Aerial Fitness

If you want to learn how to swing from your knees or walk a tightwire, then you should try out aerial, or circus, fitness. Circus has seen a resurgence throughout the U.S. in the past several decades; circus schools and companies have been opening everywhere. For example, Aloft, a studio in Chicago, is housed in a former church and has been offering classes for over a decade. While many who train at these schools aspire to be professional circus performers, many other students train as a form of fitness.

In an interview with Carmen Kingsley, circus teacher and performer at Aloft, she explains that she has many students who take classes because they prefer the community feel of the circus school compared to the gym. Shayna Swanson, founder and director of Aloft, explains the two-fold reason why special communities form around circus: Adults get an opportunity to play, and people become vulnerable trying new things. “Making yourself vulnerable to people like that automatically brings people together,” Swanson says.

Many students are quite passionate about circus classes and have taken multiple classes for many years. One Aloft student, Michelle Seeley, who takes swinging trapeze, static trapeze among other classes, aims to continue her practice until her seventies. What started as one class a week has now turned into full-blown circus addiction.

“Circus is currently my sole form of fitness,” Seeley says. “I feel like that if I keep taking classes at the same level and frequency, I feel like I’m going to be a pretty fit 70-year old. That’s the goal.”

Circus classes provide a comprehensive workout. Kingsley explains that circus helps develop core strength, coordination and body awareness, but it’s not targeting one specific area. Swanson explains that most aerial classes involve high intensity interval training, rather than a full cardiovascular workout, but trampoline wall can provide strong cardio. Lisa Pilot Cote, founder and owner of Trapeze Las Vegas and physical therapist assistant, notes that circus helps to work out large muscle groups and “small muscle groups that rarely get touched in our daily lives.” Taking more than one class can round out a workout.

Researchers have begun formally study the impact of circus on health. For example, a study at University of Manitoba looked at circus and physical literacy and found that it helps physical literacy development of children.

Aloft offers the gamut of circus classes focusing on specific circus apparatuses including trapeze, tight wire, trampoline wall and aerial conditioning that helps build core strength and hone techniques. There are classes for students of all ages.

For those interested, it’s good to know there’s more to circus than just a workout or way to sneak in fitness. “Circus melds physical activity with self-expression,” Kingsley says.