This scene is the root of a series of several articles Janelle Dinosaurs and I are writing together to address the spectrum from “discomfort” to “full blown injury” as related to circus training. As it turns out, there’s a LOT to discuss, so today’s post is just the tip of the iceberg.
As with everything, there’s not ONE RIGHT WAY to discuss or describe what you are physically feeling- but there ARE ways to do so that will be more productive than the run-of-the-mill “OUCH”. The goal of this first article is to fill your tool kit with more descriptors of discomfort, and help you and your coach/students understand which are red/yellow/green lights with respect to training through discomfort.SO! Tell us how you really feel! In the scenario described above, we are assuming two main things: 1) a skilled coach and/or physio, and 2) a student who has a basic level of body-awareness. The coach should respond to “IT HURTS” by asking for further descriptors of what this looks like. To start, we want to give you an array of categories to assess and describe physical sensation associated with circus arts.
LOCATION: WHERE DOES IT HURT?
The first step here is to localize the area in which you are feeling altered sensation. Is it in a muscle belly? A joint or tendon? A focal line that crosses multiple joints? WHERE you experience altered sensation can tell you a lot about the origin and meaning.
1) Muscle belly: Discomfort in the meaty part of the muscle is not necessarily bad. This is often associated with normal muscle soreness that comes with gaining strength. This can simply mean that you are pushing the muscle to work beyond its comfortable ranges and intensities, which is what you MUST do if you want to improve in strength, power, and flexibility. HOWEVER, if you experience discomfort in a muscle belly that does not substantially decrease after a thorough warm up, this might be your body’s way of telling you it needs a BREAK. Take a few rest days, don’t push through it. See Jen’s article on the soreness rule to learn more.
2) Joint/tendon: if the sensation is extremely localized to a joint (shoulder, knee, ankle) or tendon (where the muscle attaches to bone), this is your body giving you a “yellow light.” Its time to pump the brakes, reassess your training, have a coach check out your technique on new skills. Something needs tweaking. Joint and tendon pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is off—you may be experiencing an inflammatory response to some sort of pain/injury stimulus. This is a great time to seek advice from a qualified coach, and formal assessment from a physio!
3) Nerve pain: If the sensation that you’re feeling is more of a long line of sharp pain, that crosses more than one joint, you may be in nerve-stretch territory. Do NOT pass go, do not collect $200, go read this article and/or see a physio!
Sometimes, this deep pressure is inevitable in a movement or position, and it takes practice and familiarity to begin to execute the skill without significant discomfort or pain. A whole other article on this process is in the works, so stay tuned!
DOES IT FEEL PRODUCTIVE?
USE YOUR WORDS.
If your use of poetic language is not up to the 49 bees level, here are some descriptive words that go beyond “pain” “ow” and “UGHHHH” to help convey to your instructor what sensation you’re experiencing, so they can appropriately direct your training session.
pressure, pinching, pulling, twisting, stretching, difficult muscle contraction, sharp/burning, deep/aching, weak, numb, fatigued.The descriptor you use here is MASSIVELY important- when you’re more specific with your verbiage, your coach will be able to more appropriately direct your technique, training, and overall experience.
QUANTIFY IT: RATING YOUR DISCOMFORT
A good rule of thumb is that stretching and discomfort from pressure on an apparatus shouldn’t exceed “80%”, and that a student should be able to modulate their breathing in a stretch or pose. If your breathing quickens outside of your control, or if it stops, come back out of the stretch to a place where you can master your breathing.
This “80%” would fall at about a 6 or 6.5 on the RPE scale, and a 4 on the “improved pain scale” for reference.
WHEN DOES IT HURT?
ALL TOGETHER NOW…
Now that we’ve covered the basic categories to consider when describing your #circusfeelings to your coach or physio, lets put it all together in a few examples.
Scenario 1 (aerial):
Student: OUCH!! That SUCKED!!!
Coach: What sucked? Can you be more specific? Where did you feel pain, what was it like?
Student: When I came out of my meathook, I felt a pinching pain in the front of my shoulder.
Coach: Has this happened before? Can you rate the pinching on a 0-10 scale?
Student: It’s been going on for the past two weeks, just now it was an 8/10. It also usually aches for a day or two after aerial class.
Coach: Pinching isn’t a normal or productive sensation during meathooks. Since it’s been going on for a week, and it’s an 8/10, it’s probably time to see a physio about that.
Scenario 2 (stretching):
Student: OHMYGOD I THINK I’M DYING
Coach: Good thing you filled out that waiver. Can you be more specific with what you’re feeling in this stretch?
Student: When you’re pushing my pike, I feel burning down my hamstrings. It’s fine. Circus hurts.
Coach: Where does the burning start and stop? Does it last longer than the stretch?
Student: it starts below my butt, and stops in the arches of my feet. I feel tingly for the rest of the day after this pike stretch.
Coach: that doesn’t sound like a normal muscle stretch. Let’s take a break from pike stretching until you see a physio to make sure it’s nothing more serious.
Student: But I filled out the waiver…
Scenario 3 (aerial silks)
Student: Oooohh!! Ow ow ow!
Coach: What’s going on?
Student: It really hurts!
Coach: You said “ow” when you sat up into that wrap, is it squeezing your thigh too much?
Student: Yeah! Jeez, it’s REALLY tight!
Coach: It looks like you have the wrap a little too low on your leg, so it’s squeezing more than it has to. Try lowering out, and sitting up again taking more of the weight in your arms while do you so the wrap can slide up to your hip crease.
Student: Oh, that’s…better. It still squeezes though.
Coach: How does it compare to before? Like on a scale of one to ten?
Student: Before was like a 7 or 8, this is more like a 5 or 6.
Coach: That sounds about right if you’re new to this wrap. As you practice, it will get more familiar and more comfortable.