Before I started pole and lyra, before I even started weights, I used to cycle.
I would do 50km - 100km rides, but I was silly and (to be honest) a little arrogant and didn't train for them as well as I should have done. Combined with my job (I work with children) where I am down on the floor a lot, this led to knee pain (which I stupidly ignored) and then spiked into full blown, permanent damage to my knees, which I have had to live with ever since.
Being the idiot that I was, I pushed back against the idea that I could possibly have 'knee issues' in my twenties, and tried to 'push through'. All that ended up happening was that I found myself on crutches for six weeks, and had to wear braces on my knees for another eight weeks.
That slapped me awake and I started taking more precautions.
Sadly, it also meant the end of my cycling days, but (ironically) it was also what led me to weights and, eventually, to pole and then lyra.
Weights is, perhaps, not so strange, as, with proper precautions, weight training is actually good for the type of injuries I have, but my doctor was not keen on the idea of me doing a sport that involved any time spent on my knees, or that was going to put 'unusual pressure' on them.
On his advice I started wearing knee pads (sticky ones for pole; and padded ones, worn backwards, for hoop) to help brace them and this worked exceptionally well until I moved up to Intermediate Static and started learning what would eventually become my favourite shape: The Ballerina.
Also called an Outside Leg Hang, Ballerina is one of those shapes that can take up to a year to learn and, as you can see above, is a lot of work for the outside knee.
Now, the knee is not the only gripping point in this shape, I've also got side grip and my inside armpit is also sticking me to the pole, but my knee is the main source of stick. If I loosen that knee, or don't hook it hard enough, I'm coming off that pole.
It's also exquisitely painful when you first start learning it.
It's not natural to take your body weight in one knee and hang from a pole, and the injuries I have cause little cracks to run through my kneecaps when they're under pressure. My doctor almost had a fit when a regular x-ray revealed that the cracks had increased in size and I mentioned Ballerinas.
If he'd had his way, I would have been out of the pole studio then and there, but I wasn't gong without a fight. Pole was my happy place, my niche, and - while I didn't yet know what the answer was to dealing with the increasing size of the cracks in my knees - I was certain it wasn't 'stop pole dancing'. After all, if you don't move it, you lose it!
I did this shape hands off for the first time on my birthday in 2018, but it was at least another sixteen weeks before I felt comfortable enough to do it regularly. Unsurprisingly, as I got stronger and more confident, my knees became stronger, and eventually the cracks started healing again. My doctor also came around, but he does constantly stress the importance of taking continuous precautions and making sure that I'm always wearing my knee pads and that I take breaks and stretch when I need to.
Now Ballerina is just a standard shape that pops up in just about everything I do, mostly because I just love it so much! It's one of those classic shapes that never goes out of style.
And then along came lyra.
In lyra, there are knee hangs too, but they're more regular than in pole and, because of the difference in the apparatus, they hurt more and they caused me a whole host of problems. At one point it actually looked like my only option was going to be to stop lyra, as the cracks becoming dangerously long.
Instead, I took a break and went back to weights training and working on spin and static pole, then came back to lyra after Pole Addiction and before Aerial Addiction. I have put it down to the weights I did while I took a break from it, but my body was so much stronger second time around and I had less knee pain and less trouble with cracks.
And today I had my first go at the hoop again for 2020.
One of my goals for 2020 is to be able to pass intermediate lyra by the end of the year. Whether I will actually grade just before a three - four week break remains to be seen, but I want to be ready to grade by the end of the year. So, with Term 1 2020 fast approaching, I scheduled in a private with my lyra instructor to work on my nemesis lyra tricks: hanging straddles, single arm spins and diamond hang, which is a single knee hang on a lyra.
I actually did less work in a lyra and lots of conditioning during the private, but it was great to get some exercises to do at home that will help build up my strength and assist me to get my hanging straddle. A lot of the pull-up conditioning I'm doing at CRUNCH will help with gaining strength for my one-arm spins, but it was my diamond hang progress that I was most pleased with tonight and that caught me off guard.
My diamond hang from my lyra private tonight. Video: My own.
At the end of my last term of lyra, Term 6 2019, I couldn't make this shape: it hurt too much and my knees and hamstrings weren't strong enough. Tonight, however, I was able to do it (on my good side). My instructor is there to spot me, but - even though she does have one hand on my foot - she's not actually exerting any pressure. She's just there in case I don't have enough grip and she needs to grab me quickly to stop me landing on my head. She's holding the hoop to make sure I get a good angle for the camera.
As for my knees, the reason I am able to do all these knee hangs without sustaining further, long-term damage is because I work on strengthening them through my workouts, and I take proper precautions. Gone are the days of dismissing my body's cues and trying to 'push through' pain. I've also learned the difference between 'discomfort pain' and 'pain pain', particularly in my knees, and haven't had any new or expanding cracks for a while!
Sometimes it is easy to take what health professionals say as gospel, and this is certainly not to say you shouldn't listen to their advice, but be realistic about it. If I'd given up pole when my doctor told me to, I would have been unhappy and I doubt my knees would be as strong as they are today. Be prepared to ask for a different opinion or see if you can find ways to mitigate the risk of injury. It's not going to work for everyone, of course, and depending on the nature of any injuries, you may have to stop or pause something for a while. But remember, you know your body best: better than the doctor, better than your coach, better than any health professional you choose to see. Do what is best for you, listen to your body without ego, and you never know where it will take you.
If you're afraid to fall it means you're prepared to brave the heights from which you might fly.
Me With No Apologies.