How to do aerial silks

By Amy McDonnell | Published on April 27, 2017

TRAIN for HER is always on the lookout for new ways for you to get fit, have fun and burn calories. Having scoured the workout world, we’ve discovered alternative workout classes that you’ll be dying to try.

Thought you’d have to run off and join the circus to swing around effortlessly on a bit of ribbon? Think again. You probably won’t have to go any further than your local dance studio because aerial silks is fast becoming a popular workout of choice for many.

What is aerial silks?

It’s a form of aerial art where an artist performs a variety of climbs, wraps and drops with just suspended fabric to keep them from falling to the floor. Using a combination of upper body and core strength, you can climb the silks. With enough practice and skill, you will wrap and manoeuvre your body into impressive moves, perfect for Instagram.

Who can do aerial silks?

There is no age limit for aerial silks (although some classes only teach 16 and over), but it does involve a lot of flexibility and strength. These will be improved as you progress and try new and exciting moves. All studios should also offer a beginner’s class so don’t worry if you have never done anything like this before.

If you have persistent wrist, shoulder, back or neck injuries then it’s probably best to avoid this kind of workout until you’ve recovered fully. However trained specialists will always advise students on individual cases.

What does aerial silks target?

A whole lotta core! In order to achieve the poses and moves that are undertaken in aerial silks, your abs are going to get a workout. You’ll also target muscle groups you never thought you would, such as your hip flexors and adductors and abductors.

One case study found that, as a workout, it works you as hard as an hour long spinning class. And you probably won’t have a sore bum after.

How much does it cost?

As with any specialist workouts, they aren’t cheap. On average, classes cost between $20-40 (£16-30), this will vary heavily dependent on location. Most studios offer a first visit offer as well as package deals which means you can try before you commit to a month’s worth of lessons.

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Where to hang your silks?

– Exposed ceiling beams

WARNING: DO NOT attempt to attach the aerial silks on a structure you are uncertain about. Industry standard for aerial rigging is that any aerial point must have a load capacity of no less than 2000 lbs safe working load and a minimum breaking strength of no less than 8000 lbs


It’s always a good safety measure to inspect your mounting rig, O-slings, daisy chains and clipping hardware for potential wear and tear before each use or at least once a month. Signs of scratch, tear and crack might indicate that the hardware needs replacing.


Take care during use to enjoy your silks longer

Remove earrings, ring, watch and any sharp accessories before getting on the silks. Limit the aerial silks exposure to direct sunlight. The vibrant colors might fade under extended sun exposure.If you feel the silks lose its elasticity, try washing the silks as that should help recover somewhat the elasticity level of the fabric.

Washing Instructions:

Remove the plastic ties on two ends of the fabric , the two O-slings and daisy chains. Wash the fabric separately. Do not mix with hard or sharp objects as that may scratch the fabric. If you also want to wash the daisy chains and O-slings together with the fabric, please put the them in a laundry bag. Use mild detergent and cold water on gentle cycle. Line to dry in the shade.

Setting up your single rigging point for Aerial Circus

Using your Silks as an Inversion Swing

See video below on how to quickly convert your aerial silks set up to an Inversion Swing

Using your Silks as an Aerial Hammock

Follow video instructions below on how to tie your silks to the Rescue 8 to create a single-point aerial hammock

Probably, the first time you saw it you were watching live or through a screen a spectacular performance of the Cirque du Soleil. With time, you happened to see more and more frequently people training specifically for it in some gyms, and maybe even in parks. We really have to say it, the acrobatic discipline of Aerial Silks has conquered many people, who have not been content to stand by as spectators.

Twisting and turning: what are Aerial Silks?

Inspired by circus performances and using silk sheets (the same ones that give the discipline its name), the athletes involved in this exercise perform spectacular and scenic movements. On top of that, also the height at which everything happens makes everything even more spectacular: from 4 to 10 meters from the ground.

