25 Strategies for Training Acro with Another Human Being
The Best + Worst Part of Partner Acro can be the Partner Part.
Communication Strategies for Acro are Key.
Partner Acrobatics is a sport that requires another person. It’s the best and worst of two worlds; it allows us to meet wonderful people, but also means you can’t train alone. Thus, communication strategies for acro or acroyoga become important.
This is particularly true for continued training with the same partner, as opposed to just playing with someone new. When someone is new to us, we tend to be on our best behavior. With our own partners, frustrations and patterns can begin to build.
Here are 25 training + communication strategies for acro that help move training forward and minimize potential conflict. These are applicable to any duo activity; aerial, dance, skating, cheer. Take what works for you and leave the rest. I hope that others find this helpful in their partnerships. I wish someone had written this for me YEARS AGO!
1. Build a Culture of Yes
If your partner proposes a change - even if you think it’s dumb - say yes. Then they have to say yes to your dumb suggestions as well. Either the suggestion works and you move forward, or it fail and you try the next one. Agreeing to an ongoing culture of yes minimizes the amount of time spent discussing the validity of a change in a trick, and maximizes the time working through the actual trick.
2. Trust in Good Intentions
If you are frustrated with yourself or your partner, avoid the temptation to assume/think “They’re not really trying.” If you don’t believe your partner is working or trying as hard as they can, you may want to reconsider training with that person. Trust they are trying as hard as they can and proceed from there.
3. Train in Sets
Decide to 3-5 reps of a trick or drill. This lets each person pace themself, and also minimizes discussion between after every single rep. Think about it – the first go isn’t perfect, on 2nd go you both make changes, 3rd go you change in response to your partner’s change, and on 4 and 5 maybe things start to come together. If you analyze after every rep, it shortchanges this process.
4. Use Timers
If you have a lot of things to train, decide how much time to give to each one, and set a timer. Often, we have lots of skills we are working on and this keeps us in check - so we don’t end up spending all of our time training one skill. We also use a kitchen timer . to keep rest time between skills in check (Phone timers have the potential for distraction) .I have a terrible tendency to get chatty with people around the space / involved with my phone during downtime and this keeps that behavior in check.
An aerialist friend uses this trick the opposite way. When she has something she knows she needs to train but is dreading, she sets a 10 minute timer and tells herself that after 10 minutes, she can stop working that drill/skill.
5. Agree When to Talk
I often find that I want to talk after every single rep. It drives us crazy and takes up SO MUCH training time. So we agree to discuss and analyze between sets, not during (See 3, “Train in Sets”). I sometimes still struggle with this and my partner will gently remind me.
6. Trust that Your Partner Recognizes Their Own Mistakes
You don’t need to tell them what they did wrong the moment you both come out of a trick. Trust that they know what they did wrong and give them the opportunity to correct it. If you see the same same mistake 3 times in a row, you may then bring it up politely.
7. Base Sets - Flyer Sets
This is a good idea for when there’s disagreement – either on what to train – or on what changes would be effective. When my base wants to train a skill that I don’t fuckin feel like doing - or the other way around - we’ll agree to Base Sets – Flyer Sets. He gets to call what we’re doing for a set, then I get to call it and neither person is allowed to complain. See Point 1, “Build a Culture of Yes”
8. Give one Correction at a Time
A person can generally only change one thing at a time in a skill. Pick the most important correction and share that. Once that change has been made consistently, you can give further corrections.
9. Ask for “Smaller Corrections”/ Practice Listening
Often my base makes the right correction to balance me, but they make it too quickly or too largely. A too large movement will push the flyer too far in the opposite direction, then the base reacts to the change and base and flyer end up chasing one another until the skill comes down. Asking for “Smaller Corrections” is an ideal strategy here. It acknowledges the correct instinct and gives a tangible way to improve the trick.
You can also “Practice Listening”, particularly in hand to hand or foot to hand. Instead of talking about what changes are needed, agree not to talk and to feel what your partner is trying to communicate to you through their body.
10. Give your Balance Completely
This one is for flyers (bases can ask for this). Give your balance completely. Often when a static balance is not working, the flyers needs to be more assertive in their shape, give the balance completely, and stop trying to balance themself. If this is scary, use a spotter.
11. Let it Fail (Safely)
If you keep trying to save a trick, you’ll never fix it. For example, if the flyer is under jumping an entry, and the base is consistently compensating for that, the flyer will never get the physical sensation that the jump is falling short. They might know it, but have built the expectation that the base will chase them, so if they jump further, it would be too far. Letting an entry fail allows both parties to see where the gap is, and work to correct it.
