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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The One About The Dreaded Plank

Pretty sure Phillip Light's illustration is a accurate depiction my inner silks spirit guide 
I loath plank and yet this is one of my favorite exercises when I do not have a lot of time. It will help you quickly develop some arm and core strength so you can climb and hang from the different apparatuses like the beautiful aerial sloth princess you were meant to be.

I highly recommend doing planks with a mirror or someplace you can see your reflection. Personally I use my arcadia door because I don't have large mirrors in the living room. Seeing your position will ensure that you are holding your body flat and not giving into the temptation to slouch or pike. I have been doing these for a while now and I still have to remain vigilant about form.

Planks are really tough so do not get discouraged. When I first started I had to really force myself to complete the plank sets and simply refuse to give up even when my arms felt like noodles. Distraction is a great ally so try to think of a mantra that you can concentrate on while doing these. I would like to pretend that my mantras are all motivational and inspired but sometimes they were nothing but a string of swear words. As long as you make it through the exercise let your heart be your guide even if your heart is a salty sailor.

All the planks and variations are intended to be completed as a set and then reversed and done on the other side.  If you reach a point where you can hold comfortably for 10 counts try increasing your duration to 20.

Basic Plank
  1. Position your hands about shoulder width apart directly under your chest.
  2. Spread your legs slightly and come up on the balls of your feet.
  3. Make your body as flat as possible and you should be making a triangle is everything is correct. You will be tempted to raise your hip or let your back slouch but if you do then the benefit recieved from the exercise will be greatly reduced. 
  4. Hold for 10 counts. If you cannot hold the correct position for the full 10 counts hold it as long as you can and then move on the next plank variation. It is better to hold the correct position for fewer seconds than a sloppy plank for the full time. 
Plank with arm extended to side
  1. From the basic plank reposition your anchor hand to be more squarely under your chest.
  2. Lift your other hand up and out to your side.
  3. Make sure your hips are still facing down
  4. Your extend arm should be a flat extension from your shoulders.
  5. Hold for 10 counts
Plank with arm extended overhead 
  1. From the side extension bring your elevated arm over your head
  2. Your arm should create an extension of your plank slope
  3. Hold for 10 counts
Side Plank 

  1. From the position with your arm over your head turn to your side
  2. Your arms should form a straight line with your body as an intersecting slope
  3. Feel free to widen your feet to add stability. The closer your feet are together the harder this position is to maintain 
  4. In this position it is easy to let you mid portion sag to keep an eye on you form
  5. Hold for 10 counts
Plank Push Ups
Bonus round
  1. From the basic plank position come down to your elbows one at a time.
  2. Extend your arms one at a time back into basic plank
  3. Remember to maintain your flat back when transitioning from elbows to straight arms
  4. Repeat until you are fussing and cussing and then one more time
 And of course my favorite...

 Plank on easy mode
No joke, give yourself a break after you complete a series of planks. Come back to child's pose and take a few deep breaths and let your muscles relax before moving on.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The One About Being Greater Than One

It is safe to say I have always been a bit of a lone wolf. While I enjoy the company of my peers when it comes time to work and practice I like to do it on my own. I prefer to be responsible for my own successes or short comings and I am always worried about failing others.  However, some of my recent training has thrown my attitude towards working alone into flux. 
It is about learning to trust yourself and your partner
It started in an attempt to increase my flexibility. I knew improving would mean the lyra and silk routines I was learning more attractive and dramatic. I enrolled in a contortion class in the hopes of, for starters, improving my splits and back bend.

I expected contortion would be similar to a yoga where we stretch in lots of different positions and over time gradually improve our flexibility. What I did not realize is that training with the primary intent of increased flexibility means pushing your body and having others help you into positions you could not reach on your own.
During my first class when I was partnered with a fellow student and then told they would stand on my thighs while I was in butterfly pose and gently push me toward the ground I was terrified. My mind immediately started going through the big list of things that could go wrong. What if I could not support my partner? What if they could not balance on me? What if they pushed too hard?
I already felt like my butterfly was already at the maximum I could achieve and I was touching my head to my feet without assistance.  What did I stand to gain from adding another person to my practice? When the exercise started my partner carefully stepped up and began pushing my back. By checking in with me we reached a point that I felt like was the maximum of the stretch. I proceeded to hold the position for the prescribed 30 seconds and wondering why we were adding the complication of a partner when I was obviously not going to be going any further. Then in the last 10 seconds my body stopped fighting back against the additional steady pressure from my partner and my knees came to the floor and I was able to relax my back into an even flatter position. I was surprised by the additional give my body had when it finally gave in to the added help from my partner. It was something I may never have achieved on my own.
Partnering can add a new dynamic to  your practice
Since starting the contortions class I have had several other opportunities to work with partners and I am becoming increasingly comfortable with relying on to achieve what we could not individually. I plan on writting about some of my favorite partner exercises as I learn so stay tuned if you want to have some fun with your other half. In the mean time tell me how you feel about working with a partner? Have you also found working with others enriching to your process?
Amanda Rebholz captured Karla, of Puppies Breath Blog, and me playing around with some partner acrobatics during our circus photoshoot. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The One On The Flying Trapeze

Last week I found myself standing on the Santa Monica Pier in LA staring up at people flying through the air 30 feet above the boardwalk. Upon spying the trapeze one of my friends jokingly suggested that is what I should be doing on my vacation. After a few slack jawed moments of sheer wonder and excitement I got my wits about me enough to locate the office and sign up for my first class in flying trapeze.
Trapeze School New York has several facilities across the country, Santa Monica Pier being their newest, which specialize in flying trapeze. Their trapeze class is taught as a 2 hour session in groups of 10 students or less. The classes are priced between $50-60 a lesson which is a bit expensive but in a discipline where safety and equipment is a priority you may need to be prepared to pay a little more to ensure the quality of your instructor and the maintenance of the equipment.

