How to... use the trapeze

How to... use the trapeze

In the first of a new series, we pick our top Gymbox instructors to show us how to get the best of our apparatus. This week Hester Campbell gets to grips with the trapeze.

Some history

The peak physical condition of aerial artists, specifically and historically delineated from flying trapeze, is a physical excellence bar none. The flying trapeze was developed by Jules Léotard, a young French acrobat and aerialist, in Toulouse in the mid-1800s. He invented the flying trapeze, taking the ‘high bar’ apparatus and engineering it to suspend in the air. He developed this by practising over a swimming pool!

The static trapeze has since developed into an aerial art and aerial dance form. There is single, doubles and triples trapeze. Static trapeze acts involve hangs, drops, transitions, beats, and sometimes spins. The single point trapeze is sometimes known as dance trapeze, which is performed on a swivel single point, rather than the traditional two rigged points.

Trapeze facts

Trapeze is a great piece of aerial equipment to start training on. Many different aerial apparatus have evolved since, but the fundamentals are akin to trapeze moves. The trapeze is designed to offer many possibilities: under the bar, on the bar, above the bar, in the ropes, and to the sides on the bar. Some performance trapezes will have padding around the ends of the bar which tapers up to the ropes. This padding makes doubles moves and some tricks such as ankle hangs more comfortable. Padding isn’t essential, and wasn’t always available as an option. I think training on un-padded trapezes makes you tougher! Here’s how to start training on the trapeze.

The first fundamental exercise for training on trapeze is hanging under the bar and performing ‘shoulder shrugs’. This is an essential exercise to master before anything else. When hanging, the natural position is to let the shoulder blades elevate and you will feel squashed between the ears and the shoulders. In this exercise you must slide the shoulder blades down the back, making space between the ears and the shoulders, and therefore recruiting latissimus dorsi muscles. This is the large muscle in the back, designed for endurance, which creates the wings you see in developed physiques. The habit that most people develop early on if not taught correctly is to hang from the joint which puts strain on the the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder. These are a small group of muscles which allow the shoulder to have the freedom to move in an extremely wide range of movement planes. It can also be damaged permanently if ligament damage occurs. So for the health and longevity of the joint, we must learn how to hang correctly.

Shoulder shrugs. Grip the bar firmly with hands slightly wider than shoulder distance apart, hang under the bar with straight arms. Keep arms straight and slide shoulder blades down the back, think of pulling your shoulder blades down to your waist. Your should feel the muscles underneath the shoulder blades engaging. This feels like anchoring the shoulders down the back. Release the lats and shoulders will shrug up again. Draw shoulders down the back again, repeat 10-12 times.

Once you have learned shoulder shrugs, and are familiar with how to stabilise the shoulders and keep the lats engaged, you can move on. Hanging under the bar, lift one knee towards your chest. Next try lifting both knees (knee tucks). From there move on to toe taps. In this exercise you practise taking one leg up to the bar. The leg must be straight and toes pointed. A straight leg with pointed toes will engage every muscle of the leg. Aerial training uses a lot of upper body strength, but the legs must be equally strong. The toe tap exercise recruits the lower abdominals (transverses), rectus abdominals and the obliques. It’s a very quick way to get strong abs! Once you can perform repetitions of 8 to 12 on each leg, you can work on lifting both legs to the bar.

After you get your toes to the bar, next is ‘tuck throughs’. You’ll need good grip strength. Keep your body in tiny ball and practise taking your feet underneath the bar, then rock hips an inch towards the floor, and return to take feet under the bar again by pushing the bar away using your back muscles.

Hocks hang. This should be practised with a teacher spotting you at all times. Keep hold of the bar with a firm grip, take both legs over the bar, bend your knees and squeeze your heels to your bum. Keep focus on engaging the glutes, hamstrings and abdominals. If you feel comfortable gripping the bar behind your knees, release one hand at a time first, and then slowly lower your torso into a hang. This is a very dynamic position, keep the glutes, Hamstrings and abdominal muscles activated at all times. SQUEEZE EVERYTHING!

Sitting balance on the bar. From hocks hang position reach your arms up to the bar, take hold of the ropes, walk your hands up. Pull yourself to sitting, at the same time stretch your legs down towards the floor. Point your toes, keep your legs straight and keep your abs engaged. Lean your weight slightly forward, take one arm away from the rope. You should have contact between the rope and your bicep, push your arm into the rope and keep your weight forward, sitting up tall. If you feel ready take both hands away from the the ropes and balance!

Short arm hold/sitting pull ups. From sitting balance take your hands back to the ropes. Keep your legs in front of you in an L shape. Pull yourself up away from the bar, squeeze elbows to your ribs, hold this position for as long as you can, then lower yourself slowly back to sitting on the bar. To come down from the trapeze, reverse all the exercises. Move slowly with control. Getting down from aerial equipment use equal concentration and effort as getting up. Accidents or injuries can happen on the way down, so always move in slow motion! Moving slowly means you will recruit more muscles fibres and won’t miss out on valuable strength conditioning opportunity!

Aerial training is low impact and suitable for everybody, no matter the fitness level. Six months after having my second baby I am back to pre-pregnancy weight and feeling strong and able. I have aerial training to thank for my fitness levels pre-pregnancy and for helping me get back into shape again.

Find out about our trapeze classes here.

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Photos: Vesna Nikolic