published Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Learning aerials is a great way to build core strength

Amy Harris, left, and daughter Hannah Harris go through movements during a Chattanooga Aerials class at Scenic City Dance Center.
Amy Harris, left, and daughter Hannah Harris go through movements during a Chattanooga Aerials class at Scenic City Dance Center.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

Ever dream of flying through the air with the greatest of ease? Ever imagine that the daring young man on the flying trapeze was getting quite a workout?

"It's very full-body and integrating a lot of things at once," said Amy Powell, owner of Chattanooga Aerials, a Lee Highway dance studio specializing in trapeze instruction. "It's not just lifting your legs or pulling up with arms; it's everything all at once."

Aerials uses both trapeze bars and hanging silks, with different maneuvers that work all the different muscle groups.

When Leslie Gladney, 28, tried an aerials class, she said she felt like she was working "every muscle." Gladney said the moves required a lot of core strength as well as heavy work in the legs and abdominal muscles. She was sore for a couple of days afterward, but it was worth it, she said.

"I had fun. I want to go back and do it again."

Powell, who has been doing aerial work for 12 years, said the best part of an aerials workout is that it doesn't feel like a workout.

There are no reps, no counting.

"It just feels like we're playing," she said. "It's clearly fitness, but it's not repetitive and it's not taskmaster. It's fun and playful. You get to hang and swing."

One particular move took Kim Clowers, 32, back to childhood.

To reach up to the trapeze bar, one hangs by the arms and passes the legs through the space between the arms and the head, hooking the knees over the bar to pull up into a sitting position.

If this maneuver sounds like something from the monkey bars, you're not far off. Because of their flexibility, children definitely have the advantage, Clowers said.

"It's hard to do as an adult," she said.

Standing on the trapeze bar gave Clowers' quadriceps a good workout, she said. She said she learned different moves, using different muscle groups to maintain stability. Once seated, and eventually standing, on the trapeze bar, one must use core muscles to maintain stabilization.

"When people get up there, they're standing on this bar that moves all around, and they're like 'whoa!'" Powell said.

Even more challenging than the trapeze are the silks. The colorful, ribbon-like pieces of fabric are pretty, she said, and people are often eager to try them, but they can be tough.

"There were some things that definitely felt like a workout," Gladney said. "(Climbing the silk) was a mix of upper-body and lower-body strength, and I have way more lower body strength than upper."

Clowers, 32, agreed that it look a great deal of arm strength.

On Oct. 25, the New York Times published a blog by wellness writer Tara Parker-Pope titled "Why women can't do pull-ups."

The article, which cites a study at the University of Dayton, suggests that the combination of women having less upper-body strength and a higher percentage of body fat makes it more challenging for them to do even one pull-up.

The aerial community disputes this, Powell said. She says plenty of women like her can do pull ups.

"These are not women who walked in the door (being able to do them)," she explained.

In other words, aerials can help build that upper-body strength.

"I started with scrawny arms," Powell said, "and never thought I could do a pull-up."

One day, after she'd been practicing aerials for a while, a friend challenged her to try doing a pull-up. And she did it.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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