What Is Aerial Training
The definition of aerial is: existing, happening, or operating in the air. The definition of training is: the action of teaching a person a particular skill or type of behavior. Marry the two together and you have a person performing particular skills that operate in the air.
That is the perfect description of what aerial arts is. Aerial training is the dedication each aerialist has to train, reworking, strengthening, and mastering a new or pre learned move.
There are several apparatuses that you can train on. Today we will discuss the main two being lyra or aerial hoop and silks. Silks can be used on their own or tied together as a sling. If you want to learn about more aerial apparatuses you can check out my article on 9 aerial arts classes to try today.
WHAT IS LYRA?
The Aerial Hoop, sometimes called Lyra, is a large metal hoop that is hung on a swivel and suspended from either one or two hang points. Aerial artists move around the hoop to perform a range of tricks such as poses, rolls, drops and double stunts.
WHAT ARE SILKS?
Aerial silks are also known as tissues or fabric. The artist can climb, wrap, bind and drop from the silks. The fabric used is not just any old fabric it is made from poly tricot. You can get them in low, medium and high stretch. Beginners start on a low stretch fabric so that they can learn how to climb and perform moves more easily, while the intermediate user may prefer the medium to high stretch as it is more comfortable when you are performing drops in the air.
This has been the new apparatus I have been learning and I have to say I am loving it!
What To Wear To Aerial Training
Unitards or leotards the body still keeps nice lines and you can see them when you are working on new shapes.
You want to make sure that when you are choosing either a leotard or a unitard that you make sure the blend is 90% cotton 10% spandex, otherwise you will be sliding all over the place and you won’t be able to train in it.
HOW TO DRESS FOR A LYRA CLASS:
When trying Lyra you want to make sure that you have long leggings on and a tight top. The leggings will help protect you from tears and scrapes on your legs.
I always like to have a pair of legwarmers handy and socks just in case you are trying a new and painful trick. Leg warmers worn under the knees will help you slowly adjust to the bar. You will find in the beginning you will have a little fluid behind the knees and feel a little sore. I like to use arnica to ease fluid and bruising in the body.
HOW TO DRESS FOR SILKS:
Dressing for silks is a little bit different from Lyra. You want to ensure that you wear non-slippery tights and a t-shirt with sleeves. Fabric burn is real and hurts under your armpits.
Beginner Aerial Training
When you start training in your aerial classes there is a whole new level of strength that you will need to incorporate into your body. While a professional strength and conditioning coach would prescribe sports specific training and an assessment of the athlete we will have to focus on sports specific training and you can seek advice later in this article for athletic specific strength training drills.
The Types Of Strength An Aerialist Needs To Have
1. Static strength
Static strength is building strength without moving. Ninjas practice static strength training by holding the same pose for an extended period of time. This method applies when we are stationary on an aerial apparatus. Examples of this are holding a front balance on the bar and being able to hold your leg in a high position such as a split for an extended period of time.
2. Explosive strength
The definition of explosive movements is when we quickly move weight in an explosive movement.
Explosive movements are constantly being used in aerial arts. That is why sometimes you can perform a move earlier in the class but not later. These movements involve extensive muscular involvement and result in extensive energy expenditure.
We use explosive strength when we are performing beats or when you quickly go from a resting pose into a high force move. The move has to use the extensive force of your entire body for that moment in time. An example of this could be moving from a dead hang on the silks to a fast inversion.
An example of an explosive move would be the clean and jerk in Olympic weightlifting.
3. Dynamic strength
The definition of Dynamic strength is: Resistance of a structure to loads applied suddenly, as during an earthquake.
We see this applied when we are performing fast drops in the air on aerial silks or lyra such as the move tombe.
Endurance is not easy when it comes to aerial arts. I have only just got to the point where I can train silks non stop for an hour. Lyra I could train all day.
Training endurance can be tricky as it depends on how many people are in the class and how much air time you get. If your studio has open gyms this is the perfect way to start.
Begin putting the tricks together that you know or love. Before you know it you will have a routine. Building and rehearsing a routine is absolutely exhausting and a great way to start building up your endurance.
