The secret is here. It's not new, but its amazing how many people ask me how to get stronger or increase their body tension…but they don’t do this exercise.
The hard cold truth is - we don’t WANT to be better. We just want to instantly BE better without the work. That or we want something else entirely - some idealistic aesthetic like an 8-pack or a stand alone skill like a straight arm straddle on which which we’ve placed some inoconous value and apparently our self worth. Or we like the pain, want to ‘feel’ something burning or some such self-inflicted punishment that makes us feel good about ourselves.
So we make goals. Or at least I do! And recently I found myself quite stuck in this endless loop.
It's easy to make goals, to talk about them even more so. Everyone knows how important it is to make goals and goal setters are constantly praised for their discipline and determination. It's the WORK towards those goals that we suck at. We don’t want hard work. We don’t like it. We don’t post sets of 40 crunches or endless skin-the-cats, we don’t boast about how long we held a plank - we post the RESULTS. We like the trick that needed the work but let's face it - process doesn't get likes, PROGRESS DOES. And I'm 100% guilty of this. However our obsession with the outcome means we often don’t actually travel the distance and then get annoyed when we are still just as far away from our self-imposed 'finish line'. We might do some half-hearted sets of the latest Michelle Bridges or Kayla Itsines or whatever else takes our fancy or stirs our yearnings that week.
But you don’t NEED an 8-pack and you don’t need to loathe yourself into doing the dreaded ‘abs’ in some sort of 'no-pain-no-gain’ fashion. Unless of course that brings you joy and doesn't hurt too much when you laugh ;) But if you're NOT seeing gains in your aerial work on things like inverts, climbing and hip-locks.....
JUST DO THIS.
A simple hold.
Yep that’s right, no crunching, straining, pulsing or wiggling of any sort.
Just HOLD one of the hardest positions you an create with your own body.
If you have a body, then this exercise is for you. Because not only is this exercise perfectly calibrated to everyone’s individual anatomical variance, its achievable anywhere there is a floor! I come back to my previous rantings about making things harder than they seem. This isn’t hard, you just have to do it.
So. What is it?
A dish hold.
Create a shape lying on your back with as much of your back as you can COMFORTABLY articulated with the floor and hold your arms and legs out straight, creating a hollowed out “scooped" body position. You should look like a deep dish pasta bowl and feel like you can’t possibly maintain this for very long.
I can guarantee you don’t see this much (at all) on Instagram. For one thing, the fitness models wouldn’t like the way it tends to make your stomach protrude not to mention the double chin, and Cross-fitters wouldn’t deem it hardcore enough to mention. There is no gasping for air, neanderthal post-squat groans or involuntarily muscle spasm (ah Dodgeball, what a great movie). There is just the epic toughness of the force it takes to both create and hold this shape with your body, creating muscular endurance and body tension up the wazooh.
Ok, how to do it correctly:
What you DON'T have to worry about:
That’s it! Walk yourself into the position by lifting your head and shoulders off the floor and placing your arms either clasped behind your neck or crossed at the wrists, then slowly lower your legs and try to hold for 10 seconds to start with. Repeat x 3 or as many sets as it takes so that you’ve held for a total of 30 seconds. Do this EVERY OTHER DAY and then once a week attempt one BIG hold and see how close you can get to 30 seconds. From there, progress by holding for as long as you can and take your legs lower towards the floor. Runners on? Even better!
I GAURANTEE you’ll will become stronger and more precise in the air and almost instantly see an improvement in your inverts, hip locks and even your climbs!
Just DO IT. Straight leg abs - the only real abdominal work you need do for aerial endeavours.
...and how to make them look effortless.
1. Bent arms during the set up. Not only does this bring your body closer to the slack and thereby hinder the leg action, it wastes precious energy and looks labored. Instead, use your grip strength and hang into fully straight arms whilst you complete the foot lock. Using this technique every time will help you build your stamina and strengthen the muscles of your entire shoulder girdle and back. These muscles are bigger muscles in general (Lattisimus Dorsi compared to Biceps for example) and better designed for this kind of work.
