What are we all doing here? How to keep your legs together in your sweep.

So what are we all doing here? You know, why do you come and fly? Or perhaps aerials are your thing. Why do you do it? There are as many different answers as there are people who join us for classes, but I’d like to offer a thought (or two) for your consideration. I’m going to use flying trapeze to frame my thoughts, but I think they apply to most, if not all, of the circus arts that we enjoy together.

Right from the very start, flying trapeze presents us with an opportunity to try something that initially looks not only fun, but perhaps more importantly, challenging. The first time we see an instructor performing the knee hang and backflip, it’s a window into possibility. It looks elegant, graceful and fun all at the same time. And to some, it looks impossible. But then we do it (and it varies from person to person; it could be making that first catch or it could be just making it up the ladder and hopping off the platform) and it’s awesome. Once we actually do it, it feels amazing. There’s an unrivaled sense of accomplishment. Yes, the knee hang is easier for some than for others (as is the case with every trick or skill along the way), but once we’ve found out that we can do it, we begin to wonder what else we can do. What else am I capable of doing? And it’s this curiosity mixed with a willingness to try that creates the magic.

The thing is, flying trapeze isn’t always easy.

For some, it’s never easy. Performing tricks well—safely and with good technique—presents us with some sizable physical and mental challenges. And it’s the work that it takes to get through these challenges so that you can discover more about what you are truly capable of doing that makes it so rewarding and fun. Of course, there’s frustration along the way. There’s hard work. There’s possibly even some blood, sweat and tears. (For those new to flying and aerials, there’s really very little blood…the most likely thing is that you’ll rip a callus off your hand). And this is where I would like to introduce what might be a different way of thinking of it all.

You, dear flyer and dear aerialist and dear acrobat, are an athlete.

Perhaps this is a long since foregone conclusion for you and perhaps it’s not, but by taking up flying trapeze (and/or aerials, etc) as your hobby/pastime/thing, you have taken up the pursuit of a physically and mentally challenging activity that demands you approach your practice as an athlete. And the beauty of it is that you don’t have to be a high performance athlete to be welcome here. You don’t even have to have been regularly active before you decide to join our wonderfully wacky family. But once you do, I think it’s important for you to come in with your eyes open.

Gone for you are the days of not warming up (read: preparing) your body on the ground before you climb up for your first swing of the day. Gone are the days of unfocused strength training and conditioning work. Now you’ve got something specific to train for. Now you’ve got specific areas of your body that need conditioning. (Shameless plug warning) Conveniently, we have a Logbook with a variety of exercises to get you started. We’ve also got Strength & Conditioning and Aerial Fitness classes you can take to learn more. And savvy Instructors who are more than happy to answer your questions.

As a brief tangent aimed at explaining myself a bit more fully, I would like to tell you that Crossfit fascinates me. It’s one of those things that strikes me as amazing for the way it builds a close-knit community of people around the idea of getting fit and strong and taking care of your body. It’s also—like so many other things—something that depends greatly on the individual coaches to make it safe, effective and smart (or a frightening example of poor form and bad exercise choices).  From a best case perspective, though, Crossfit is a great example of why we live in such an exciting time. More and more, people are actively taking an interest in and responsibility for their own health and their own bodies. From diet and nutrition to the exercise and fitness all the way through to 23andMe, people are taking ownership of their health.

Now, let’s be clear: we are not Crossfit. We are, however, a growing community of people who share an interest in finding fun ways to challenge ourselves so that we can engage in the ongoing process of discovering just how much we’re truly capable of doing.

So what does all of this have to do with keeping your legs together as you sweep?

Well, suffice it to say this is a common issue. The question is: as an athlete, what are you going to do about it? The first thing I would recommend doing is going deeper than normal. Investigate what’s going on with your body. Why are your legs coming apart when you sweep (or bending when you sweep)? A video (please do your best to ignore the whole butterfly pullup thing…that’s got so much potential for silliness that most of us don’t need to get involved in) on Carl Paoli’s Gymnastics WOD site recently got me thinking: what if you sit a lot? You know, like so many of us who do work on a computer do? Perhaps you’re missing a bit of the internal rotation range of motion in your hips (specifically in full extension and beyond) because the muscles that internally rotate your hip have gotten short or stiff (two different things)? Check out the video below (another one from Kelley Starrett).

While having the Power Band to create some distraction within the hip joint works really well for me, it’s not a tool that many people have (although maybe you should?). A foam roller, however, is practically a must-have. Start by testing your hip internal rotation (as shown in the video, on all fours). Then try out the foam rolling exercise for your TFL. (Feels nice, doesn’t it?)

Now see if that helps when you’re flying. Bear in mind, it might not be that you’re missing some range of motion. It might be that you’re simply not squeezing your legs together tightly enough. It might be that you just need to work harder. But you’re an athlete, so a little bit of hard work won’t phase you, now will it?

6 thoughts on “What are we all doing here? How to keep your legs together in your sweep.”

    1. Hi Zane! I hope you don’t mind…I have an archive of TSNY photos for web-use and I thought your sweep looked so nice, I just had to use it! (If you’d prefer I don’t use it, I’ll take it down.)

  1. This was great. I really enjoyed reading this. I think this is something that we need to start looking into more as flying trapeze continues to grow. How we can improve ourselves by looking deeper into the mechanics of flying trapeze.

  2. Mike, Thank you for your wonderful training tips and insight on flying trapeze. When I’m in my sweep, I swear my legs feel straight, long, and tight. Then I look at the video and see otherwise. It was helpful for me to read about the hips’ internal rotation for the sweep. I’m an ex-ballet dancer. I want to do everything with a turnout. It’s my habit. Plus, I sit at a computer all day. I have a foam roller. Today, I’m going to start using it, get some internal rotation, tighten up that sweep!

  3. Pingback: One for the teachers: thoughts on duty of care | Get Strong. Get Circus Strong.

  4. Richard Huffman

    Out of the Past: TSNY DC: enjoyed reading your article re work to achieve, not only to have fun. I have been bummed since about 2017 when I did something to my left shoulder, which impaired my holding on to the wire on the platform before take off. In the mean time, I was working on aerial sling that I started with Mark Harding. I went on to perform a routine to Whitney Houston’s ONE MOMENT IN TIME at TSNY and again on March 3, 2018 at Atlas Theatre in a show produced by Christian Kloc, the juggler. I am now working on a new routine at IN THE DARK CIRCUS in Baltimore with a terrific coach, Tom Martin, for a show Sunday, September 17. I am afraid to go back to flying for fear of hurting myself to the point of not being able to do something I can do. Such is life.