation as a result of overloading those forearm muscles we use to help grip our apparatus. You’re more likely to prevent this type of injury by returning to your practice slowly, such as starting with one or two training sessions per week instead of daily, incorporating some non-grip work throughout your session to allow for more forearm rest time, and limiting the overall amount of time you spend in the air at each training session. If you haven’t already, you can also start “waking up” those muscles at home using a pull up bar, aerial handles, or even light dumbbells.

If you find yourself battling elbow pain, despite your best efforts at prevention, there are a few things you can do to alleviate the symptoms. Keep in mind these suggestions are general and not a substitution for diagnosis/treatment by a licensed healthcare provider who can help with your specific issue.

  • Try decreasing the training load, whether by frequency or duration of training time, to allow adequate rest for muscle recovery
  • Employ massage techniques, especially “cross-friction” massage in which you rub back and forth, perpendicular to the muscle/tendon fibers
  • Use ice to reduce inflammation. You can even combine these last two together by performing an “ice massage” where you use an ice cube to rub back and forth over the irritated tendon (just limit yourself to no more than 5 min of direct ice at a time)
  • Perform gentle stretching of the forearm muscles by holding the wrist in a flexed or extended position while the elbows are straight for 30sec at a time
  • Short term use of over the counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil; Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or naproxen (Aleve) can also be helpful as long as they do not interfere with other medications you may already be taking, or any underlying health conditions you may have (check with your physician)

Best wishes for a successful, happy, and healthy return to training!