By Chelsea McIntosh and Nathalie Morton
For circus artists, staying healthy can sometimes come as an afterthought or feel like too much of a hassle to stay on top of. Staying healthy, however, is critical to your overall performance in any sport. To protect your body, it is important to make sure to warm up and stretch daily, to eat a healthy and balanced diet, and to exercise and condition enough to keep your body strong enough to handle the intensity of aerial arts.
In order to protect your body from difficult skills that might overuse some muscles or parts of your body, it is important to always make sure to warm up all of your muscles with effective stretches and exercises to prevent pulling muscles during training. Your body won’t be able to handle jumping straight into strenuous activities without something to prepare it first. An effective warm up can consist of simple exercises, such as jumping jacks or a mountain climbers, followed by thorough stretching of all your muscles. It is very important to stretch and warm up areas such as your back, neck, wrists, shoulders, hamstrings, and hips so you can use those areas safely in training.
For aerial arts, a key part of taking care of your body is stretching before and after training. Stretching after you finish a day of training is just as important as stretching and warming up your muscles before training because it can reduce the soreness felt after a really hard workout, increase your flexibility (something every circus artist is after), help to elevate your most likely pretty low energy levels after a workout, and prevent injuries. All muscles are important and used when doing aerial arts, so make sure to cover all muscle groups when stretching in warm ups and in cool downs. For instance, when stretching your arms, be sure to cover all the muscle groups, such as your wrists, biceps, triceps and shoulders because neglecting any of them increases your chance of injury. Stretching well after a workout can eliminate lactic acid that builds up in your muscles during a workout, reducing the pain you feel after a long, hard training session. In addition, cooling down with stretching increases your energy levels because when your body finally cools down, your brain releases endorphins which make you feel energized and happy.
Although it is one of the most important things to do to keep your body healthy, stretching is not the only thing circus artists must do to stay healthy and in shape. Eating a healthy and balanced diet is paramount to being able to withstand the intensity of circus and allows you to advance in aerial arts. Eating healthy, however, does not necessarily mean that you must eliminate every single sweet thing you love or that you must go on restrictive and dangerous diets. Circus takes up a lot of energy so eating complete and hearty meals is necessary. Try to balance out your meals as evenly as possible with each of the three key macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Many diets these days will tell you that eliminating fats or carbs is eating “healthy”, but your body needs all three. Getting your fats from healthy and unprocessed foods, like avocados or nuts, is better for you than depriving yourself from these needed nutrients. Good sources of protein include white meat, tofu, eggs, quinoa and more. Red meat is a good source of protein, but can become unhealthy if overeaten, so try to stay to lean white meats, such as chicken and turkey. As for getting a balanced portion of healthy carbohydrates, whole wheat options are always a great choice. Eating healthy is all about balance and natural foods, not restriction and dieting. You will quickly see that eating full, fresh, and natural foods leaves you feeling more refreshed and energized than when eating fried and processed foods. While cutting back on most classic junk foods is part of eating a balanced diet, you don’t have to swear off them completely, as eating these foods in moderation doesn’t hurt. If you’re looking for a replacement for your favorite sweets and candy, try eating more berries and fruits, as they are nature’s candy!
The last component of keeping your body healthy for circus is exercise outside of what you do in the air. Although circus is a tough workout on its own, it is not a good source of cardio. Running is a great way to make up for this and can keep your heart healthy for all physically demanding events in your life, in addition to circus training. If running isn’t your thing, you can also get good cardio training in by doing a half hour or more on a stationary bike or jumping rope for twenty minutes. It is important to know your limits to avoid overworking your body or exhausting yourself too much, so spread out your workouts and give your body enough time to recover in between. Intensity levels of these workouts should not be as high as circus workouts. Calm and easy cardio training is an excellent complement to high intensity circus training because it takes some strain of your body while still keeping you in shape.
Circus is amazing when performed, but it can take a toll on the body when we don’t take the appropriate steps to protect ourselves. Warming up, stretching, exercising and eating healthy are just a few of the many ways you can protect your body. When done correctly, they can ensure that you are safe from preventable injuries and can perform to the best of your abilities.