2. Flexing your foot as you wrap!! Whilst I'm not 100% against the occasional flexed foot, most aerial students do not take the time to make a flexed foot look a) deliberate and b) pretty. If you cannot bear the sight of a sickled foot (a pointed toe that is turned slightly inward) then the following alternative options are open to you. Flex it like you mean it! Turn the toes of both feet outward and take your time completing the lock. You can make this look extra pretty by arching your back and dropping the head back whilst keeping your arms straight. You can also train yourself to complete the lock by applying gentle pressure to the slack with a pointed toe, making sure that you turn the foot that is already wrapped inward. This maintains the tension of the foot wrap as you complete the lock by 'cycling' the foot into its final position.
Invent your own different way into a foot lock! I recently came up with an alternative entry for single tail foot lock which has proven very popular and eliminates the need for the second leg's action - it took a long time to figure out!
3. RUSHING! This is common especially with beginners, due to low stamina and grip strength but tends to only exacerbate every foreseeable problem you can encounter during a foot lock set up. The more you struggle the more the silk refuses to cooperate! Sound familiar? Or perhaps you've seen this happen to even advanced students as they tire towards the end of their routines? Training slow, deliberate and purposeful movements is the only way to build stamina and certain specific kinds of fitness variables such as control (strength over time). And when you are fatigued, reverting to proper technique often means slowing down and will always serve you better than rushing.
4. Holding the poles together. This unevenly stresses the shoulder girdle and although it is sometimes necessary to climb the silks this way, most skills and combinations actually benefit from starting with the poles separated (see "playing the harp") Plus, we cant see you..! And if you have students who argue that they are not wanting to perform, then you can tell them this. Every movement is in itself a performance. That's what execution IS. How you execute any move will tell me straight away where your strengths and weaknesses are. You're just doing it for fitness? Great! Well then you'll be pleased to hear that the most aesthetically pleasing way to execute a trick is also most often the hardest way you can train it - resulting in you getting fitter and stronger.
5. Not enough slack in the set up ("bandage foot"). This occurs when you place the free foot too close to the wrapped foot and don't give yourself enough slack to complete the lock. This results in bending that leg and being cramped. It also overloads the arms as you end up lifting your legs much higher than necessary. Always wrap the foot at about 45 degrees or less and if you need to you can always slide your heel downward to create a longer section of slack to complete the wrap.
6. Wrapping the foot too high, makes hard work for your arms and we can tell! This results in not enough slack and not being able to pull yourself up into standing on your foot lock. Unless your intention is to complete the foot lock and stay crouched (I.e not standing) The only time you may need to do this is on a small silk (less than 4m) when you want to place your foot lock as high as possible in order to do forward rolls or a single foot hang drop for example. If you have the space, giving yourself plenty of space is always the nicer option from both an aesthetic and physical standpoint.
7. "Playing the harp" - spending performance time desperately trying to separate the poles is a waste of energy! Unless there is a reason for the poles to be together, it is better to train with them separated. In the case of a foot lock, even if you are proceeding into a trick with them together after you complete the lock, you can still hold them separately in the set up then simply join them as you move on in the combination. It is much harder to separate them once under tension, but very easy to out them together if necessary.
8. Not enough space between your body and the Slack. This happens if you wrap the tail directly underneath yourself and not at 45 degrees.
9. Can't find the gap? Chances are you're not keeping the poles far enough apart for the whole duration of the setup (Egg Beaters). This comes down to a lack of full hang strength (arms straight, armpits and palms turned OUT) and sometimes grip strength. Create a wide gap between the poles and maintain this space for the entire duration of the setup. This in turn makes you focus on making your leg action pretty and not just whatever movement is necessary to complete the wrap.
10. What is your other leg doing?! This one is easy to forget. When you're free leg is not immediately involved in the leg action (and this applies to a lot of moves) it tends to hang out in space in a nondescript position. Then it tends to get in the way or just look plain ugly. I recommend keeping enough active tension with the free leg so that if it is not involved at least it looks pretty with straight knees and pointed toes. When setting up a foot lock on a single tail, always step through the tails and face that one tail with your torso before you start the set up for the lock. This avoids the free leg getting all tangled up in the free tail.
