From the dozens of themed Cirque du Soleil shows to the performing artist Pink, aerial silks are having a moment in popular culture.
They are also having a moment in fitness.
You can probably tell just by watching aerial silk artists defy gravity that aerial silk routines are one heck of a workout. Especially for the upper body and the core.
So, what are aerial silks? How hard are they to master? And what can they do for you?
What are aerial silks?
Aerial silks have several other names – aerial fabric, aerial ribbons, aerial tissue. These names refer to the actual fabric itself, which is a strong nylon tricot or polyester lycra with some give and stretch.
One or two of these silks are rigged to ceilings or specially-made frames, and are used for climbing, wrapping and aid in aerial movements.
The term “aerial silks” also refers to the use of these pieces, though. Classes dedicated to learning and practicing on these fabrics are typically called “aerial silks classes.”
Aerial Silk Moves
Aerial silks have another common name – aerial contortion – which is basically what the practice is. The twisting and turning of one’s body and working with both the fabric and the muscles to hold oneself in place, to climb, or to descend.
The three major aerial silk moves are climbs, drops, and wraps.
Aerial Silks Climbs and Drops
Climbs and drops in aerial silks are pretty self-explanatory. Performers may pull themselves up the silks using any number of techniques. They may use only their hands, their hands and legs, their hands and feet. Aerial silks truly is performance, so how an artist gets up the fabric is as much about aesthetics as practicality.
With aerial silk drops, performers move from high up on a silk to lower on the silk. This too can be done in a number of ways. Rolling out of a silk wrap or spinning down the silk are common movements.
This is where aerial silk wraps come in.
Aerial Silks Wraps
Wraps are largely what makes aerial silks a unique discipline, as opposed, for example, to rope climbing. Wraps consist of winding the silk around part (or parts) of the body, which provides a sort of hold that makes it possible for a performer to recline, twist or otherwise spin on the silk with less effort.
Some wraps are quite simple. Others are complex, winding around multiple body parts and allowing the performer to release the silk completely and be supported by the fabric alone in the air.
Aerial Silk Classes
Aerial silks classes are specialized fitness routines that requires specialized spaces. Aerial gyms have sprung up in most large cities in the United States (and in many countries around the world) to meet the increasing demand for these types of classes.
Finding an aerial gym near you typically means looking in the nearest big city.
What to Expect at Aerial Silks Class
Aerial silks classes start out with warm-ups and stretching. If you start an aerial silks class that doesn’t open with warm-ups and stretching, find a new class.
Silks are demanding of your muscles, your joints, and your tendons. Not warming up properly increases your risk of injury.
Beginners silks classes start out with the simplest aerial movements and contortions. You will learn how to safely climb, safely descend, and how to perform basic wraps and positions.
Even some of the basic moves in silks will require several sessions to master.
When you’ve perfected the movements in a beginner’s class, you can move onto intermediate aerial silks classes. Your silks instructor is the best person to help you determine when it’s time to take it to the next level.
Aerial Silks Beginner
Aerial silks is, no doubt, most intimidating to those who are just getting started and have no idea what to expect or if they can even perform the moves taught in classes.
It might help to know that you’re not going to be crawling to the rafters your first time out. Or even your second or third times out.
Beginners silks classes tend to keep things closer to the ground and use less stretchy fabrics, which gives you more control over climbs and drops. Moves can also be modified to different levels of fitness.
Don’t be discouraged or embarrassed if you can’t climb or wrap right away. You WILL build upper body strength as you attend classes. (Though, it will help to start an upper body workout routine as a jump-start.)
It will get easier over time.
How much strength do aerial silks classes require?
Climbing a piece of fabric requires some muscle. Let’s not pretend it doesn’t.
But it may not take as much muscle as you think.
Silks instructors can show you climbing techniques that incorporate your lower body, and wrapping with silks reduces the load on your arms.
However, going into silks classes with some upper body strength will allow you to progress through beginners’ aerial silks training and get to the really fun stuff more quickly.
What are the best exercises for aerial silks?
Push-ups and planks (basic and side planks) are two of the most effective exercises for building the kind of upper body strength you’ll need in silks classes.
Planks will also strengthen your core, which is your main source of stability and movement in aerial silks.
Pilates and yoga are other good ways of gaining core strength and increasing flexibility, which will be fundamental as you get into more advanced aerial poses.
What do you wear to aerial silks classes?
Time to bust out those leggings and skintight t-shirts. Snug clothing (nothing loose or baggy) is the only option for aerial silks classes.
If you wear loose clothing, not only will you end up with your shirt over your head when inverted, but you can accidentally grab your own clothing when trying to clutch the silks. This can lead to greater difficulty in learning moves and possibly even accidents.
Since you’ll be doing most of your wrapping and holds with just a few areas of your body – the stomach, the lower back, the armpits and the knees – those areas should be covered to minimize fabric burns and chafing.
Also, avoid fasteners like zippers, which can snag the silks.
A long-sleeved leotard with mid-calf to full-length leggings is an ideal silks outfit, as it covers all the essential areas and ensures your lower back and stomach don’t end up exposed by accident.
How much weight can aerial silks hold?
The fabrics used to produce aerial silks are chosen for their strength and durability. A typical silk can hold 2,000 pounds or more, and most aerial gyms rig their silks to hold their maximum weights.
That means there’s no weight limit at most aerial gyms.
If you like the idea of silks, but are worried about your weight, don’t worry. They’ve got you.
Is aerial silks a good workout?
Aerial silks class is more than a good workout. It’s a great workout. And the further you advance through silks training, the more of a workout it becomes.
The first place you’ll notice toning and fat loss (and soreness) will be in your arms, shoulders and upper back, which do most of the climbing and also control your movements during wraps and drops.
Your core will become more and more engaged as you start learning silks positions and spinning and rotating on the fabric.
You will also increase your flexibility as you stretch and bend into positions.
The continuous engagement of your muscles to remain on the silk provides cardio exercise. You’ll know it by the sweating and the quickened breaths.
Basically, training with aerial silks requires strength, stamina and flexibility, and provides a full-body strength and cardio workout in return.