Back in the days of TSNY Logbook, version 1, I had a conversation with some colleagues about the conditioning requirements. At the time, formal strength and conditioning requirements for recreational flying trapeze were a rather novel concept. For some, they were not a welcome idea. On the topic of introducing elements of conditioning into flying trapeze classes, one colleague was quite opposed to the idea. They’re not here to work out. These people are just here to have fun. It was an amazing moment for me because I realized I couldn’t disagree more.
I am not here ‘just to have fun’.
And nor should you be. More accurately, nor can you afford to be.
Now that I’ve made an enjoyably contentious opening…a tangent
I’m a big fan of the work of Precision Nutrition. Recently, in an email from the founder, John Berardi, he shared a train of thought that went something like this: If you’re like me, you have recognized that you only have so much bandwidth; your time, energy and attention are limited resources. And you want to know that you’re spending your resources in places (meaning, among other things, the kinds of people you spend time with, the websites you visit and the blogs you choose to read) that make you feel good, where you feel like you get something back that’s at least equal to what you put in, and, perhaps most importantly, where you know what they stand for and it resonates with you. That is really important to me.
The reason that I’m sharing this thought is that it is has struck me as really important for you, dear reader/athlete, to know what I stand for and why I continue to ramble on like this, month after month.
And now, a story…
In my previous life as a high school physical education teacher, there were two roles that I played. During class times, I was the teacher. After school, I was the coach. There are a lot of places where those two ideas overlap, but the key distinction that I used to make was that as the teacher, my mission was to engender a lifelong love of physical activity. An active society will be a healthier one and my job was to find ways to make physical activity accessible and enjoyable for everyone. As a coach, I had the opportunity to really push and challenge athletes to consistently reach for better. It was the place where I indulged my love for competition.
Not only did coaching give me an opportunity to embrace competition and the drive to excel, it provided me with an environment in which to experiment with high-performance coaching and training strategies. I’m a curious sort: I look at the performers or teams that excel—the ones that are the best in the world at what they do—and wonder what are they doing differently from everybody else? How do they train? Coaching a team is an obvious place to apply the strategies used by elite performers because the players on the team want to win. Constantly striving to improve is almost an assumed baseline stance.
And now, I coach and teach flying trapeze. For a while, I made a similar distinction: during classes, I was the teacher and only when working with my fellow instructors during staff practices was I the coach.
Several years ago, though, I began to really question that distinction.
Why is it that only the coach can push his athletes? Why is it that the students working with the teacher tend not to be thought of as athletes as well? Why can’t the teacher push his student-athletes and encourage them to strive for better than they are right now? Why does an athlete have to be competitive or high-level?
Why should elite-level athletes be the only ones to benefit from the kind of performance psychology training that Olympians get? I’ve seen so many flyers think themselves out of a trick or let Show-nerves get the better of them. Why should the most innovative and effective methods for strength training be exclusively the preserve of professional athletes?
The inspiration behind this blog comes from having seen more people than I care to struggle with either developing as a flyer/aerialist or worse, struggle with injuries. Circus arts are challenging and physically demanding. Some amount of struggle is to be expected and there is always the risk of injury. There is, however, also the case where it’s not so much that the challenge is too big or that the individuals are somehow lacking or incapable. It’s really more a matter of knowledge and access to resources.
That is what I would like to change. That is why I keep going on about learning about how your body works and how to take good care of it as you work and train at the circus arts you’ve come to love so dearly.
And now, we circle back to the beginning
It’s true: I have a great deal of trouble with the idea of flying trapeze and any of the circus arts being something that people do ‘just for fun’. For me, that suggests it’s like an amusement. Or worse, a ride. Like doing that bungee trampoline thing at the fair.
Sure, you can try to do all sorts of flips and stuff. It looks cool, but you’re not really learning anything and you’re not really getting much in the way of coaching. At the end of the day, you’re not really getting better at anything by doing it.
And this is where I circle back to the beginning. Yes, circus is fun. An absolutely ridiculous amount of fun. If you’re reading this, I suspect you’ve found a kind of joy in flying trapeze or silks or static trapeze or lyra or rope or straps or handbalancing or partner acro or any or all of the circus arts that has been heretofore unparalleled in your experience. There’s something magical and incredible about it all. For many people I know—myself included—flying trapeze was like the gateway drug that lead to experimenting with a variety of other circus arts.
The thing is, if you think of it as just a fun thing that you do where you get to try doing all sorts of cool tricks and/or flips…without taking the need for physical preparation and conditioning seriously…then chances are you’ll end up frustrated or hurt before too long and that really takes all the fun out of it. Moreover, if circus is just for fun, then what happens when the inevitable frustrations and setbacks do occur?
On the other hand, in the same way that people think of doing a Spartan race or Tough Mudder as fun or that people think of working out as enjoyable, so too is the circus experience. It’s hard work. You’re going to have moments when it really, really sucks and you’ll feel frustrated enough to consider quitting. And that’s when it gets really good because chances are you won’t quit. Chances are you’re going to come out the other side having worked your ass off to make a breakthrough and in the process of getting there, the crucible will have made you stronger in more ways than one and you will have done it all surrounded and supported by a community of like-minded folks who are engaged in a similar pursuit of the next better version of themselves. If that’s your idea of fun, then I’m with you: circus is all about fun!