The Greatest Workout on Earth
Big Top Fitness
The Allure of the Big Top
And for many people, that spirit is the reason they've come to
Circus Sports: for a bit of adventure. According to the American Council on
Exercise (ACE), if you're in the fitness doldrums and tweaking your routine
isn't enough, try taking a bigger leap. "Everyone in the fitness industry
is looking for ways to make the experience fun," says Dixie Stanforth, MS,
an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas at Austin and an ACE
spokeswoman. "More and more of the things you did on the playground 20
years ago are being incorporated into classes -- kicking your legs, jumping,
As for circus-oriented routines, says Stanforth, "The
specific benefits are muscular strength, endurance, power, balance, and
coordination. Depending on the level of the workout, there's also
The hour-long class is hard work -- I felt muscles I hadn't
used in years -- but it's also low key, noncompetitive, and fun. The
instructors, who are real circus performers themselves, are very careful to
keep you from hurting yourself.
Taking to the Trapeze
Following our frog poses, we did somersaults on the padded
surfaces, and then cartwheels. Everybody clapped and cheered, even when we fell
backward on our butts or went flying sideways and crumpled on the mats. Some of
us in the class seemed like naturals. Some of us, well, didn't.
But the instructors were just so darn nice that it was hard to
feel like a fool, even as they were helping a bit more than they should have
had to, getting me up on the trapeze, for instance. With help -- and help, I am
humbled to say, consisted of a hefty push from below by one of the young
instructors, to boost me onto the bar -- there I was, five feet above the
"Oh, you're doing great," said Teresa. "Nice
pointed toes. Are you a dancer?"
"Are you kidding?" I asked, hanging on for dear life,
my center of balance badly skewed toward my butt.
"No, really, you are doing just great. Now, lean back, pull
your body up, arch . . . "
I managed some sort of pose for a split second, slipped back
down, unfolded myself in a most ungainly way, and -- just like one of the
juggling balls -- thudded onto the mat.
"Terrific," shouted the instructors. A smattering of
applause greeted my landing.
But they couldn't fool me. Flying through the air with the
greatest of ease was out of the question.
Oh, I can imagine the moves all right. When I watch my
4-year-old daughter on the monkey bars, I can still remember that great
sensation of swinging hand over hand, hanging upside down by the knees. But
unlike riding a bicycle, I'm sad to report, monkey-bar skills don't come back
Before I knew it, it was time for the class finale: forming a
human pyramid, just like those cheerleaders on television. We learned how to
stand in a good, solid squat and help someone else stand on us. We learned to
climb onto a couple of classmates ourselves and jump down lightly and
elegantly. And then we all did it, piling on top of each other and shouting
"TA DA" at the mirror, while instructor Lisa did the splits --
effortlessly, of course -- in front of us.