If you’ve ever been to a circus or watched a Cirque du Soleil performance, you know that acrobats and aerial artists make what they do look effortless and easy. You know, as they flip around and dangle from various apparatus.
I never thought about how hard their jobs must be, until I recently tested my own abilities in an aerials conditioning class at the Circus Center San Francisco, which just so happens to be the oldest circus training school in the United States. And wow, did I learn a lot about becoming an aerial artist!
The class was split up into three sections: 20 minutes of conditioning (where we did partner-wheelbarrow walks, inchworms, push-ups, jumping jacks and burpees); 25 minutes of some of the best and deepest stretching I’ve ever experienced; followed by nearly 40 minutes of work on the circus apparatus, like the rope, aerial silk and even a trapeze bar.
Everything we did was incredibly hard, and it made me have major respect for those tight-rope walkers. And, it made me realize that if you really want to run away and join the circus, there are a few key skills you’ve got to master first.
You have to be able to do the splits in every direction and bend every part of your body all around to get into some of the positions required. Think you’re pretty flexible? Try bending forward with straight legs and reaching your arms all the way through and behind your legs. Ouch.
Super-hero upper-body strength.
It truly takes all of your might to pull yourself up an aerials silk, rope or trapeze bar. It’s not momentum that gets a performer into place, it’s all of their upper-body muscles working together to support their own bodyweight. Have you tried a handstand lately? It’s not so easy, and circus performers make it look like a breeze.
Rock hard abs.
Your abs don’t just need to be hard, but they need to be as solid as a steel bar to lock your upper and lower body together and support the skills you’ll be doing. How long can you hold a v sit-up with super straight legs? Now imagine doing that while suspended in the air. Tough stuff.
Perhaps the best thing about attending the Circus Center was the fact that not once was it mentioned that we were there for any sort of workout. It was all about learning skills and building strength to be able to perform one day. I don’t think I’m going to make it to big tent any time soon, but I will go back for more conditioning… once my rope-burn goes away.
Ashley Pitt is a freelance writer, personal trainer, group fitness instructor and the creator of A Lady Goes West, a popular blog about her adventures in fitness, food and fun in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Bloglovin’ or Facebook.