How to do aerial silks

The history of Aerial Silks, from gymnastics to circus performances and back

How to do aerial silks

Others, however, claim that this practice comes from the genius of André Simard. Simard, who has specialised in researching and developing acrobatic exercises for the Cirque du Soleil since 1987, is already universally credited for having turned circus athletes into real performers. Indeed, he invited them to focus not only on facial expressions, but also on body movements. This allowed them to express deep themes and feelings to their viewers in a spectacular and impressive way.

How to do aerial silks

Aerial Silks: 4 false myths that must be disproved

Especially when approaching such a particular practice, doubts and insecurities can be many. Let’s try to clarify some of them:

  • To start practicing Aerial Silks, it is not necessary to have a particular body type. There are many courses for beginners, and the discipline easily adapts to levels of physical preparation even very different from each other.

How to do aerial silks

  • It is not necessary to have a good initial level of upper body strength. Being trained certainly helps, and for this reason, those who climb or train regularly with weightlifting will have an easier start. That said, starting to practice the discipline can be a great way for those who want to develop their strength.
  • It is not a discipline reserved for women. It is true that the number of female athletes exceeds, by far, male ones, but this does not mean that Aerial Silks is an exclusively female discipline.
  • You don’t have to be exceptionally flexible to get close to Aerial Silks. What is really important is to be aware of one’s own abilities and limits: to have a clear idea of where one starts from and where one wants to get to. In any case, if you want to improve your flexibility, you can supplement your Aerial Silks classes with regular gym sessions.

How to do aerial silks

Disentangling the fabric: how to work out for Aerial Silks

Therefore, the recommended gym workout, outside the practice of Aerial Silks, is strongly focused on weightlifting and functional training.

How to do aerial silks

How to do aerial silks

How to do aerial silks

How to do aerial silks

How to do aerial silks

How to do aerial silks

Aerial Silks: what are the benefits for your body (and your mind)?

  • First, it is an excellent physical exercise. The use of the muscles of the arms and legs contributes significantly to weight loss, and stretching the muscles of the belly helps a lot to reduce the fat that can be deposited there.

How to do aerial silks

  • Just like yoga, Aerial Silks is a great way to increase your body’s flexibility.
  • For the many people who practice Aerial Silks report, this discipline naturally leads to improving their concentration skills. Even to avoid injuries, it is extraordinarily important to maintain very high attention at every stage of airtightness. At the same time, the ability to control one’s emotions is positively influenced.
  • Finally, there are those who have reported, not without enthusiasm, a real change in mindset. Practicing Aerial Silks pushes you to overcome your limits, radically changing your conception of what is scary or dangerous, in a real path of personal growth.

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Your questions answered!

How to do aerial silks

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Today, as many of you have requested, we have some useful information regarding the purchasing of your Aerial Silks. We will be covering everything from the fabric itself, where to buy, what length, width etc. There are of course differing opinions on this subject and we can only speak from our own Aerial Silks purchasing experience. We encourage you to do your own research and gain an educated, informed opinion on the subject.

Womack and Bowman’s Guide to Purchasing Aerial Silks (your questions answered)

1. “What kind of material are your Aerial Silks made from?”

The fabric we use for our Aerial Silks is a 2-way stretch Tricot Nylon. There are other fabrics that aerialists may use such as Polyester Lycra, but this is what we personally prefer.

2. “Stretch or non-stretch fabric?”

When buying aerial silks from a vendor that specializes in selling fabric to aerialists, you want to think about the stretch, width and length of the fabric you need. Low stretch/non stretch fabrics are easier to climb than medium stretch fabrics, but they are not as soft for big drops. Medium stretch fabrics are nice for drops, but are definitely harder to climb. We prefer low stretch fabric.

3. “What about width?”

Aerial Fabrics come in a variety of widths. A 60″ width is generally recommended for children, where as a larger width (75″, or 90″) are generally recommended for teens and adults.

4. “How long should my fabric be?”

Aerial fabrics are generally cut to length depending on the height available at your studio or performance venue. We purchase anywhere from 50-60 feet of aerial fabric as when it is doubled over for rigging this provides 25-30 feet of useable fabric. With our studio and most performance venues being 20-25 feet high, this leaves us with long tales (the fabric that touches the floor), which we prefer.

