Getting circus fit for Cheltenham Science Festival

Every year I set myself an over ambitious challenge. Something that takes an extended period of time to learn, practise and develop. Last year while I was riding down the Pacific Coast of America, I set on the idea that for my 33rd year, I would challenge myself to get good enough at Aerial Silks to be able to perform in front of an audience. At this year’s Over Ambitious Demonstration Challenge (#demochallenge) at Cheltenham Science Festival, I did just that, with my set called ‘The Science of Defying Gravity’. 

While I have been doing aerial for about two and half years at this point, when I started properly training for this back in January of 2019, I thought I was physically fit, but I was amazed at how much more fitness I needed to be able to do this. 

My baseline fitness was from doing silks once a week for 90 minutes, with regular cross training (I swim in winter and cycle in summer and try and climb as much as I can), but to get to the fitness level I needed, I had to change my entire attitude to training. With the support of my teachers and fellow aerialists in Sheffield I properly upped my training regime. This wasn’t an overnight transition, as there is a high risk of injury from suddenly overtraining. From January onwards, I gradually increased my training, and through a process of trial and error, I came up with the following conditioning sequence to get me fit enough to do 20 minutes of aerial (while speaking!). In terms of training time, it’s probably around 10 – 15 hours a week in the aerial gym 3 – 4 times a week. 

A couple of things. If you’ve never done aerial before, go to class, skill share, and be consistent, ‘gains’ happen slowly! Don’t train by yourself, and work within your physical abilities, and have rest days (I wish I had more rest days). I hope this conditioning sequence is useful to amatuers like me who are looking to get strong enough to perform. I’ve adapted it from my lessons, reddits famous body weight fitness plan and a few other sources here and there. 

So here goes: This is my conditioning that I’m currently doing, at least once or twice a week: 
But first warm up currently my fave is Uptown Funk.

Floor Conditioning

  • 40 Dead bugs
  • 10 arm in push ups
  • 10 normal pushups
  • 10 hand rotated pushups
  • 30 side crunches each side
  • 30 hip raises
  • Planks – a minute for each one
    • Front
    • Sides
    • Back
  • 3 x 10 Plank pull thrus
  • 5 x L-sits (where ever you are at)
  • 10 x leg lifts from shoulder bridge
  • Core rolls-ups – as many as you can do rapidly
  • 2 x 5 straddle and/or pike inversions
  • 20 x hip dips from plank
  • 1 minute supported hand stand against the wall
  • 40 x each leg Quadruped Hip Extension
  • 10 x each side ‘dog peeing on fire hydrant’ (but with straight legs)
  • Shoulder/wrist mobility – I follow this – buy a theraband they are great.

On silks Conditioning

  • 4 x 10 crunches in hammock knot
  • French climb each side
  • Russian climb each side
  • Straddle climb
  • Same side inversion climb
  • 4 x 5 shoulder shrugs
  • 4 x 5 shoulder shrugs inverted
  • 3 x hiplock each side
  • 4 x 5 side crunches each side from catches wrap
  • 2 x 10 sit ups from double ankle hang
  • Meat hooks / nut crackers on each side till it hurts
  • Inversion (short or long arm)
    • 3 x pike
    • 3 x straddle
    • 3 x tuck

I’ll usually take a 20 minute break at this point to recover, eat some food, have a coffee, then I start practising either my routine, or some moves I’m interested in working on. I’ll practise for an hour or two, and then have a cool down. On non conditioning days I just warm up and go straight for the routine or sequence practise until I hurt too much. 

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