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Returning to Circus Training: check out these graphs

Below are the images, slides and links from my talk about returning to circus training after a Four. Month. Break. This rest was not a fun four month sabbatical kind of break but more of a high stress, low movement, socially isolated and poor nutrition kind of pause. A break this big requires a very gradual easing back into training. How do I know this? Australian Institute of Sport and Rowing Australia have done the retrospective data analysis and mathematical modelling for us and a little further down you will see how the NFL learned their lessons the hard way.

This first graph from Rowing Australia shows that if an (elite) athlete takes two weeks off training but trains at 40% during their break then when they return they will then spend almost three weeks ramping (gradually progressing their load back up again). If they took 4 weeks off (yellow line) and did 20% (perhaps a day or two of exercise a week) then if we draw a line upwards from the 20% mark we hit 5 weeks of ramping. Luckily the athletes we will be coaching are recreational. This means that the standards of strength and endurance required to return to are not as superhuman as these Australian rowers. The point of this graph though for anyone returning to exercise is - the more time off that you have had and the more deconditioned you are the more gradual the ramping process needs to be.

The next graph from Australian Institute of Sport helps us think about how to plan a periodised class. It helps us think about the people coming in to the class/ the context - how have they coped in the past with return after break?; Has anyone had COVID? Do they pick up skills and strength quickly? How many years have they been in circus? Do they naturally build muscle? Have they had access to circus equipment over their break? How hard was their lockdown? How open, conscientious, extroverted, agreeable and neurotic are they?

During the class we are teaching the whole person (that includes all of the physical and emotional baggage they bring with them). That person experiences exertion throughout the class and, if we've pitched the session right, they adapt and get stronger and better and ready for the next session. If they are exhausted, lose form, feel shaky/unwell then they've pushed it too hard and we need to revise our class plan.

Here is an example of retrospective data analysis from the NFL As you can see from the graph, after a three month break the athletes went straight in to an intensive preseason training camp which resulted in far too many career ending achilles injuries.

What does this mean for circus? Circus specific movements with a high injury burden need to be avoided to start with. Appreciate that people are transitioning from conditioning at home to using equipment again.This means it might be a good idea to start with far more ground based choreography incorporating the equipment. If a routine with 10 elements is what you'd usually aim to work through in a class, aim now for five elements with focus on transitions between movements.

Luckily we are teaching adults. They need to take some responsibility for how hard they will push themselves in their session. They can come up with a training readiness score based on their mood, their energy levels, how much sleep they have had, how much effort they are ready to exert, how well fuelled they are and for those with a uterus - where they are in their cycle.

The other thing to remember is that participants will be excited to be back and they have missed circus so much. They will want to push themselves and train at 100% which may not result in injury but will result in exhaustion and make them vulnerable to injury in everyday life and at the next training session. They may also feel very confident in their abilities and feel that they know their bodies better than you. As I have already said. They are adults. They can either learn the easy way or the hard way..

So. How Do We Program?

Aerial fundamentals include a dozen movements paired with active flexibility training. These shapes will underpin everything for the next two months.

squats and pistol squats (climbing)

lunges and lunge to one leg (climbing and muscle balance)

horizontal push and pull

vertical push and pull

dish shape, arch shape, (beats and holds)

side lying (drop and hold positioning)

balance and stability



active flexibility - legs hips pikes shoulders back

What Does a Class Look Like?

  1. Pre warm up stretches

  2. Warm up circuit 8/9 stations of 1 minute - active flexibility, turns, balances, low impact cardio.

  3. More specific warm up (the stuff we usually do together in a circle)

  4. Strength circuit 5/6 stations 30 seconds - can incorporate equipment. This circuit (without equipment) is their homework if they only come once a week. They can post on the FB group when they have done it.

  5. Ground choreography

  6. Drill simple skills

  7. Short routine

  8. Cool down incorporating rolling, turning and any aerial fundamentals that need reinforcing

  9. Self massage. A link to the shoulder massage that I did with you is here and a link to The Franklin Method YouTube page is here - for all sorts of other useful anatomy and self massage ideas

  10. Post session check in - what is my mood now? How much energy do I have? Do I need a nap? What do I want to refuel with?

Then I said some other things about motivation, about emotional support and about rest but you know this stuff already. I encourage you to read the links to the graphs above. Good luck with it all and welcome back!

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