Your body is not your enemy part 3
If you’re just tuning in, let me summarize what you’ve missed: Regular girl tries aerial and falls in love. She trains her little heart out without having any clue what she’s actually doing. She makes her way to circus school where she promptly breaks herself.
Regular girl realizes that there’s probably a better way to do this circus stuff and gets educated.
8 years later, regular girl writes this blog post sharing what she learned. (Or you can read Part 1 and Part 2 first.)
With all my newfound knowledge, I was able to identify 3 key elements that were essential to safe and successful training.
These things are important for everyone, professional and recreational athletes alike, and for any activity you enjoy, but especially for something as physically challenging as aerial and circus arts.
Stability and core strength
Stability is a term that gets used a lot in fitness land these days, but maybe you’re not entirely sure what it means. The very simplified explanation is that stability is the strength you have to resist force, either produced from your own body or externally. Can you lay on your side and take one leg through its whole range of motion, a rond de jambe, without moving your spine and pelvis?
That takes some stability. The muscles that create stability are generally not the big muscles on the surface that we know the names of, like your lats or your quads. These muscles are usually smaller and closer to the bones, and tend to cluster around joints. Strengthening them involves slower, specific, and isolated movement with a fair amount of intention. You have to teach your brain how to connect with your stabilizers when you’re doing small things, so that you don’t have to think about it when you’re doing big things! Core strength is a huge part of stabilization. (I wrote a whole other blog post about it that you can read here.)
Mobility and active flexibility
Mobility is another fitness buzzword. Let’s break it down. Mobility is your ability to move a joint through its full range of motion. Let’s go back to that rond de jambe: how easily can you rotate your hip through its full range of motion? Are there parts of your rotation that feel stuck, or inhibited? Does your leg drop way down when you begin to take it behind you into extension? Does your range of motion change when you keep your pelvis completely still? Another example of mobility is the spine. Can you articulate through your whole spine and move each vertebrae individually into flexion and extension, or are there parts that are stuck or that move as one big chunk?
Mobility takes a lot of muscular control, and it takes a lot of stability! Because mobility and stability go hand in hand, you need one to get the other! Think about the rond de jambe: we needed stability to keep our pelvis and spine still, so that we could access the mobility of our hip. Without the stability and the mobility working together, it becomes a twisty looking mess.
Active flexibility is different from mobility in that you are trying to teach your muscles how to be longer, and more importantly, how to work in their end range. So, mobility is trying to utilize and strengthen the range of motion that you naturally have available to you in each joint, and active flexibility is trying to increase that range. And having good mobility is a prerequisite to training active flexibility safely! An example would be your splits in the air: when you’re upside down, are your splits as flat as they are on the ground? The strength that it takes to pull your legs into flat splits without the help of gravity is active flexibility.
Get that active flex!
And when we have a good balance of stability and mobility, we can work on:
It’s true, almost all of us could benefit from being stronger. And not just in aerial specific ways, like pull ups and leg lifts. We need to be developing an all over, balanced strength to help support the specific strength that we’re training when we’re in the air. So, if you’re doing something like pulling yourself up over and over again, you should probably be doing some sort of pressing strength exercises as well. Or if you’re flexing your hips to lift your legs up a lot, spend some time strengthening those glutes and hammies in hip extension, too! All over strength is only going to help you reach your goals, and do so with less chance of getting injured along the way, because when you’re stronger you’re more resilient!
And the most important part of all of this is figuring out how to do this work in a way that supports YOUR body.
Because we’re all different! We all have different backgrounds, more or less stability and mobility, and bodies that are shaped differently and capable of different things. Your training should be focused around supporting what your body needs and is capable of, rather than what you THINK you should be able to do.
Not everyone is going to be able to get a flat straddle, and not everyone is going to be able to invert with straight arms. You can still benefit from working on those things, but understanding that your lack of success may have more to do with your anatomy and physiology rather than the amount of work that you’re doing is pretty powerful. I can’t tuck under a trapeze bar anymore. Doesn’t mean that I haven’t worked really hard at it, but I have a big butt and short arms and I literally just don’t fit! That’s okay, because I’ve got plenty of other options to mount a trapeze! I’m not less of a “real” aerialist because I can’t.
I finally figured out that my body isn’t my enemy, my body is ME!
None of this wacky circus stuff is possible without my body! Where would we be without our beautiful, amazing, strong, powerful, expressive, fluid, graceful, wonderful bodies?? Nowhere, that’s where.
You're pretty great!
Circus and aerial can be incredibly aspirational, and there’s a culture around pushing yourself as hard as you can; to do more, bigger, flexier, skills and tricks. But when we spend so much time focusing on those end goals, we lose sight of how we’re getting there: are we training in a way that supports our bodies? Are we holding ourselves to unreasonable and unrealistic expectations and standards? Have we taken the time to master foundations before working on advanced skills and movement patterns? And, most importantly, are we honoring our own physical selves in our training and celebrating the ways that we are capable, or are we punishing ourselves for never living up to some ideal that we’ve set for ourselves?
Train like your body is your partner, not your enemy!
I implore you: cherish yourself exactly the way you are. I don’t care how thin, or flexible, or strong you are. I don’t care how many pull ups you can do, or switches, or if you can put your butt on your head. You can still do circus. Maybe you’ll be able to do those things in the future, and maybe you won’t. And it doesn’t matter. You can still do circus. If you love it, do it.
Feel like you need some guidance on how to be more mobile, stable, and strong?
Want to avoid the mistakes I made when I was new to aerial and circus, so you can master challenging tricks without the pain and injuries?
I can help!
Introducing my new program The Regular Person’s Guide to Aerial Conditioning at Home: A 6 week program that is everything I wish I’d learned when I got started!
This program will teach you how to strengthen and stabilize your core, gain mobility and work on flexibility safely, and workout at home to help build overall strength with an emphasis on pulling strength!
Interested in learning more?