Whenever I work with new aerial students, they always ask me “What else can I do to help me get stronger for aerial?”
I always answer “Pilates!”
Sometimes, an intermediate student will ask me what they should be working on outside of class to help them level up their skills.
I tell them “Pilates!”
Or maybe a professional aerialist friend will ask for advice on dealing with a chronic injury.
Guess what I say.
It may not surprise you to hear that I love Pilates, or that I find it to be super effective cross training for aerial, pole, and circus arts in general. I hope that you will indulge me while I tell you why!
What makes Pilates great?
Pilates is all about learning how to move your body from a place of support and control.
In every exercise, you’re focusing on how to use your core to support the movement of your limbs, or how to use your core to move your spine and limbs together.
Doesn’t that sound helpful?
What makes Pilates particularly useful for cross training for aerial and pole is that it’s the perfect place to work on the details. I might also call this “the mind/body connection”.
I’m sure we’ve all had the experience working with a coach when they say “Pull your ribs in! Squeeze your butt! Engage your shoulders! Now do the really hard complicated thing!” and you’re just like “but all I can think about it pulling my ribs in and squeezing my butt!”
Pilates is where you can work on pulling your ribs in and squeezing your butt and then doing simple things while maintaining those connections. As you practice Pilates, those things start getting easier and requiring less attention while your exercises may get more challenging and complicated.
You start having more space in your brain to pay attention to things like “How is my leg moving? How are my shoulders working? What are my hands doing?”
And this is what is really valuable for your aerial training. The more comfortable you become with the foundational body connections in your Pilates practice, the less you’ll have to actively pay attention to them when you’re training in the air!
Pilates is great for your joints!
One of the big things that you work on in Pilates is the ability to move one joint without moving any of the parts around it. We call this joint dissociation. While dissociation isn’t great in mental health, it’s actually pretty helpful when it comes to bodies!
Being able to isolate the movement of a specific joint is super helpful for many reasons.
- It usually takes a lot of core control to do it, and that’s something that you can never have enough of!
- Isolating the movement of one joint gives you a better idea of what sort of imbalances or weakness you might have. For example, if you have a hard time lifting your arms without lifting your ribs, how is that affecting your ability to invert? Now you have something specific to work on!
- When you isolate joint movement, not only does it help you understand what joints may be weak, it’s also the perfect way to strengthen the joint! Practicing the movement that is challenging is exactly what you need to do to get better at it!
Pilates only gets better with the equipment
Pilates has some crazy-ass equipment. The Reformer, the Cadillac, the Wunda chair…. Walking into a Pilates studio can feel like walking into a torture chamber, to be honest! It’s wild!
But Pilates equipment provides amazing support and feedback for your body when you use it! The equipment can make exercises more challenging, or make them more manageable. Equipment can help you feel something in a different, deeper way, or it can just be fun and feel good.
The thing that makes the equipment so magical are the springs that create the resistance. You can create more tension or less depending on what your body needs for the specific exercise you’re doing.
And the springs provide a constant source of tension that your body has to work to control through the whole exercise. That means that you really have to work in both directions or you risk getting catapulted off the machine!
Having that constant tension means that you have to learn to control your joints through their full range of motion, particularly in your end range. This end range is so important because that’s where we’re the most likely to become injured, and strengthening your end range is a great way to keep yourself safe in the air!
Isn’t Pilates for skinny white ladies with smoothies?
Yeah, yeah, I know. I feel this, too. But I’m here to tell you that Pilates is for everybody and every body! Your circus body will absolutely benefit from incorporating Pilates into your routine.
Popular culture often associates Pilates with “aspirational” fitness, terms like “long and lean” muscles, and people who say things like “A woman should never lift more than 3lbs”.
That’s a bunch of bullshit.
Pilates was developed by a German dude named Joseph. He was actually a circus performer as a young man! He developed the method as a way to support people’s bodies so that they could better enjoy their lives. His book about the method is called “Return to Life”, not return to being a skinny white lady. It was always meant to be helpful for every person no matter what their physical goals are, no matter what size or shape they are, race, gender identity, it doesn’t matter.
Pilates is for you.
Want to learn more about Pilates? And maybe try it out?
Check out my new class pack Pilates Equipment on the Mat!
I created this class series to help you build core strength AND improve whole body strength + flexibility with limited equipment from home.
Aaaaa-aaaaand, if you love the Pilates equipment (or the idea of it), these classes are also inspired by exercises from the Pilates Reformer and Tower, except all you need are a couple resistance bands and not a 5K machine that doesn’t fit in your house. 😉
And if you sign up now, you’ll get a free Bonus Class!
The Splits Active Flexibility class will help you get stronger and deeper in your splits.
This class is usually only available in my course, The Regular Person’s Guide to Aerial Conditioning at Home, but if you purchase the class pack by May 13th, you’ll get it for FREE!