When you don’t have access to a gym you can use a public monkey bar or pull up bar to increase your aerial stamina. Try the following drills:
- Skin the cats
- Underbar splits
- Underbar pike mounts
- Single knee hangs
- Toes to bar
- Straddle mounts
- Delilah mount
Another way I build stamina with strength is by working with calisthenics. I have to say the things calisthenics artists can do is pretty intimidating. It reminds me of a lot acrobatic static movements. We also hold static movements in the air just like calisthenics, therefor training in this art will help you when you are in the air.
The Types Of Flexibility An Aerialist Needs
Starting off I have to say I am a total flexibility nerd. Aside from my extensive training and practice I still buy and constantly read textbooks and professional journals on flexibility.
An aerialist needs to have several different flexibility types to complement their training.
Dynamic flexibility (also called kinetic flexibility) is the ability to perform dynamic (or kinetic) movements of the muscles to bring a limb through its full range of motion in the joints. A great example of dynamic flexibility would be the range of movement of a karate kick. Or the range of motion in the shoulder when a pitcher throws the ball.
This applies to aerial in nearly all of our flexibility movements. Each time we move our limbs through a range of motion without the assistance of a hoop or silk we are using dynamic flexibility.
An example of this would be a hip key or the ability to increase the range of motion in a hip hang of the leg that is not assisted by the hand.
Another form of Dynamic flexibility is active flexibility. Active flexibility is the ability to assume and maintain extended positions using only the tension of the agonist and synergist muscles whilst stretching the antagonist’s muscles.” An example would be a ballerina extending her leg in arabesque and holding the position in the air without external support.
If we take this to an aerial spectrum you can see this in an inverted split, Russian split on the unsupported leg and unsupported backbends on any apparatus.
The ability to assume extended positions and then maintain them using only your weight, the support of your limbs, or some other apparatus (such as a chair or a barre). ” An example of this would be the splits on the floor.
We use this type of flexibility with double foot lock splits or a bullseye split.
The downside of passive flexibility is that you need gravity or a supportive surface in order to perform it. As aerialists are in the air and supported only by themselves and the apparatus the frequency of this type of flexibility is quite low.
Beginner Silks Training
When you first start training for silks you can expect to do upright movements, moves from single foot locks and staying close to the ground.
A few moves you will learn as an aerial silks beginner are:
- Single foot lock
- Candy cane
- Single foot lock gazelle
- Iron cross
- Straddle inverts
Beginner Lyra Training
When you first start training for lyra you will start with underbar moves and a few in hoop tricks. The lyra will be set low so that you don’t have far to fall (we all do it).
Here are a few beginner moves you can expect to learn:
- Man in the moon/Lady in the moon
- Underbar split
- Underbar hocks hang
- Peter Pan
Personal Aerial Training Practice
Cultivating a personal aerial training practice is important for several reasons. You need to practice your moves, transitions, and tricks over and over again until they are perfect.
Now that circus arts have moved into the mainstream market you will find a lot of studios who produce trick chasers and do not prioritize technique. This is harmful to the student as they are not developing the correct form and strength for the move which can result in injury. Secondly, that does not produce an aerialist. Aerialists need to work on routines, transitions, and stamina.
I couldn’t tell you how many trick chasers I have seen that can not properly mount the lyra, in vine climb or straddle mount. I used to be the same until I moved into a technique based studio that trains aerialists for national competitions.
How to work on your technique
- Make sure your toes are pointed. All of the time. A good way to measure this is to place a piece of paper between your two front toes and make sure it does not drop while you are performing your movements.
- Know what the move is meant to look like. While we need to work up to our tricks due to restrictions on strength, a proper straddle mount is with straight arms and bringing the legs up without any help from the floor. While you train straddle mounts with bent knees and kicking off from the floor, train for the technique you are supposed to be achieving. Your body will become accustomed to it more quickly.
