Does Circus Fitness Work?

Clowning around in the name of exercise


Fit is the thing to be in 2016 but gyms can be intimidating and classes can be expensive and overcrowded - sometimes just wearing Lycra to watch Netflix seems like a way better workout.


Picture: Jonathan de Villiers

I’m a believer that fitness is really just all about moving more. The more we can make that fun, the more likely we are to do it. Who says you can’t clown around a bit during a workout? I decided to take that quite literally recently when I did a Circus Experience Day at The National Centre For Circus Arts.

The day kicked off with some games, which you likely haven’t played since your school PE days. A bit of ‘Chase the Tail’ (a bit like ‘tig’ but everyone tucks a scarf in their waistband and the object is to see how many scarves you can snatch), followed by a team building exercise which involved pretending you were on a boat (which was really a mat) and having to make it to the other side of the room without ever coming off it. These all had the potential to be cringe-worthy ice-breakers, but were actually super fun.


Then onto the serious business of circus-ing. I tried the Tight Wire first. I’ve always been pretty fascinated by this, then I saw the documentary ‘Man on Wire’ and decided I really enjoy having my feet planted pretty firmly on the ground. Thankfully said Tight Wire was not strung between two skyscrapers and was a mere 25 inches off the ground.

The instructor demonstrated, then invited us to walk the wire, holding our hands for balance and guidance. Then we had to get to the middle, balance on one foot, then the other. During one of my wire walks, I did the one foot balance, carefully put that foot back on the wire and tried to continue the walk to the end, but felt myself wobble and jumped off. The instructor said ‘See, you had that there - I could see in your face the moment you gave up and told yourself you couldn’t do it.’

I watched other people walking the wire and I could see exactly what she meant. You could literally see the second people decided to jack it in, despite probably having been alright if their inner dialogue had been different.

On my next go, I stayed calm and focused and eventually managed to walk the wire three times, unassisted. I put that down to simply changing my mindset and not giving up and the first sign of a wobble (HELLO, GLARINGLY OBVIOUS LIFE METAPHOR!)

Next up was the flying trapeze. The pros make that look like a ton of fun. How hard could it be? Answer: very.

I’m not scared of heights and there were loads of crash pads, so there’s no way you’d get hurt, but that’s not to say once I got up on the platform you swing from, I didn’t feel my heart lodge in my throat a bit.

The bar of the swing was handed to me and you’re told to just step off the platform. After a few deep breaths, I stepped off, and OK fine, I’ll admit, I screamed a bit as I swung through the air, desperately trying to following the instructor’s shouts of ‘FORWARDS! BACKWARDS!’ for where I should be flinging my legs and when. It’s vastly different from the kiddy swings in the park, my friends - getting some momentum going on this thing takes some real work!

I tried it a second time (thankfully, I managed to suppress my blood curdling scream) and while sure, it’s unlikely Cirque du Soleil will be calling me anytime soon, as I swung through the air, I felt free and a smile beamed across my face as I realised, I had quite literally just felt the fear and done it anyway.

Not your conventional workout, sure, but a circus day is definitely a way to get you moving and smiling and will prove to you that those two things are not mutually exclusive. Once you walk the tight wire unassisted or swing through the air on the flying trapeze, you’ll realise that run you’ve been meaning to go on, or that heavy weight you want to lift doesn’t seem so scary. As I learned on the tight wire, it’s all about mindset. Believe you can do it, and you will.

Words by ELLE Fitness Editor Muireann Carey-Campbell

Read Next: