Exercises Every Aerialist (and Flyer) Should Do: part one

In the world of recreational flying trapeze, you’ll very often hear “you don’t need to be very strong, flexible or athletic to do this” or “it’s more about timing than strength—so as long as you’re a good listener, you can do this” or some variation on that theme.

And that’s true, to some extent…

For your first class.

The same sort of thing applies to aerials; you don’t have to be in great shape to get started. All you really need is to be willing to try. But let’s be honest here: the more you fly/train, the more clear it becomes that flying trapeze and aerials are exceptionally, physically demanding pursuits.

The better conditioned your body is, the better able you will be to perform the way you want to perform. Moreover, a solid base of conditioning is more likely to keep you healthy and injury-free in the long run.  With aerials, it tends to be a little bit more obvious that strength and conditioning makes a difference, whereas in flying trapeze—particularly “recreational” flying trapeze—it can sometimes (often!) get glossed over.

The bottom line is that strength and conditioning matters.

The trick here is this: not all strength and conditioning programs are created equal. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, flying trapeze and aerials are “overhead” activities and when strengthening and conditioning your body for hanging from things and supporting and manipulating your body weight on those things, there are a number of factors that contribute to your ability to do so in a safe and effective manner. My goal here is to begin a series of posts that introduce and elaborate upon the factors that contribute to safe and effective overhead training.

Enter the Dead Bug.

I’ve chosen to begin with Dead Bugs because they are a simple yet powerfully effective way to develop and improve anterior core control, which is fundamental to every circus art.

[Warning: heavy jargon use ahead]

You see, overhead athletes (and if you fly and/or practice aerials, you’re an overhead athlete) are prone to developing an overextended posture with excessive anterior pelvic tilt. Too much anterior pelvic tilt can contribute to a host of issues both up and down the kinetic chain—from chronically tight hamstrings to lower back pain to shoulder pain.

Ah, there’s the phrase every aerialist knows and dreads and all too often accepts as par for the course: shoulder pain. The thing is, it just doesn’t have to be that way. You can build a foundation of adequate mobility, strength and good mechanics that will make things like shoulder pain the exception rather than the rule. And this is where Dead Bugs come in.

So let’s get down to it: how to do Dead Bugs.

  1. First, lie on the floor on your back with your arms out in front of you and your hips and knees bent to a 90 degree angle. (Point your toes. This is circus, after all.)
  2. Press your lower back against the floor. Your job throughout this exercise will be to keep your lower back pressed firmly against the floor.
  3. Inhale through your nose and press your lower back into the floor.
  4. As you exhale, lower one arm and the opposite leg slowly towards the floor. Only go as far as you can without allowing your lower back to arch and come off the floor. Exhale fully at the bottom of each rep.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position and then repeat with the opposite arm/leg.

The key to benefitting from this exercise lies in being strict with your form and making your movements slow and controlled.

Include one or two sets of 6-8 repetitions per side in your warm-up (both before you train/fly and before you workout).

And this is, of course, just one piece of the larger puzzle that is your whole-body strength and conditioning plan. Circus arts require a foundation of whole-body, general strength upon which to build the specific-strength needed for all of the cool tricks and skills you want to do.

Need some help figuring out just what to do? Drop me a line. (Do people even say that anymore? Am I dating myself?) I’d be more than happy to help you with some ideas.Or maybe you’d like me to do the thinking for you so that you can just get down to the business of getting stronger…well, we have things for that, too.