I arrived the next morning bright eyed and bushy tailed for my first class. I had been advised the day before on best choices for clothing which was the usual leggings and tank top. Lucky for me I was traveling with silks attire in anticipation of attending a work shop at a local circus school later in the week. I was surprised that they did not recommend leg warmers which are usually quite useful for apparatus where there are hoops or bars. In retrospect compared to lyra or static trapeze my shins and calves did not come into much contact with the bar. Leg warmers would have done little to protect the back of my knees and that is where I took a majority of the strain from the class.
After I quickly signed a waiver they took me and all the other first time flyers to receive a quick briefing on what to expect on the platform and what we would be trying to accomplish as we hurtled through the air. We were taught how to stand on the platform, prepare and when the order was given to jump. The instructor also covered the first trick we would be attempting to learn. We would be jumping from the platform and attempting to negotiate a basic knee hang and if we were lucky a catch at the end of class.

We were also fitted with nylon waist belt cinched down as tight as humanly possible. These belts represented our link to safety. If you are going up the ladder to the platform you are clipped to a safety pulley, once on the platform you transfer to another safety clip, and when it comes time to jump yet another series of clips are attached to your belt so they can control your descent should you lose your grip on the trapeze. At this point they also informed us that in order to reach the trapeze bar we would need to lean out over the platform and trust all of our weight to the assistant on the platform who would be holding us by the back of our belts.

After we had practiced all of the actions as much as possible from the ground it was now time to get in the air. My time with silks has definitely brought me more comfort with being in the air but had not completely prepared me for my first climb and jump from the platform. The trapeze rig is tall…very tall. As I made my first assent I looked out over the beach and tried not to think about how high I was going. As I transferred my safety clip to what had once appeared to be a generously sized platform and now seemed barely adequate for my and the instructor I could barely keep all the instructions in my head.

My first attempt was far from steller. When it came time for me to trust my instructor and lean out over the edge it was a struggle. I tucked my hips and did everything in my power to remain under my own control rather than relaxing into the correct position. Once the command to jump came I did not hesitate but then had a moment of complete terror where I was swinging out toward nothingness. I had this moment or realization that I had just jumped off a platform 30 feet in the air and had no way of getting back and nothing to save me except this puny little bar overhead and I was not even sure how I was going to get down. As I started to swing back I hear my instructor shouting “KNEES UP” which was the command to go into the knee hang.

The major difference between flying trapeze and all of the other disciplines I have been learning thus far is flying trapeze is all about timing. If you execute your actions during the right moment of each swing they are relatively effortless. I will not say there is no effort but in comparison to trying to lift your knees above your head on a static apparatus it is much easier provided you do it in the right moment. In the case of my first attempt I completely missed the right moment and was left struggling against gravity. Once I actually had my knees over the bar I was able to lean on my lyra experience and tried to bring my heels to my thighs and relax into a back arch.

The last part of my first swing was the dismount. My only experience with landing on something from the air has been the trampolines we use at the gym for conditioning. I was very hesitant about landing on the net because I was expecting it to be much firmer. It makes sense though that it is softer because a trampoline is trying to spring you back in the air vs the netting being there to slow and then stop you descent. You are also connected to guide wires that should you begin to fall improperly an instructor will manually slow your fall. With all of these things working for you I was pleasantly surprised that the dismount was not as bone jarring as expected.

After each attempt you will receive some coaching on what to work on during your next turn on the platform. Over the course of about 3-4 attempts depending on the number of students you will hopefully start to understand the trick and solidify your timing. If you are able to successfully complete your trick solo you will be allowed to attempt a catch. A catch means that you will have a partner on a trapeze across from you and you will attempt to make a transfer from hanging on your trapeze to your partner. Remember the trick is all about timing and in this case it is the timing for two.This time instead of being prompted from the ground you partner is giving you instructions and the success of your catch is based on executing those instructions without hesitation or error.

After 4 attempts on the platform with the solo trick some of the initial butterflies in my stomach had subsided and I was completing the knee hang reliably but I did not expect to make my first catch. On the platform I watched as my partner started his swing and waited for the command to ready and then jump. Once I left the platform I tried to forget about the impending catch because if I did everything properly it should come naturally. I completed my knee hang and when I came up from the third swing and looked out there was my partner ready to grab my hands. I immediately released the hanging grip I had on my own bar and found myself being suspended from another person high above the ground. Flying through the air I thought to myself "This was the stuff dreams are made of." I was practically giddy when moments later I landed on the net below.

After finishing the class I would highly recommend the experience to anyone who ever thought they might be interested in circus arts or had any passing fancy with the flying trapeze. The way they have structured the class and from what I saw of the other students I believe you can have a successful first lesson even if you have no prior experience with the aerial arts. If you are aerial experienced the flying is a fun departure from the static apparatuses most of us use. The Trapeze School New York was a pleasurable experience I hope to repeat on future visits to California or any other states where they have facilities.