Seven Ways to Stay Injury Free as a Circus Artist

Want to train and get better without the setbacks that come with injury?

Here are my top ways to keep your body injury free so that you can train hard, smart and steadily towards your circus goals!

#1 Create a training plan

Make sure to include the skills you want to maintain and the skills you want to improve. Next, create action steps to get there! Achievable goals are the key. Break skills down into parts and work on the progressions or set a schedule that will allow you to be at peak performance readiness before a big show.

Be sure to include cross training (more on that later) AND rest day(s). That’s right, other physical activity and rest belong IN your training plan. After all, your body needs work AND recovery to get stronger and improve.

Want to understand your training better? Understand the load you place on your body and the right way to train by downloading my FREE Training Workbook.

#2 Sleep

Sleep we do it everyday, but don’t think much about it. But, sleep is a huge part of your training. Not only does sleep affect your energy and your body’s ability to recover from a workout, it is crucial to your brain learning. That’s right! Sleep is when your brain revists all those new movements you learned during your training and makes those neurologial pathways stronger and ready for the next time you train. 

However, not sleeping enough can also decision making and increase your reaction time- two crucial aspects of safe training. Try to get a good night’s sleep before AND after your next big workout.

#3 Warm up

Warming up prepares your body to take on the challenges of your training. A good warm up does more than your think! While your body is starting to feel warmer you are shifting your body’s focus from it’s basic needs into gear for high performance. It preps your heart and nervous system to be ready to go. To get your body ready you are sending more blood flow to the muscles in your extremities and away from things like your organs that help you do things like digest. 

The simplest warm up about simply getting your body temperature up. Dance, jump, skip, run, whatever you think is fun. Get consistently moving for a minimum of 5 minutes. Next, make sure to include exercises that are specific to your discipline or planned training. Work through the full motions you are going to use starting from small to big motions and from slower to more dynamic. 

Finally, warming up puts you in a good headspace for training. Getting in the zone mentally can be just as important as getting in the zone physically!

#4 Mental Stress

That emotional and cognitive stress can be a huge distraction and when you are tumbling on the ground or flying in the air, you need complete focus. The day you break up with your significant other or have a tense interaction with someone at work is not the day to hit your training hard. Your body is already giving a lot to deal with your high-stress day. But you can still go into the gym and focus on your fundamentals. Training with friends and your community can be great to get that stress under control. Just try to stay away from skills/drills that are the most physically or mentally taxing.

#5 Cross Training

Things that don’t feel like circus training may be some of the most important training you do. You can make your circus discipline easier (and safer) by preparing your body and having a well rounded training program.   

Strength: prepares your tissues for the load demands of aerial training and gives your body the physical foundation it needs to learn new skills. Your balanced strong muscles protect your joints by giving you more stability and you control of your movements. That strength leads to being able to learn your circus skills much faster and your improved control protects you from injury. 

Cardio: Have you ever run your act and felt like you were going to pass out?!? Cardio helps you get through your act without feeling terrible. In circus, we tend to train skills or maybe a few skills in a row, but less often are working consistently for more than a minute or two. Training cardio, like running your full act, involves sustained effort and uses your body’s aerobic system. That system needs training too. 

But here’s a tip- when doing cardio while being a hanging / hand-balancing person, consider choosing a type of cardio that doesn’t involve a lot of upper body work (how about biking?). Give those arms a break!

Mobility training: allows you to maximize the motion available to your joints. Keep in mind, however, that mobility is fundamentally about control of your whole active and passive range of motion. The best way to gain that control and mobility? Is STRENGTH (oh heeeeey look back to strength) that’s balanced strength around a joint (ie being good at pushing and pulling in all of the directions that joint moves). 

Circus training repeatedly asks your muscles and joints  to perform towards their end range of motion, but your muscles work best in the mid range of their length; not when they are fully shortened or fully lengthened. It is important to make sure you can ACTIVELY control your range of motion to prevent injury.

Since we keep coming back to strength training….it’s definitely worth looking into a strength program designed for aerialists:

The Aerial Shoulder Bootcamp

This multi-week program provides you with fours sets of exercises to progressively load and strengthen your shoulders. It will make your them stronger and more stable overhead and at their end range, where they are most at risk for injury. Plus, you will feel better knowing that your shoulders have the physical support they need to withstand the great demands of your training.

#6 Nutrition

Eat a varied diet and eat frequently. If your nutrient stores are depleted, your may have a harder time making (safe) decisions. Without calories on board will feel fatigued and your muscles won’t have the glucose they need to give you strength for your training. Your body needs high quality fuel to perform its best!

#7. Take an active roll in your training. 

You’ve already taken the first steps to understand how your body works. Knowing more about your body allows you to optimize your training plan to achieve your goals. You can learn when to train and when to take a break, what range of motion and strength you need to achieve your skill goals, and have a better understanding of a reasonable timeline and training plan.

One of the first steps you can take is learning about the anatomy behind how your body moves. Dive in with my totally online and self-paced

Complete Aerial Anatomy Courses

You will learn everything from how muscles contract to what has to work to support your shoulder overhead, or what your joints, ligaments, and muscles are doing when you achieve a split. 

Finally, Just remember, while we want to avoid injury, things happen. We’re human! It’s going to be okay. Find a healthcare professional who understands your bodies needs (and ideally a heck of a lot about circus) With focused training you may even come back stronger than ever.