Written by Bridget Canela
As a person with a disability, joining classes or even venturing out into the fitness or athletic world can be intimidating to say the least. I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome about a year into my aerials training. This disorder causes some joints to be very flexible, and other joints to be stiff due to early onset osteoarthritis. I’m writing this blog because I found it difficult to find resources while training that applied to my body.
First of all, these tips can be helpful if you are simply hypermobile in a joint, or have had past injuries that have created too much laxity in a joint. If this is you, you probably already know that there are things that frustrate you and at the same time motivate you to push yourself to work towards your goals. There are tons of schools of thought on this, and I am not a medical professional. I am simply here to explain what works for my body and hopefully shed some light on the idea that teachers should be well versed in how to accommodate different bodies.
1. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you’re doing it correctly
This is something I struggle with daily. I can drop into a split, muscle into a climb, forward fold to a pancake and fall back to a bridge without even being warm. Over the years, I’ve learned technique is something that I really need to pay attention to. This lead me to start asking my instructors questions like:
- What muscles am I supposed to engage in this move?
- Should I be feeling a stretch in this area?
- Should this feel uncomfortable in this part of my body?
In asking these questions I could assess my technique and understand how to adjust so that I would do the move correctly. As an instructor I welcome the hard questions, but also, I rely on my students to communicate what they are feeling with me so I can keep them safe!
2. Plan your training schedule with flexibility
Because my body has off days, I know I have to build in some extra times that I can train in case I need to take a rest day suddenly. Especially with how demanding aerials and pole are on your body and joints, I find that building extra time in my schedule to train is a huge help. It allows me to really listen to my body and give it the time off it needs. Overtraining, especially with a joint or joints that are hypermobile, will inevitably lead to more injuries, more time off, more medical intervention and stall your progression.
3. Warm ups and Conditioning are KEY
With hypermobile joints, you don’t always get the same benefit out of typical warm ups and conditioning as a normal person. This rings especially true for me and I see a physical therapist 3x week to condition my joints to stay happy. When you are training regularly in pole and aerials, you are putting a lot of pressure on many of your joints, so without adding in conditioning, you are definitely at higher risk of injury. I recommend at least a 30-minute mix of active stretching and stability exercises prior to any training session. This will, over time, help ward off injuries and get you to your goals faster by keeping your joints healthy.
4. Modify or skip moves that cause you joint pain
This one is near and dear to my heart, as I have struggled so much to progress in aerials and pole. For example, my wrists are EXTREMELY hypermobile, making a bracket grip on pole much harder and unstable for me. Some moves I know I can never feel stable in, and others I use a modified version that allows me to participate in the lesson.
As a teacher, I also know that if a person becomes frustrated by a move, there is absolutely no shame in giving them another move to try that would be better for their body. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT push yourself into a move that makes your joints hurt. Keep in mind, aerials and pole have a level of pain associated with them. I am not saying that if you feel your skin pinch or an uncomfortable irritation, that you should not push through that initial pain. The pain I am referring to is the sharp or shooting pain associated with your actual joint. The worst thing that can happen is you will dislocate or tear a part of your joint that may keep you out of the game for a long time. Most teachers will be more than happy to give modifications and help you progress in other ways.
5. Bracing may be helpful during training
If you know you absolutely are prone to subluxing (partial dislocation) or fully dislocating a joint, and you are already working on strengthening your joint, it might be a good idea to use light bracing while training. A lot of people think bracing makes the joint weaker over time, but in the context of pole and aerials, and the stress it puts on your joints, it may be a necessity. In my years of going through pretty intense physical therapy, I was informed that wearing a brace daily is not great for me, but when I know my problem joints are going to be used heavily, it’s a great option to keep them safe.
Above and beyond all other advice, the best thing I can say is do not compare yourself to others. Your body is different than anyone else’s in your class, studio, and in the sport. You are unique and so is your pole or aerials journey. Do not give up on your hobbies or dreams because your path looks different!
For more information on Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome please see the link below!