- How do you know if the move is proper form? As all teachers come in different levels of unqualified training and experience. A good way is to work with someone who trains for competitions or reference aerial physique tv. I have found in my personal experience that her form is beyond flawless and the move is heavily described so that you can ensure your body is in the right places.
- Always ensure that your shoulders are always sliding down your back towards your glutes.
- Work on constantly having the ribs knitted together. This means no flaring out. You want to have almost a dish like posture for the core.
- Train in front of a mirror or record your training sessions. I am a big fan of recording my training sessions because not only can I watch my form, I can go back to earlier training sessions and see how far I have really come.
Part of your personal training practice also needs to include training our weaknesses. This is because we all have different areas of our bodies that we struggle with in strength and flexibility. I personally need to work on my lower core strength and my pull up endurance. This identifies the areas on which I need to train additionally to my normal training regime.
Here are three mini-programs that can help you with your legs, core, arms, and back. All the areas we use in aerial.
Focus on unilateral hip adduction and abduction. A good way to strengthen the muscles for this movement is to implement forward step lunges, leg extensions and leg raises.
OVERHEAD CLIMBS AND TRICKS
This focuses on the chest, triceps, and back. Incorporate dumbell pullovers, overhead triceps extension, shoulder internal and external rotation.
Think “Same Same & Opposite Opposite”
How to do it:
- Start on all fours in a kneeling position.
- Wrists in line with shoulders, knees in line with the hips.
- Engage your core and lift your right hand and tap your left shoulder.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Life your right hand to tap your right shoulder. Repeat on the left side.
- Continue alternating sides for three rounds of ten sets.
We can train straddles on the floor too!
How to do it:
- Laying on your back.
- Bring your legs into a straddle position.
- Ensure that your ankles and knees are in line with your hips.
- Using your core strength raise your hips off the ground and roll forward along the spine until you can’t bring the hips forward anymore.
- Repeat three rounds of ten sets.
Check out the full guide to cross-training for aerialists here.
Why It’s Important to Cross Train For Aerial
The great thing about our bodies is that after six weeks we begin to adapt to movements. This is great for when we are in the air performing tricks, because it becomes easier for us to achieve them.
The downside is that our bodies get used to those movements, so when we advance it does not have that new strength to move through the new range of motion. That is why we cross-train.
Cross Training continues to build new strength that our bodies are not used to. While your aerial class may have a good ab work out if it’s always the same it is not going to challenge you. You need to change your strength routine every six weeks in order to gain more strength.
You can get my cross-training program here.
Circ Fit Aerial Training
Circus aerial training is a sports specific strength and agility training method. This is what professional conditioning and strength coaches plan for elite athletes. Fortunately for me, I have access to one, my husband Garrett. Here are a few areas you should focus on when training for aerial arts.
CHIN UPS & PULL-UPS
How to do it:
- Grab the pullup bar with your palms down gripping the bar in a forward grip.
- Hang to the pullup-bar with straight arms and your legs off the floor.
- Engage your shoulders and pull yourself up by pulling your elbows down to the floor.
- Engage your traps, rhomboids, and lats as you move upward to the bar and downward.
- Ensure that you go all the way up until your chin passes the bar.
This guide is amazing. It has a full program that you can use to progress you into your first pull up. So now you have no excuses to not nail that pull up.
Climbing is all about endurance. Depending on the height of your studio’s ceilings you could be climbing more than 25ft. Climbs increase your cardiovascular system, improves technique and work the forearms. Try to work new climbs into your training repertoires such as sailor climb or freehand climb.
I don’t need to tell you how to do this. If you only have a classic climb then how many climbs can you do on either side? If you have several climbs under your belt can you execute them all one after another including your good and bad side?
TOES TO BAR
How to do it:
These can be assisted with the help of a training partner. The partner supports the legs in a pike position higher than the aerialist can hold. Then gently removes the support and places it again an inch further. Continue until you meet the aerialist no longer needs assistance.
- Hanging from a Silk, Lyra, Monkey bar or a sit-up bar.
- Keep the legs straight, engaged and glued together.
- Bring the legs to meet the top of the bar.