I hope these tips help you create solid, effortless foot locks! I'd love to see your style - Tag me and hashtag #mindfulmovement
I am fully aware this may not be a popular post and it is not aimed at anyone particular but simply a response to my experience over the years. In the spirit of furthering invention and celebrating discovery, I'd like to take a moment to talk about Insta-etiquette. I'm not just talking about tagging and bragging, those rules are pretty well observed and are common-sense things we should all do to respect the truly creative artists we ALL copy. I'm talking about acknowledging the fact that as a community - our art is DEFINED by a global community of artists who contribute daily to the shared pool of online aerial knowledge. We can't by very definition own it, we're making it up as we go! That would be like a student getting upset that a lecturer copied Einstein by referring to the theory of relativity - once something is out there and it works, it is going to get absorbed into the general pool of knowledge.
When it comes to aerial skills what is 'invention'? Let's be real here - it would be almost impossible to track down the inventor of every skill. I'm positive that right around the world people are discovering new tricks for the first time, at the same time. So there are likely to be several 'inventors' of any given skill, pose or transition. I don't understand this tendency to try and formalize what is a very organic process of discovery and invalidate someone else's discovery just to claim 'invention'. I see it on Instagram, between studios and even across instructors. And its not only petty, its unfounded. There are a few (but not many) obvious original creations like "Spatchcock" by Felix Cane, but for the most part, the body of online aerial knowledge has come from a community of like-minded enthusiasts, professionals and amateurs alike, whose willingness to share, teach and create together has led to an IMPROVEMENT in quality and vastness of that pool of knowledge.
I consider myself to be creative, but out of all the aerial I teach every week, so far as I can tell I've only truly invented one thing. And I can't be sure; how could I? It's this lovely little exit from Russian Split on hoop into a standing Y. It feels great, it's an expedient transition and it looks cool. But if somebody else claimed its invention it wouldn't bother me in the slightest! In fact I'm positive loads of other people do this transition, I just haven't seen it around much. All I know is than Dan Power and I came up with it at a gig because we needed to change from Russian Split (a shape where we couldn't see each other) into another shape where we could see each other quickly. Necessity as usual leads to invention. And it was a great little find! Now I have students requesting to learn it all the time. My point is this - there's joy in discovery! But as soon we start getting all bent out of shape about who owns a trick and who invented it, the joy dissipates.
Proverb: "There is nothing new under the Sun", meaning that all that is to be discovered has already been, but that doesn't mean that you can't experience JOY in finding these things for yourself! As a teacher I LOVE seeing students' faces light up when they stumble on a new find. In that sense, each and every body's discovery is a valid and authentic experience that we should cherish more than the chance to 'name and claim' something.
In the same token, please respect the work of others by tagging them if you copy their moves and don't write "inspired by" unless your move is truly a variation of theirs - in that way we not only expand the use of creative moves but better ourselves by co-inventing variations to suit all kinds of bodies. Generosity will always disarm disrespect and we only do ourselves an injustice if we start clinging to our 'inventions' and hoarding knowledge instead of contributing, acknowledging and aspiring to attempt the work of those whose dedication and creativity expands our art form. If you don't want your moves to be tried by others, don't make them public, simple as that. Let's not ruin the beautiful ig-vibe that fosters creativity, let's celebrate the endless wealth of aerial knowledge there is to be unearthed and aspire to those who exemplify skills done at their best instead of getting our knickers in a knot because someone copied 'your' move - after all Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery :-)
Recently I found myself thinking back to when I was a gymnast and I realised we never trained with mirrors. The exception would be our weekly ballet class, where we learnt what lines looked good and which didn't and how that corresponded to how it felt in our bodies and brains to produce those lines. Ultimately mirrors are a tool to teach body awareness; a step along the way to gaining a more full picture of what is is to control your body.
I take for granted now, as a teacher of mostly adults, how little we were taught to depend on mirrors. I've particularly begun to notice the effect this dependency on mirrors is having on performers. Whether it's seeing performers on stage who look like their training and don't know how to connect with an audience looking back at them or watching ‘performance’ videos on social media where the person is just watching themselves in the mirror the whole time. I've found myself recently being quite turned off and disconnected from these kinds of videos, because the camera is the lens the viewer looks through and yet it rarely gets acknowledged. This goes hand in hand with another one of my mantras which is ‘You perform how you train’ - but I digress.
