There is a lot of talk about practice time, discipline, focus and attention to details in the world of juggling and Flow Arts. The combined action of this work is what I call Fitness Praxis. Yet, there are so many areas which we can put our attention to, which ones are the most important? Of course, it depends on what the outcome of your work will be, but there are a few areas which are important to us all as humans.
As physical practitioners, we should be training more than just our props. If we do not, we will not reach our full potential because we lack strength, agility and endurance. It is inevitable that we will get injured if we do not include sports training in our art work. In other sports disciplines it’s called cross-training, which means the body is more balanced, you protect yourself from repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and the result is more energy and dynamic mobility.
“It is inevitable that we will get injured
if we do not include sports training in our
Currently, my full time job is a training circuit. I realize this is a small luxury, it’s also circumstantial due to immigration to a new country. I consider my ‘free time’ here as ‘time to seriously school myself’. Honestly, I wish there was time for this level of commitment when I started 10 years ago. Instead, I worked on my prop training, community building and university education. Those were also good things to do, but my body suffered injuries that were preventable. Through the years I discovered a more balanced and full-on approach to my work.
My current personal physical training curriculum includes:
- Running: 1 hour 3 X weekly (approx 25 kms) (3 hours)
- Biking: commuting 20 minutes 5 X weekly (1.4 hours)
- Stretching/Flexibility: 1 hour 3 X weekly (3 hours)
- Prop Training: 21+ hours of prop training weekly (21 hours)
- Shows/Busking: (Off Season) 4 hours of busking or shows weekly (4 hours)
- Circuit Training: 2 hours of circuit training weekly (2 hours)
- Posture/ Balance: Alexander Technique 40 minutes 5 X weekly (3.30 hours)
- Clown: 2 hours weekly (2 hours)
- Dance Class: 3 hours dance class bi-weekly (1.5 hours)
Total training hours: 41.2 hours weekly.
The same as if I was working a 9-5 work week, except it’s all circus all the time. (YAY!) This doesn’t include other work I do for business, videos, writing or promotion. It will also change as I get into summer season and drastically increasing my busking / shows I am doing (likely decreasing prop practice time).
The reason I put so much time into these various disciplines is to be balanced on all physical fitness levels. There are 5 basic fitness principles that should be standards to your circus practice. These are 5 things you should be including as your cross discipline, on top of training your prop, and your show routines.
Running, biking, swimming, jumping jacks, soccer practice – it doesn’t matter how you accomplish aerobic activity, but the general health guidance for the average person is at least 20 minutes of vigorous activity 3 times per week. But, that is just for regular people at regular jobs. If you are a circus artist, I would consider at least doubling that. You want to ensure you put cardio into your discipline to increase the strength of your heart and lungs, warm up the body and move in different ways than your repeated practice. This will also reduce stress and is well known to give temporary relief from anxiety or depression. Cardio is the hygiene of our physical body, especially if you increased water intake and increase your breathe intake with your exertion. For the vanity in us, it also increases appearance by pushing blood and oxygen through all your vessels making your skin glow, which helps boost confidence, and yes, can help weight loss if that is your goal.
I consider endurance the cross between cardio and strength training. Circuit training is one of the best ways to get good at endurance. Building endurance helps you practice your other disciplines longer. It helps your body gain energy which pushing it little by little to endure physical stress. Increasing your ability to continue a summers worth of shows over the long haul of a hard day, week or month will make you more professional as a circus performer. It helps you build focus and determination over long stretches of time and helps you learn your bodies limits. This can give you good indication on when to push yourself, or when to rest before you reach burnout.
Doing some strength exercises once a week gives helps your endurance, helps your posture and makes you look good for the opposite sex. I love this article on why you should plank every day. It explains why your balance improves with core strengthening, how your risk of injury drops and you can do it anywhere! Doing push ups and weights is also helpful, as getting stronger in the arms means they have more control over the props you are using, and your props will seem light in comparison to your own body weight! It might even help you with those acrobatics you need to really jazz up your act.
Stretching before and after each time you pick up a prop will give you a longer lifetime in the circus. Dynamic stretching to help you warm up helps circulation and preparation for the muscles before they begin an activity. Static Stretching at the end of practice helps you relax and elongate your muscles. This can decrease tension in the muscles after prolonged use. It can help decrease possibilities of RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome. Flexibility is one of the basic tenants of fitness, and working on it consistently is important for your whole body. Yoga is a good practice for both flexibility and balance. It also improves posture and circulation. It also feels really good! But be careful, It can be very easy to hurt yourself with flexibility, so please ensure you know the proper form before attempting certain stretching techniques.
Core strength and mindfulness of the body is at the basis of balance practice. Practices like Yoga, Tai Chi and Alexander Technique are very good for learning more about balance. Everyone should be practicing balance, but circus practitioners especially. Balance will help with transitions between postures in between tricks, getting up from the floor and recalibrations if jumping or running and coming to a dead stop. It is noticeable when someone is off balance, and the better the balance, the more professional you look. On top of all else, it will decrease your chances of falling, which as you get older, can change the quality of life dramatically.
These are the basics of physical fitness that we all need to be aware of when using our bodies. Any other skill training is on top of these basic ideas of cardio, endurance, strength, flexibility and balance.
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You have been putting out some great articles recently. But this one is by far one of the best and most important. Its very easy to dismiss “traditional exercise” advice if you think you are a very active person because of your flow/circus hobbies/career. But as you pointed out, its very easy to fall prey to injury if this is your mindset.
I would also like to provide my opinion on how each of your 5 categories that you mentioned can be directly applied to various flow/manipulation techniques or scenarios.
1. Cardio: You arrive at a spin jam, lots of people, and its the middle of summer. You want to show off the new stuff you’ve been working on. You grab your poi or hoop and light up. By the end of your burn you are winded and sweating, and your were only at it for about 3-5 minutes. Cardio training will allow you to better play/perform without it feeling exhausting.
2. Endurance: You are practicing some new techniques, but your shoulders are getting tired. Or you are working with a group of club passers and your throws are getting sloppy because your neck and back are getting stiff. Endurance is the ability to exert your body for longer periods of time without the diminishing the body’s performance.
3. Strength. I see people dismiss this a lot. But strength allows your to exert your muscles more powerfully, and more efficiently. This will play into your endurance. If you are a club juggler, and you want to move up to 5 clubs. You are going to need to be throwing higher, requiring more strength. Also speed control factors into strength. If you have ever seen a poi/hoop/staff routine where someone goes from a slow smooth pattern, into a rapid series of movements in the blink of an eye. That takes strength and power to execute.
4. Flexibility: I think this is pretty well understood by flow artists and performers. Flexibility allows you to perform certain moves that you might not normally be able to. Like back crosses with clubs, or behind the back weave. Also it increases your range of motion. So your poi flowers look cleaner and larger. One of my favorite warm ups that I like to do before picking up any prop is simply poi flowers.
5. Balance: The ability to balance a ball on ones head, club on the chin, or simply keep your footing planted firm as you flow from one move to another. Balance is hugely important to all aspects of the flow arts. Again this one seems like its a bit obvious for flow artists, but it never hurts to look at what we all take for granted.
Wow. It sure is a lot but I think it is all worth it. Thanks for sharing this.