It takes guts and grace if you want to dance effortlessly around in three dimensional space with the ease of an angel, floating like a snowflake, defying the laws of gravity, making death defying drops and generally looking like a total badass up there (which is after all what we all want isn't it?). But guts and grace don't just appear out of thin air - they take dedication, cultivation, perseverance and yes a little bit of time spent on all five of the components that go into aerial training which are:
It's totally fine if you want to come to class and learn a few tricks for kicks (as I call it). But if you want to get aerial really into your system (and therefore get more out of it) and become more of an all round badass aerialist (that you know you can be!) you probably should pay attention to all five of the aerial components...
So let's take a closer look at the five components of aerial training and how you should work on them:
Strength is defined as the ability of an individual to exert a muscular contraction or force against a resistance in a single maximal effort. Muscle strength is important for the most fundamental movements and positioning. However it is of utmost importance for the aerialist since most of the time they will be lifting their whole body weight through space in order to execute a trick. Therefore, knowing which muscles to use and how to develop their strength is very important.
There are three types of muscle strength: static strength, explosive strength and dynamic strength.
1. Static strength
- This is used when you try to move an immovable object, or carry a heavy object or hold a position on a piece of aerial equipment.
- There is no movement of the object.
- The muscles do not change length (isometric contraction).
2. Explosive strength
- Used when exerting a force in a short, fast burst.
- This is similar to power (using eccentric and concentric muscle contractions).
- For example throwing a ball, or executing an aerial spin or drop, initiating a beat or any explosive aerial movement.
3. Dynamic strength
- Repeatedly applying force, over a long period.
- Similar to muscular endurance (a combination of eccentric, concentric and isometric contractions).
- For example when performing reps in conditioning, climbing a silk or performing an aerial routine.
STRENGTH TRAINING: To develop the strength needed for aerial you will need to carry out regular conditioning sessions. These include anything from a quick set of press ups and ab crunches at home, or round of pull ups and leg raises on your pull up bar, to a visit to the gym or fitness park, seeing a personal trainer or hitting a Pop Fit class at Skylab. You will need to be doing ideally three sessions per week in addition to your aerial class if you want to see a steady increase in your strength (unless you are already training in some other related discipline such as martial arts or climbing etc). Only doing aerial class once per week is not really going to get you swinging about up there all snowflakes and angels... just saying my friends just saying...
Flexibility is defined as the range of motion (ROM) around a joint and its surrounding muscles during a passive movement. There are different forms of flexibility training - each has its uses and should be properly placed within your training sessions.
Dynamic Flexibility is the ability to perform movements within a full range of motion at a joint. An example is performing leg swings, as if kicking an imaginary ball. Dynamic flexibility is more movement specific than other forms of flexibility.
Static Active Flexibility is the ability to stretch an antagonist muscle using only the tension in the agonist muscle. An example would be a lying hamstring stretch, using no assistance from a stretch strap. The straight leg is raised as high as possible by contracting the hip flexors and quadriceps muscles (agonist muscles), thus stretching the hamstrings (antagonist muscles).
Static Passive Flexibility is the ability to hold a stretch using assistance from an outside force. An example would be the same lying hamstring stretch, using assistance from a stretch strap. This assistance allows the hip flexors and quadriceps muscles to only minimally activate.
FLEXIBILITY TRAINING: Your body's capacity to stretch and flex tends to be genetically inherited, but with correct strengthening exercises muscle flexibility can be developed. Gradually extending the amount that tendons, ligaments and muscles can stretch will gradually improve flexibility. The bad news is that as the body grows older so its flexibility decreases. Inactivity is the worst enemy, and those who wish to maintain flexibility need to undertake regular exercise in order to maintain it.
I would recommend trying to develop a regular daily stretch routine. Finding a time in the day that works best for you. For some this might mean in the morning, for others last thing at night, for others maybe even a lunch time yoga class. For me personally, stretching before I start the day means it's done and out the way, and then I stay much more alert and focused during my day and get way more done! But I know this is not always practical after a late night and early morning work start. So it's all about your priorities - if its gorgeous splits and backbends you want - then you need to put that as priority... and spend a dedicated amount of time on your mat.
Stamina (or endurance) is defined as the ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort. Ie. the effort needed to keep going throughout an aerial routine, which combines both muscular and cardio vascular endurance (aerobic fitness). It also enhances performance since those with more stamina will be better able to perform with good technique. Stamina also helps decrease recovery time after being up in the air, and delays the onset of fatigue (an important factor in preventing injury). During aerial class we usually focus on learning tricks and technique and so it's generally ‘stop/ start’ in nature and more strength based. Classes therefore tend not to fulfil stamina training needs. So it is up to the individual aerialist as to how much and what kind of supplementary fitness training they might need/want to do in order to build the stamina required to perform an aerial routine.