As a teacher I use mirrors, especially with new students, but increasingly I question why that is my practice. As a gymnast I couldn't possibly perform a beam routine whilst checking if my leg was straight in a mirror! How did we develop such consistent body tension and control, such acute awareness of a slightly bent knee? We developed this sense because we trained WITHOUT visual feedback. It heightened OTHER senses, namely something called proprioception, or the ability to perceive the position of joints and limbs in space. For example - most of us can imagine straightening our leg and what that looks like. But how does it feel? Which muscles are used and in what way? I can't tell you how many times I've told a student to point their feet (Ok maybe I yelled it) and they've responded "I thought I was!" Now, granted the more extensive your training, the more highly developed this sense becomes and the reality is that a slight sickle here or there will go unnoticed by most viewers, however it's the process of gaining that awareness, at whatever level, that both fascinates and challenges me as a teacher. So as a student, how can you develop better proprioception? Simply put, any exercise that blocks or reduces the use of sight or balance, will enhance this particular skill.
A great example is closing your eyes and trying to train a simple movement or body position that wouldn't normally require any use of vision. I often close my eyes before I invert because for me, that is a skill I can literally do 'with my eyes closed'. Closing my eyes taught me to maintain a neutral position with my head as I inverted (chucking your head back is a common mistake) as without sight, there was no reason to look to the ceiling as I inverted. I know what it feels like to engage my core, pull my shoulders slightly back and down, close off my ribs, rotate externally from the hips and I know when I've arrived in an upside down position and when to balance out my straddle to execute the same invert over and over again. From there I can play with it creatively - bend one leg, or put some different sort of physicality into it like making it look like it's a struggle for example or changing the speed at different points throughout the invert. All these things make me more versatile as a performer.
Personally I like the term 'aerial IQ' - for me that means the ability to think "off your feet" so to speak, an awareness of both your body's' form and position in space and in essence, the language of your body. Creatively, as a teacher who is fundamentally elite but also passionate about performance, that's where the magic starts - because if you're in control and aware of your body's shape and positioning, then you can start to tell a story with your skills, not simply execute tricks. Replicating a skill as it should be done however is the first step to honing your proprioceptive ability. In the same way as doctors learn anatomy from the perspective of 'what's normal' in order to diagnose when something is not right, good performers benefit from a solid foundation of how the basics should be executed. By weaning yourself off the use of mirrors you will more easily master control over your body by training your proprioception.
Why do we call it an aerial ‘vocabulary’?
Ultimately, even though it is physical pursuit, Aerial is a language. And any language consists of an alphabet, made up of letters which sound and look a certain way. Without these basics we could never form words, sentences, phrases….in other words be literate!
Becoming articulate as an aerialist is much the same. Think back to what it was like to learn a new word as a child. You first had to learn the letters - how to sound them out and spell them. Now apply the same process to learning a new aerial skill. Ask yourself these questions:
Which letters are involved? i.e What are the essential building blocks of the skill?
How are the they spelt and what do they sound like? i.e How do I physically create those shapes and what is the quality or type of movement required?
What order do the letters go in? i.e How do I sequence these building blocks?
Once you know the letters that form the word, and you can pronounce them and spell them, you have a new word at your disposal! And from here you can decide how you want to use it. For example, does it go into a sentence (combo) with other words (skills)? Do you want to say it differently, i.e. change the way it sounds? Perhaps you want to say it slowly, or quickly, extend certain parts of it or even try saying it with a different accent (style).
You can see why the analogy works! Aerial vocabulary is no different. But why do we stop there?? Simply having heard of a word or being able to read it doesn't mean that you know it! Does being able to say it but not being able to spell it mean that you know it? Or does knowing how to say it, spell it, read it AND form a meaningful sentence with it infer that it is now part of your vocabulary…?
My opinion is that true knowledge infers both information AND application.
But a lot of us only go that far - we acquire word after word without learning how to form meaningful sentences (or paragraphs if you take the analogy to its fullest!) and so we end up with a lot to say but no real power to express it. My hope as a passionate lifelong learner, teacher and performer is that we will start to embrace aerial knowledge as a body of text and not just a list of tricks. I try everyday to install this in my students and embody this in my performances; we need to value expression and articulation as much as we value acquiring more and more skills if we want to become a more articulate aerial community!