How long is too long a break: Conditioning away from home
As some of you know, I was on family vacation for an extended period of time. This meant I was away from the aerial studio and away from all the hanging I usually do. <insert sad face> While it is important for our bodies to take recovery breaks (usually recommended time is 1 to 2 days a week, and a week off every 6 to 8 weeks), a month-long break could impact performance.
The good news is that our bodies are good at maintaining overall strength. If you take a few weeks off from exercising, your muscle strength won’t take much of a hit. In general, you can take up to three or four weeks off without seeing a noticeable drop in your strength performance. However, your aerobic fitness does decline more quickly than muscle strength and this can start to happen in just a few days. According to a 2012 study in athletes, endurance decreases between 4 and 25 percent after a 3 to 4 week break in cardio.
Personally, I don’t do much cardio to begin with, so my “break” consisted of much more walking and hiking with the family than my usual routine. This was a change in pace, literally, and my legs felt the difference! To counter all the pulling that I usually do in aerials, I decided to focus more on pushing while on vacation, so I brought with me (aka asked Rachel Hipzer, our resident handstand coach!) a number of handstand conditioning drills that I could work on while away from the studio. I also brought some resistance bands and a lacrosse ball to work on and release certain muscles that needed a little extra care than I usually have the time to give them. The “exercises” that I chose to do involved “boring” pre-hab exercises that focused on shoulder stability, hip stability, mid-low trapezius strength, and wrist strength. I worked with my physio to create a home exercise program relevant to me that was travel-friendly and recovery-friendly.
Some more good news! Researchers found that muscle growth is “remembered” by genes in the affected muscles. So when you start (re)training those muscles again, even after a very long break, the genes respond more quickly than genes in previously unused muscles. This means you’ll be able to reach your previous fitness level more quickly after the break than you did when you first began training. Muscle memory for the win!
An aspect that is very important and specific to us aerialists is our hands. You may have noticed that when you are away from the studio even for a week, especially if you have been on a water-intensive vacation, that grip strength and calluses tend to vanish quickly. Take heart in knowing that there are ways to condition for both of these as well! Our studio has many grip conditioners of varying degrees of resistance that you may borrow (one of the many toys on the back shelf, if you haven’t discovered them yet!) and our beloved Acoatzin shared a way to maintain calluses and grip strength by gripping a dowel and twisting it in opposite directions. My personal favorite is to work the opposite muscles that we use for gripping by placing a hairband around my fingers and spreading the fingers apart. All of these hand exercises can be easily done while riding a car, train, or plane!
So if you find yourself on a long sojourn either for work or play, fret not in atrophying muscles. Recovery may do your body wonders, take the opportunity to work opposite muscles, and there are ways to condition while you are away that will keep you in good shape for your return to your aerial journey!