6 Balancing Acts for the Aerialist

If you were to sum up all of my soapboxes into one word, that word would be: BALANCE. We need balance in so many ways. We need balance in the obvious ways and the not-so-obvious. We need balance physically and mentally. The list goes on forever. For this blog, I decided to make a list of the top 6 physical juggling acts that an aerialist needs to do to stay balanced.

Strength AND Flexibility

An aerialist needs to be both strong and flexible. In your training regime – or if you are a studio owner planning out your curriculum, take note – you need to have time for both conditioning and for stretching. People who are tight might need more time in aerial yoga classes that focus on muscle lengthening. People are already very bendy don’t need to spend time in the splits. They need to focus on getting strength in order to protect their bendy tendencies.

train both sides
photo creation: Jamie Ray of AirSeekers

The Right Side AND the Left Side

When you climb with your right hand leading, the next time up climb with your left hand leading. Many aerialists get lazy and complacent (it happens to the best of us), and then they wake up one day realizing that one shoulder IS in fact bigger than the other. And that one climbing side is stronger – like, WAY stronger – than the other side.  And they can’t even hip key on their bad side. These muscular imbalances can lead to body imbalances that will lead to limited range of motion and are not the ideal situation for injury prevention.

Many aerialists will agree that there is an exception to this for safety’s sake. When you perform drops, muscle memory can help keep you safe and having both sides in your body can be confusing. Some brains are up for the challenge, but others (like mine!) need to keep life as simple as possible to be safe. Aerial Performer Elizabeth Stich makes this point in her latest guest blog for Born to Fly Aerial.

She writes: “I choose not to train or teach advanced drops on both sides (In the heat of the moment in performance, when lights, music, and audience can make thinking challenging, I want my body to have muscle memory of executing potentially dangerous drops on one side only); however, I still have to figure out a way to safely address this imbalance.  For me, the answer is to practice my flamenco S-wrap entrance from my non-dominant side and then windmill down instead of wrapping for the drop.  This gives me the same sense of spiraling entrance and rolling descent, without actually wrapping the drop on my non-dominant side.”

The Front AND the Back

When was the last time you did some superman’s? (where you lay on the ground and raise both legs and upper body off the floor). It’s important to focus on extension of the whole body just as much as flexion. Hollow body is great, but it’s only half the story. To train a truly beautiful body, you need to practice both hollow body AND the exact opposite of hollow body. You want a strong core – all the way around, not just in front. Having a strong front prevents your back from working when it shouldn’t – so you need to train carefully, but you also need to train holistically. No one wants to end up hunched over and we all slouch too often when sitting (did I just make you check your posture? score if I did!). Strengthen your back so that it’s not work to sit up tall and balanced. Strengthen your hamstrings so that your hip flexors never dominate. Some muscles are meant to be larger and work harder, but it shouldn’t be overly so. When a muscle constantly works, it can become tight and shortened. This prevents it from being able to work at full strength. It starts a chain of events that involve all the undesired parts of movement = tightness, weakness, etc. To undo this chain, strengthen what is weak. This will be the theme for your whole body!

The Top AND the Bottom

As an aerialists, we know you got a pair of nice-lookin’ shoulders! But, what about them legs? How are they doing? Think about throwing in some squats after those pull-ups to keep a body that is shape from head to toe. You may also consider taking some ballet classes in order to work on your feet articulation. After all, your lower body articulation is what gets to be highlighted while your arms stick you to the apparatus.

The Push AND the Pull

Getting into aerial shape is all about getting that first pull-up. It is challenging to go from zero to one. But you can do it! After the (very necessary) obsession of pull-ups wears off, you should return your focus to whole body work. You need to be able to do push-ups too. This will actually give your pull-up muscles a break. Anytime you fire muscles, the opposing muscle group gets sent a response to relax, so when you push, your pulling muscles get a much needed direction from the brain to shut off. You don’t want to walk around all tight and tense all the time. Your body craves balance.

Another great way to add some push to your pull is to do handstands. Many aerialists, by nature of being acrobatic, already like to do handstands. You might already be that type of person, or maybe I have now given you a reason to start. I learned this lesson early from my mentor who was obsessed with handstands. Before every show, her warm-up always include hand-balancing. I’ve never been good at them, so I tended to avoid them, but lately, I’ve warmed up to the idea of heading upside-down in this fashion.

The Fast AND the Slow

Many aerialists I know have gotten to a point where there strength is phenomenal, but their cardio…well, let’s just say, it’s obvious that there workouts for the past several years have mainly consisted of slow-moving, strength-focused work. The only time they do fast-movements is by doing finger-flicks in their warm-ups (which are all well and good, but I’m talking about keeping up a fast pace for a sustained period of time). If we speed it up, their heart starts racing, and I’m scared they aren’t going to make it through the workout. For me, the goal is simply an overall balance for the sake of the heart. I want to be able to make it through a high-energy piece and not be winded at the end of it. I want to keep up my stamina and be strong. I want to have my cake and eat it too. It’s possible, you just have to juggle your training to get it all in there. Get creative and make it happen.

Now go do what you haven’t been doing. And stop doing so much of what you have been doing. Don’t read that wrong. Don’t stop altogether! But, tether back and add in some variety. You might not notice the change now, but years from now, you’ll reap the benefits of your choices.

Rebekah Leach is a person who thrives on being balanced in mind, body and spirit. Being a parent helps to throw all of her balance out of whack, but you know, that’s the fun of the journey towards balance. It’s a constant teeter-totter with forces at all ends.

Jamie Ray of AirSeekers submitted the awesome photo. Thanks Jamie!

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