- Lower to the starting point.
- Repeat three rounds of ten sets.
CULTIVATING FOREARM STRENGTH:
We use the AMRAP method. What is that you may ask? I said the same thing to my trainer. It means as many reps as possible.
Gripping the bar in a forward grip lift the body off the ground and hang until your hands and forearms fail. Forearm strength and endurance is imperative in aerial arts. Give your body a break for 5 minutes and then repeat at least three rounds.
Secondly, we are going to repeat the method above yet this time with a single hand grip. I find this is something that gets overlooked in strength and training warm-ups and cooldowns. There are so many stunning one-handed tricks you just need to gain the strength to perform them. The only way you will achieve that is through practice.
Aerial Training Gear
Dry hands is great for silks and lyra. Traditionally aerialists would use chalk for lyra and resin for silks. I love dry hands they work for both specialties and they can help prevent you from slipping.
Arnica will be your best friend especially if you are training lyra. You will get bruised often. Arnica helps take the fluid out of your bruises and gives you some relief. It will also heal the bruising faster. It’s every dancer’s secret weapon 😉 .
Yes, you read right. A nail file. You will need to have one handy at home if you are practicing trapeze or lyra. You will build large calluses and when the rip it is painful because they are so deep. While your hands will rip no matter what keep the calluses filed down so when your hands rip they are shallow.
If you are looking to buy your first lyra or aerial hoop make sure you read this first. There are a few things I wish I would have done differently.
Go Tab Free
Having no tabs allows you to make your lyra single tab or double tab with your span sets. It also avoids the uncomfortably a large tab brings when you are working on the top bar. Lyra is painful enough little alone a big metal square pushing into your limbs.
Make sure the diameter of the bar is wide enough. A friend of mine bought her lyra from aerial essentials and the bar is so thin you simply can’t train on it. It is exceptionally painful and far from ideal. So I would steer clear of their lyras.
Getting the perfect fit
Get the perfect size for you. The diameter of the hoop needs to be the same measurement as the top of your hip to your heel.
My hoop is from Coggs Circus. I have to say I absolutely love it and it is one of the favorites in the studio. The diameter of the hoop and the bar is perfect. It is sold steel and is anti rust proof.
When purchasing your silks you need to decide on what stretch level you want to use. I would recommend low stretch unless you have been training for some time and have worked on medium stretch silk. I would recommend checking out fire toys and aerial essentials for buying your fabric.
When buying your first rig it is really important that you buy one from a trusted provider. Ludwig rigs are industry-standard rigs. I personally love and trust Coggs Circus gear. They provide industry-standard a-frames with a pulley system. This is the first industry rig that I have found with a pulley system you can check them out here.
Aerial Teacher Training
There are several leading institutions that provide aerial teacher training. The problem is there is no across the board-certified training standard. This is due to the fact that there is no regulation. With that being said in the industry there are some teacher training classes that hold more respect than others. A few of these are:
You can read the full article that highlights the pros, cons, and information about each of these training programs in my article 5 studios to get your aerial certification at.
Aerial Training Guides
Aerial training guides are helpful when you are putting together a curriculum or classes you may be teaching. I have put together visual and written guides so you can have a great list of resources.
Aerial Physique TV
This is a great tool for aerial instructors and students.
For teachers, this is a great resource tool for teaching new moves and sequences. The commentary is extremely descriptive and can be helpful to guide your students through new moves. Not only are there the moves, but there are also training drills included which is extremely helpful.
When it comes to aerial silks students I would never advise trying tricks on your own that you have learned from tv. What this is useful for is for a reference to moves you have already learned, or perhaps something you would like to work on with your instructor.
I hope you enjoyed my 41 aerial training tips. If you have some to add I would love to hear them.
In happiness and health,
- Building A Strength Training Program To Improve Your Aerial Skills
- Do You Really Have Your Split?
- How To Do A Chest Stand
- Middle Split Flexibility Routine. (Video Series)
- 7 Top GLUTES MINIMUS Exercises
Check out my flexibility classes and online coaching.