October 12, 2009 / 10:10 AM / 9 years ago

Trapeze: Fitness and the fear of flying

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Daring young men and women, not always with the greatest of ease, are taking flying trapeze classes to give their fitness workouts a jolt.

Enthusiasts, who swing, jump, flip and fly through the air, say “flying” builds muscle strength, stamina, balance and coordination. Then there’s the mind thing.

“There are three instructors running each class to help you conquer your fear of heights and challenge your idea of working out,” said Sarah Callan, a spokeswoman for Trapeze School New York.

With locations in Los Angeles, Boston and Washington, D.C., as well as New York, the school offers beginning, intermediate and advanced classes in the flying trapeze all day, every day to thrill seekers, acrobats and even couch potatoes.

“Flying trapeze requires the mental ability to challenge yourself,” Callan said. “In terms of physical ability, we require you to be able to hold your own weight when hanging with both hands on a bar.”

So, you don’t have to be fit enough for Cirque du Soleil. There’s also a big net and Callan says you’re always tethered.

“When on the flying trapeze, and even when climbing the ladder to the top, you are connected to safety lines,” she explained.

But while swinging on the trapeze is a fun, core-strengthening way to add variety to a workout, Jessica Matthews, of the non-profit American Council on Exercise, stresses that it’s not for everyone.

“If you don’t have the upper body strength you’re setting yourself up for injuries,” she explained. “It’s also dangerous for pregnant women or anyone with hypertension, and of course it has to be supervised.”

The trapeze was invented in the 19th century by Frenchman Jules Leotard, who also designed the eponymous outfit worn while on it. And it was Leotard who inspired the 1867 song “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze.”

The song became a hit, and the apparatus he created as a teenager from ropes and swings became a circus staple.

Club Med has been running a flying trapeze program since the 1980’s. Spokeswoman Katie Riguzzi said the resort chain basically pioneered the idea of using the circus staple for recreational activity.

“About 23 of our resorts worldwide offer the trapeze,” she said. “All our instructors pass our Circus Training Program.”

For Sacha Jones, flying was the fulfillment of her circus dreams.

“I’m really not a risk taker. I’ve no intention to jump from a plane or bungee jump. But since I was a little girl I have loved gymnastics, acrobatics and the circus,” said Jones, a holistic health counselor in New York City.

“There is a net, and I trusted that.”

But despite her agility and fitness her first fly through the air was with not easy.

“I mean, it was terrifying up top,” she said of her class at Trapeze School New York. “I tried hard to take in all the commands, like ‘ready’ and ‘hep.’ I’m not sure where it came from, but eventually I found the confidence, grabbed the bar, heard the commands, jumped, and swung.”

Jones said she got the adrenalin rush of her life.

“Afterwards I rode my bike home like a maniac, grinning and laughing. That night I was so pumped I wanted to run away with the circus,” she said.

“And for the next few days strange parts of my body were hurting.”

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