STAMINA TRAINING: Coming to Air Time and practicing a routine is a great way to build this stamina. As mentioned we don't usually have enough time in class to do this, so practicing sequences of moves in your own time is essential when working up to doing a routine. To increase stamina outside of the studio gradually build up to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise two or three times a week. It is best to try and choose a type of exercise that you enjoy and can fit into your schedule easily. Dancing, swimming, running, gym workouts or cycling are all forms of exercise you might choose that will compliment your aerial training. As long as it gets your heart pumping it'll be building stamina levels.
4.) TECHNIQUE & GOOD FORM
Good form: It is important for aerialists to hold themselves correctly. This can be tricky since most of the time we are upside down and hanging in various strange positions and shapes! However no one wants to see sloppy shapes, it just doesn't look good! Practice good standing posture and then see if you can practice good hanging posture - this will at least give you a good strong foundation to work from.
For good standing form stand with feet together, hands by sides, and check the following:
- Lifted chin, elongated neck, eyes looking ahead
- Shoulders pressed naturally down and back
- Rib cage closed, as if there was a safety pin holding it together
- Stomach muscles engaged
- Hips held even and level
- Knees relaxed, not locked
- Feet parallel, or turned out if holding a ballet posture (remember turnout comes from the hips, with knees in a line over toes)
For a good hanging position, let's say a dead hang to start with, pretty much same rules apply:
- Lifted chin, elongated neck, eyes looking ahead
- Hands on the bar shoulder width apart
- Shoulders pressing down and back
- Core stomach muscles squeezing and engaged
- Pelvis tucking under, bum not sticking out
- Legs holding slight engagement
- Feet pointing
Other things to remember for general good aerial form are the following:
- pointed toes - yes the obvious one, no excuses you must point those toes!
- legs straight - obviously not when you are in hocks but for example in hanging beats or tricks
- arms reaching - not locked out but extending further than you normally would hold in a gorgeous lovely continuous line
- ballet hands - you can look great but then spoil everything with the way you hold your hands so pay attention to detail and hold your hands well
- knees together - in hocks and various other tricks as a general rule knees look better together
- head up - hold your chin up, an aerialist should never look down
- great attitude - relax and have fun, aerial should look effortless
Yes I know it's a lot to think about - but the more you practice and pay attention to form the better it will get. (See blog 'Five, Fast, Fixes for Fabulous Lines' here for more tips on great form).
Good technique: Technique includes developing things such as co-ordination, agility, balance, possibly tolerance to pain and poise so that you execute your moves gracefully, effortlessly and awesomely. Some tricks require a lot of technique. These are the tricks that require the body to learn how to hold or lift itself in certain ways that it probably has never done before. This takes time, patience and dedication. The body may need to develop new muscles or ways of moving, as well as build up pain tolerance. Remember that first time you did a one leg hang? Oucheee...! Few months down the line - pah piece of cake... You get my point. These are some of the typical beginners moves that probably require that little bit more effort and work to get perfected:
- beat to the bar
- one leg hang
- front balance
- back balance
- elbow hang
TECHNIQUE TRAINING: is really about developing good habits. Great postural habits, great form and more specific techniques for specific moves. This doesn't happen instantly and will require dedication, repetition and awareness of what you are doing. Here's what you should be doing:
- Work on technique repeatedly to develop good habits
- Check your shapes and lines in the mirror so you are aware of what you are doing
- Film your moves and watch them back to self correct your form
- Get feedback either from other aerialists or your teacher as to how you are doing and whether you are doing things wrong or can do them better
- Make sure you are not developing bad technique
There is nothing worse than working on a move badly and developing bad technique only to find out that you will need to undo this later (see blog here on Muscle Memory for more info on this).
And finally tricks!!! Which is the fun stuff after all - yep it's the moves, drops, rolls, spins and poses that probably drew you to aerial in the first place. They can be quite addictive because there's always the thrill, satisfaction and sense of achievement when you nail that move for the first time after weeks of working on it. Some people just like to solely focus on tricks (you aerial tricksters) since that is the fun part after all, which is totally fine. However I'd advise not to get toooooo carried away with learning trick after trick without paying attention to the other components. You will find the tricks get easier the more you combine work on the other parts and you will also become a safer aerialist and less prone to injury. Your aerial practice will also become more rewarding overall as you become more skilled at all the different aspects that go into aerial training.
TRICKS TRAINING: develop your strength, flexibility, stamina and technique alongside your moves so that your tricks will look effortless, graceful, aesthetically pleasing and if you are popping some drops in too, then death defying as well.
OVER TRAINING: Lastly while we are on the topic of training a super quick word on over training. Don't be tempted to go too hard and crazy with all this new and exciting stuff you've discovered. Yes I know you want to be able to do it all like yesterday! But please use awareness and tune into what is right for your body. Some people can handle lots of training sessions - others may need to work slower at their own pace. Everyone learns differently and everyone's bodies have different needs.
Remember training to be an aerialist is more like training to be an athlete - it's pretty incredible stuff you are getting your body to do! So go at it with awareness and combine training sessions with good nutrition, lots of rest and make sure you don't over do things.