Spotlight On: Recovery and Rest


I hate this hashtag, y’all. Because it usually gets interpreted, by aerialists, as “aerials every damn day.” And that’s a bad idea.

(Most of the info here was shamelessly stolen from Jen Crane, aka @cirque_physio on Instagram. She’s a PT who also trains handstands and straps, so she Gets It, and you should absolutely be following her. The rest of it is from Emily Scherb, aka @thecircusdoc on IG, whomst you should also be following.)

Let’s talk about growth and pain. And then we’ll talk about rest.

Growth: How do we grow stronger? The obvious answer is “practice,” right? And that’s true: practicing regularly will make you stronger. After you work out, your body rebuilds any damaged muscle, and it will rebuild it bigger and stronger. But it does that most effectively while you are resting from the activity that you just did. Your body needs time to recover from that practice. If you deny yourself adequate rest time, you will actually delay your progress, if not stop it altogether.

Pain: Listen closely, friends. Are you listening? Circus should not hurt. I’m serious. I’m not talking about the discomfort that comes from being in an elbow or toe hang, or from doing too many crotch grabs, or bruises or rope burns or anything like that. But if you’re doing something that causes you pain… that ain’t right, and it’s cause for concern. It could be that you’re not engaging something you should be (like engaging your core in wheeldowns), or you need to more carefully place a wrap or lower yourself into position (ask me about my favorite back dive). But if you’re on day 4 in a row of training aerials, it could be that your brain is letting you know that you are overdoing it. Your brain can’t smack you upside the head to get your attention, because that’s where it lives, so it has to use other tools to get your attention, and pain is usually effective… right up until we ignore it because of FOMO or scheduling difficulties or just an unwillingness to admit that we’re human and need a break.

Rest: So how much rest do we need? Well, let’s hear it straight from the Jen’s mouth:

“My general rule for weekly recovery… For artists whose current goals include gaining strength and/ or acquiring new technical skills, I suggest 2 full rest days per week.”

I know a lot of you saw that and went, “Oh, that’s fine, I do that!” But this is not saying you can train aerials 5 days in a row if you just rest on days 6 and 7. Oh no, friends. Only using the same muscles over and over and over – like, say, the ones we use for inversions – is a great way to end up injured. Ask your coaches, because we’ve all done it, and we do not recommend it, because it suuuuuucks.

Jen Crane again: ​ ​“… as a circus PT, at least 80% of the injuries I treat are from overuse…too much training, and too little rest. These injuries tend to last upwards of 3 months (because again, no rest…) and can significantly impact performing artists career length and career quality.”


So what should you do, o student of aerials? Well, your mileage may vary, and it will change over time, but a good rule of thumb is: train aerials every other day. And train something non-aerial in between. That could mean you train static trapeze on Monday, then handstands or contortion or Zumba Tuesday, silks Wednesday, lion-taming or running or Pilates Thursday, lyra Friday, and something restorative like yoga or basket-weaving on Saturday and Sunday, or just watch your favorite cartoons. But please, don’t do aerials every day. And if you’re sore or achy or in pain, take a day off.

Oh, and by the way… the other recommendation for rest, for people training at a high level, is that you should be taking a full rest week off your training every 6-10 weeks. Take a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor. Now look. I know. I get it. A week?! But I’m telling you, you’ll come back stronger than you expect. Bodies are freaking weird, and sometimes a week off really is what they need. As counterintuitive as that may be.

Check next month’s newsletter for my treatise on the importance of cross-training non-aerial stuff! Your coaches love you.

More info:

Training recovery:

Periodizing training:

No substitute for rest:

Circus shouldn’t hurt:

How sore is too sore:

-Hilary Eckberg