Aerial Fitness - What It is, the Benefits and The Different Brands

aerial fitness

So you’ve heard of aerial fitness but you have no idea what it is?  Well the aim of this post is to explain exactly what it is. 

In our opinion it could be any sports class that takes you up into the air or maybe a session that focuses on building strength for classes where you find yourself hanging upside down in the air but that’s not what people generally mean when they talk about aerial fitness. 

When people say they are going to an aerial fitness class they mean a results-driven, full-body workout where they use a hammock made out of aerial silks material along with their body weight and gravity as resistance to build strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, core and joint stability.

What is Aerial Fitness?

In our opinion Aerial silks, lyra and trapeze could all be great examples of aerial fitness classes. As could aerial straps, flying pole and pole dancing.  Some people run classes called aerial fitness classes which are very specific classes tailored to building strength and flexibility for those attending circus style workout classes. 

But in actual fact what most people mean when they say aerial fitness, is the new form of suspension training that is accessible across a wide range of ages, sizes, shapes and fitness levels. 

The participant uses body weight exercises to develop strength, balance, flexibility and core stability simultaneously.

Depending on the class students may perform tricks, flips, summersaults,  ab work, squats, lunges, yoga postures and more performed with the aid of a hammock. The hammock takes the weight of the student. Many of the movement series will test your endurance, so be ready to sweat. 

The hammock is made out of 9-12 feet of aerial silks material which is made into a loop and hung off two points. It will be hung so that the bottom of the hammock hangs around hip height. 

It sounds like some kind of exercise class where your aim is to go to circus school doesn’t it. But we kid you not, so many “regular” people take part in this aerial fitness workout every week as a great way of keeping fit in a fun and alternative way. 

If you hate going to the gym, can’t think of anything worse than taking part in a step aerobics class then this class could be just up your street.  Many students who go to these aerial fitness classes have never been in a gym, but are hooked from their first session. They transform there bodies with a new enjoyable form of exercise. 

You will find that these classes give you an all over body work-out that improves strength, flexibility and confidence. They do however, demand that participants build the strength of gymnastics, the focus of yoga and they get the heart racing faster than any spin class. But before you run away you don’t need to be strong, flexible or confident to start, you will start with the basics and build upon it. 

You get a comprehensive and results-oriented workout by taking part in aerial workouts.

The benefits of aerial fitness classes are pretty much the same as those for any exercise class but it has some unique benefits including spinal decompression, lymphatic movement, myo-fascial tissue / adhesion release and joint orientation plus mobility.

What Happens in a Aerial Fitness Class?

If you are thinking about signing up to a class, lets take a look at what might happen in class. Firstly think of a fusion class where cardio, flexibility and strength training are combined. You use your own body weight and gravity for resistance and aerial silks fabric is your equipment. 

What happens in class my vary depending on where the instructor trained but it will be something along the lines of breathing awareness and movements to activate the core followed by a  section to warm up and mobilise the muscles.

This will be followed by a basic inversion and spinal decompression. Then expect to get the heart pumping with a cardio section – think running in place, plyometric squats and lunges.

Afterwards you will bring the heart rate back down with movements that focus on strengthening the upper body and core before a short flexibility section.

Then comes my favourite but more inversions or tricks and flips. These tricks and inversions will get progressively harder. After several lesson you will find yourself linking tricks and inversion together so that you are dancing in the air.

This will all be followed by the best bit – relaxation inside the hammock. 

Is It The Same as.....

There are a number of fitness and Arial arts classes that use similar equipment. We take a quick look at these to see if they are the same as aerial fitness.

You will see that there are many similarities between these classes that use the same silky material. 

Aerial Yoga?

No, they are quite similar in the fact that they both use a hammock made out of aerial silks fabric. But yoga using silks will focus more on yoga positions and connecting movements with the breathe whilst using the hammock for support. Aerial fitness will focus, depending on the class more on cardio, flexibility or tricks and flips. There is a huge amount of overlap, and some that teach yoga on what appears to be silk ropes do in fact teach more of a fitness-based class with an element of mediation and mindfulness thrown in.

Aerial Silks?

No, whilst a very similar fabric is used aerial silks uses two pieces of silk hanging from a central rigging point. Artists climb the silks in order to do tricks, flips and drops. There are some moves which are very similar to both yoga and aerial fitness. Sometimes the two silk ropes are knotted together at the bottom to make it easier for students to learn some of the tricks without the need to climb first. 

>> Find out more about aerial silks and its benefits. 

Aerial Sling?

Again this is very similar to aerial fitness, except the goal is to have the bottom of the hammock around shoulder height. However as a beginner the hammock would be hung at hip height or slightly lower.

Styles of Aerial Fitness

There have been many pioneers in this area. However, we think the first pioneer was Christopher Harrison that created anti-gravity yoga. Shortly after this came Unnata Aerial Play and Xpert Hammock Fitness. There may be others and we apologise for any omissions we have made. This genre is very much in it’s infancy and we can see over the next ten years there being an expansion in it’s availability and the styles developed. 

antigravity fitness logo

Anti-Gravity Fitness

Probably the original creator of aerial fitness. These classes can be found in Virgin Active Gyms as well as pole fitness studios and anti-gravity studios around the world. We’re not sure when the first class was launched but it was some time between in 2007 after spending seven years developing anti-gravity fitness. The hammock was developed in 1991 for productions by anti-gravity entertainment (1).

Xpert Hammock Fitness

Hammock fitness is delivered by Xpert Fitness, a leading teacher training school when it comes to pole fitness. These classes will mainly be found in studios that teach pole fitness and other aerial skills. This style was released in 2018. Instructors are trained to teach fitness, yoga, flexibility and tricks. So you might get a fusion class on fitness, flexibility and tricks or a yoga class. The hammock is hung at hip height for these classes.

xpert-fitness-logo
Aerial Yoga Online Logo

Aerial Play & Fitness

Aerial Play & Fitness Classes were developed in 2011 by Becky Stella & Heather Haugen. They describe it as an expressive and playful way to experience “silk” hammocks. You build foundational strength and progress in to more complex movement including hammock tricks. The hammock is either hung low(at the knees) and waist-high hammock to safely and smartly progress skill level. These classes employ rhythmic flow and mindful pace keeps students enthusiastically but safely working toward his/her edge. 

Who Are Classes Suitable For?

Classes are suitable for anyone. There is no upper age limit and you can be any shape or size.

It is suitable for those of any fitness level. You will build strength and fitness doing the class. All exercises can be scaled for the individual.

Hammocks can usually hold two “normal-sized adults” so weight is usually not an issue. 

Are there any contraindications?

Yes, that’s a good question. Sadly there are a few reasons why someone could not take part in a class and this is because students usually need to invert for part of the class.  Pregnancy, Glaucoma, Recent Surgery (esp. shoulder, eyes, back, hips, hands or wrist), Heart disease or very high or low blood pressure and Osteoporosis / bone weakness are some of the reasons someone could not participate. If you have any health issues discuss them with the provider. The studio should also give students a health questionnaire before they start.

What to wear to class?

Studios will usually ask you to wear fitted pants that cover the back of knees and and T-Short or jumper with sleeves that cover your underarms. Clothes made out of cotton are generally best. Socks are not usually advised unless they are grippy yoga socks. 

What Not To Wear

To reduce the risk of tears or snags in the silky fabric material you will be asked to remove jewellery or metal such as zips on your clothing as it may snag the fabric.