12. Visualize Your Actions
Discuss the trick before you do it - Visualize it. Make sure both parties are on the same page. Sometimes my partner and I will stand on the ground and ‘mark’ through our moves, both for timing and to make sure we are thinking the same thing.
13. No Surprises
Change nothing during a trick without clear consent and knowledge of the other party. Even if it feels good, nobody likes surprises. Surprises are how people get hurt. Stick to the plan. Use your words. No surprises.
14. Check your Feelings at the Mat
If there’s something big going on in your life, let your training partner know (in whatever level of detail is appropriate) and then leave those feelings off the mat. You are here to train. You are responsible for your safety and that of your partner. There is NO room for distraction. If you feel you can’t focus, let your partner know that, and stick to skills or exercises that are within the realm of safety.
15. Use “We” Language
Be careful not to attribute blame. Instead of saying “You dropped your heels” try “the heels dropped”. They may have dropped because the base changed the platform, or because the flyer squatted too low or either party’s timing was off. You often see an error manifest in the flyer’s shape when in fact the mistake came from either participant. If the base’s hands are weird, or the push is too early, the flyer’s shape breaks. If the flyer’s shape breaks, maybe they were late. Acro is a partnership; Be conscious to choose language that reflects this.
16. Ask Your Partner What They Need
“What do you need?” “How can I better support your role in this trick?” When things are quite working, this is the absolute best question to ask.
Sometimes I don’t know what I need from my partner until they ask. I get focused on what I can do better, when that might not be the answer. Maybe I need the base to wait longer, or squat lower, or they need me to speed up, or step more gently.
17. Don’t be Afraid to Rep it Out
Sometimes you don’t need to change anything, you just need to feel it out a number of times. Say out loud that you want to “rep it out”, then you can train in sets (#3) and agree when to talk (#5).
18. Leave Things for Tomorrow
They will integrate in your brain and body, I promise. There’s a load of science behind how we learn and integrate patterns during REM sleep. You can geek out on that here.
19. Be a Badass
If you have a calibrated partner, try your workout backwards. If you usually start by drilling skills on the floor, doing a ton of drills, then jumping into standing or long arms try working work backwards. Once you’re warm, start with the hardest variation you can safely accomplish and work backwards towards the simplest version.
20. Be Patient
This is kind of everything. Have a high tolerance. Recognize your own bullshit. Try to show up as your best self. And when your partner doesn’t show up as their best self or makes a short comment? Take a breath and take the opportunity to exercise patience.
21. Get Curious
Take a problem solving approach. Instead of saying "is moving too much?" ask " how can we quiet this?" "What are you trying to do in this adjustment? What can we change in the entry that minimizes that and puts you ls in better alignment from the beginning?"
22. Take it up to 6, Not 11
When you need to make a change in tempo or power, make it incrementally. Instead of doubling the power or speed, take it up 10%. Then if you need to, take it up 10% again. This gives your partner a chance to react to and incorporate the change, instead of surprising them with a big change.
23. Take a Break- Do a Lap - Have a sip of Water
Taking breaks is important and gives you a chance to mentally reset. One of my coaches taught me to take a lap around the training space when I was feeling frustrated - either with myself or my partner or just the trick in general. I also sometimes take have a quick snack as a reset - such as an orange/bar/fruit leather.
24. De-Stress Games
Have de-stress games you play with your partner when the going gets tough! Something to make you laugh. My favorites: The Ground is Lava, Try to Get the Thing (one partner tries to capture an item on the mat, the other one does everything in their power to stop them) or Run Races around the space.
25. Fails are Important
It took me a long time to understand that we learn more from failure than we do from success. When a trick goes wrong, you learn what is too fast or too slow or too far back looks like. You learn what is savable and what is not. It’s important to look at a failure as valuable learning opportunities, instead of as a “lack of success.”
We are all human, fallible and prone to frustration and impatience. No one is perfect- Neither you nor your partner regardless of how much experience one party may have. No one can read your mind. No one is intentionally throwing a trick off. Everyone makes mistakes. Be Kind, Be Patient, Be Safe and Be Strategic in your Training.
I hope these communications Strategies for Acro are helpful.
Take what works for You.
Do you have other strategies in your partnership you’d like to share? Please send them my way.
*Bits of Credit to @standingacrobatics + @abe.froman.acro + @duodie + Scott + Michaela for influencing my own practice.
For more writing on ways to look at your training practice check out these articles by Standing Acrobatics: