Essays: Warming Up

Steven Ragatz writes:

     I began attending the national conventions with the one at Purchase and
have witnessed the great spectacle of hundreds of jugglers in the same room
working all at once. What I find amazing is that I rarely see anyone warm-up
before working.  The idea of stretching and warming up the muscles before
exercise is not a foreign concept to most people, but for some reason, most
jugglers do not feel it necessary.  Take advice from the voice of experience -
be good to your body and warm-up before juggling.
     I know the temptations that lie when one gets to the gym.  The lure of
the equipment bag is strong.  I used to warm-up by juggling.  I would do easy
tricks for a short while and then start working on my current juggling
projects.  When I advanced to four clubs, I started to become aware of my left
wrist.  A faint itch right at the base of the palm became apparent.  I didn't
have any troubles until I started working with rings extensively.  At the
point that I was beginning to get eight rings, my wrist would become so
inflamed that it would hurt until the next practice.  By this time I was
performing regularly and hated to see all of my ring routines be taken from my
act, but my wrist would not tolerate any more strain.  While performing a
summer at Disney World, my wrist finally gave out.  I could not even juggle
three rings and clubs were becoming difficult.  My five club routine was axed
to a four club routine and finally down to three.  Non-toss juggling was my
only strong point in the act.  Devil-stick, boxes and unicycles didn't require
the flipping action which caused the pain.

     I had my wrist looked at by a sports physician.  Not to anyone's
surprise, I had given myself a good case of tendonitis.  In his words, "The
best thing to do is to quit doing what hurts."  After six months of rest and
cortisone injections in my wrist, I began performing again.  This time I
started easy and warmed up by stretching and doing easy exercises.  Not just
to the wrist, but over the entire body. My non-juggling juggling warm-up now
takes almost twenty minutes.  This is not an unnecessarily long warm-up for a
two hour practice session.  I started doing ice shows and the act was going
much better.  I had to ice my wrist for fifteen minutes after my practice and
after every show, but at least I was able to do four clubs again.  Now after
two years of "good practice", I am almost back to my original stature.      ~
+ LThe elements of my warm-up routine are as follows:

1.      Gentle stretching of the entire body.  Start at the head and neck and
work down the shoulders, chest, lower back legs etc.  By starting at the top
and working down the body, one is less likely to forget a body part.  The
stretches are soft and not forced.  No bouncing.  The key to juggling is to be
relaxed.  Breathing is incorporated into the stretches appropriately.

2.      Aerobic exercises.  I pick my favorite exercises. Anything will do if
it gets the heart pumping.  (Avoid sex, it trashes the arms.)

     3.      Relaxation exercises.  This is the big one that help me so much.
Much of the tension that I felt in my wrist was due to tension originating
from other parts of my body.  I STRONGLY recommend Feldencrest exercises for
all athletics. By doing relaxing movements before juggling, pockets of tension
that are carried by the body can be released.

     After I started to work on this warm-up program, I began to become aware
of my tension.  Lower back tension and middle back tension are my two hot
spots.  I now can recognize when I should stop working and relax those areas.
Because of this awareness, I can monitor my state before I get on stage.  This
has proven to be a great help.

     I realize that not everyone out there intends to perform or even practice
every day, but this is an issue that should not be ignored.  Even for the
beginning three ball juggler the tool used for the juggling is the body.  If
that tool is not properly prepared for work, it won't work.

     I have experienced a vast improvement in my performance and in my
juggling.  This improvement is not due to juggling practice at all, but due to
my improved attitude and respect for my body.  I once asked Albert Lucas what
the most important juggling advice he could give.  He said "Listen to your
body."  At that point I started listening.   -       Steven Ragatz


Mark and others,

     Although I have no medical knowlege about juggling injuries, I do
have some knowlege about experiencing them.  I think that the most useful
advice is this:

If you suspect that your juggling practices are causing you injury in ANY
WAY, no matter how slight, you should change your practice habits.

I know only too well how frustrating this can be.  We all strive to cover
new ground and develop new tricks.  Each of us has a repitoire that we
wish to expand.  Unfortunately, there is a boundary on how far this
expantion can go.  Physical limitations restrict even the most emphatic
desires to learn record breaking tricks.   As athelets, we have a
responsability to ourselves not to violate that tool on which we rely - the

Personal Potential

     Going to many conventions, reading the IJA magazine, watching
television and seeing other "incredible" juggling feats can often drive one
to pursue the "boundaries of human capability".  (This is Albert Lucas's
soap box.)  Unfortunately, most of us do not have the athletic physique of
an Albert or the natural poise of an Anthony, yet these are the role models
that produce the ultimate juggling goals.  It is difficult to realize one's
limitations and shortcomings.  Once these have been realized, it is even
more difficult to accept them.

     It comes down to one simple conclusion.  We are all different and we
all have different potential.  Although this seems naively intuitive, this
idea eluded me until the past few years.  I have given up on eight and don't
even pick up rings anymore.  (That's hard to do when you once had a tight
five ring up pirouette.)  Either adjust, or quit.  So I am adjusting.


     Tendonitis and Carple Tunnel Sydrome are two common wrist
injuries for juggling.  Both of these injuries are typically caused by a
repeated motion and not a single isolated injury instance.  Both involve an
inflamation of the tendon caused by rubbing against bone or simply by over
work.  The cure depends on the severity of the injury.  The first thing that
can be done is to stop the movement that causes the pain.  Rest is the
first thing that you should try.  I am told that eight weeks of complete
rest from the activity will help with mild casses.  If this isn't enough, you
may need theropy.  Phisical theropists have you do exercises, stretches,
ultra-sound treatments etc. until there is improvement or you are broke -
whichever comes first.  After that, there are cortesone injections.  The
cortesone reduces the inflamation thus giving you a "clean slate" from
which to work.  These injections are taken in conjuction with a
modification of your practice routine.  Lastly, there is surgery.

So far I have done all of the above exept the last.  I still have some
problem with my wrist, but I am now able to accept it as a simple
limitation on my numbers juggling.  (Thankfully, not being able to juggle
eight balls in no way limits my creativity!)


     To those who say "I know I should warm up but..." know what they
need to do.  Don't say it, do it.  It will make you feel better, it will give
you piece of mind, it will improve your juggling, it will improve your
range of motion (ROM), it will improve your flexibility, it will impress the
other jugglers, and on, and on, and on...  It takes dicipline and real desire
to recognize and do the work involved.
     Mark, it sounds like you have some wrist stretches that you are
currently using.  These are probably fine as long as you do not over
stretch, but you will have to judge that.  I am not going to include a
warmup/stretching routine because each individual will be able to develop
a personalized routine to meet individual needs.  I will recomend some
relaxation exercises.

     Many problems come from stress placed on joints, muscles and
tendons by excess tension.  Tension in the shoulders can cause tension in
the arm which can cause tension in the wrists etc.  It is important to
discover these tension points and then learn how to release them.  I
recomend three sources:  Feldoncreis, Thai Chi and Akido.  (pardon the
spelling)  Feldoncreis has done more for my juggling than any amount of
practice could do.  I have just started studying Thai Chi and so far have
been very pleased with the results.  Explore them yourself.

     Juggling demands that you develop a diverse movment vocabulary.
But unlike many sports, juggling does not depend on strength.  Dance,
martial arts and yoga will help to expand your vocabulary.

     I do not consider myself an expert on this subject, but I enjoy
sharing any info.  It has done wonders for me.

-    Steven Ragatz

Essays: Warming Up / Juggling Information Service /
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