5. “Where do I buy?”

There are currently many reputable vendors that you can purchase aerial fabric from online and we recommend that you do your research and find one that works for your budget and needs. We buy all of our fabrics from Sal Tex Fabrics, a vendor in downtown LA’s fashion district as we prefer to ‘touch and feel’ the fabrics before purchasing. However, this is not always possible if you live in more remote parts of the world which is why we suggest that you research as much as possible before purchasing.

Please feel free comment below with any additional questions you may have about purchasing your Aerial Silks and we will do our best to respond and/or refer you to a reputable vendor.

An Aerial Dance, Circus and Movement Studio

How to do aerial silks

Commonly Asked Beginner’s Questions

How strong do I need to be to begin training aerials?

The quick answer–you don’t need any amount of upper body strength to begin training aerials–that said the stronger you are, the easier it will be for you to progress quickly.

Most aerial instructors assume that new students coming in have never tried anything like aerials in their life, and are not used to lifting/pushing/pulling their own body weight. Many will start you in a sling (a set of fabrics with a knot tied in the bottom) to get you used to the feel of fabric before making you support your own body weight.

I’m really excited for my first class! What should I do to prepare?

Anything physical that you can do, including cardio, will help to get you in shape for your first lesson. Aerial work really targets the upper body and core however, so putting more of your focus on those areas will be a boon to your training in the long run.

For core work hollow body holds or leg lifts will help you, and for upper body pull ups are hands down the most helpful training you can do. If you can’t do pull ups, try horizontal rows! It’s really important to make sure that every exercise you do you’re doing with proper form and engagement to prevent injury. Check out the good folks at /r/bodyweightfitness for beginner bodyweight fitness programs to compliment your aerial practice.

I’m afraid of heights, but I really want to try aerials! Help!

Never fear! Pretty much every aerial instructor starts their students doing everything from the ground, while they learn the wraps and techniques for any given trick. From there instructors will usually ask you to try the trick you’ve been practicing from a climb as you’re ready. Then two climbs, etc.

Every aerial instructor’s number one concern is your safety. If their number one concern seems to be something else, you should probably find a new instructor.

Even if you start out with a fear of heights, you may soon find that you’re climbing to the top of the silks because you feel confident there. More than a few aerialists are scared of heights, but because so much prep goes into training they feel comfortable in the air on their apparatus because they’re one hundred percent in control, whereas even ladders may still make them queasy.

I’m worried that I’ll be terrible at aerials.

It’s entirely true that you may come out of your first class having done everything totally wrong. Does that mean you’re terrible at aerials? Absolutely not!

There are a few things to keep in mind when you start aerials (and never forget them) and whenever you’re feeling frustrated.

1. Learning aerials is incredibly hard. A skilled aerialist will make everything they do look easy–that’s their job. However that can make it confusing for you the student, because everything feels hard. That’s just how it is. If aerials were easy, they wouldn’t be so amazing to watch and you wouldn’t need to come to class.

2. Aerial class is not a contest. Yes, the former gymnast next to you may have a perfect straddle, and you’re just barely hitting 90°, but who cares? Everyone has different strengths, and learns at a different pace. Some people are stronger, some people are bendier, some have the ability to see a trick once and do it. If one person has all those things as a beginner? Lucky them, but it doesn’t reflect on you. If you find you’re just not getting something in class, and are getting frustrated ask your instructor if you can move on and come back to it later. Many studios will have an open gym time which is great for practicing those nemesis tricks.

3. The most important thing to get out of an aerials class is accomplishing your own goals! It doesn’t matter what those goals are–to just have fun, to get strong, to learn skills for a performance–just remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, and set reasonable expectations for yourself.

What should I wear/bring to my first class?

For attire there are a few things you definitely want:

1. You want tight fitting stretchy pants that will cover the backs of your knees. Leggings or footless tights are a great option.

2. You want a shirt that will cover your midriff without riding up, or that you can tuck in.

3. Don’t wear a belt, or any jewelry that could possibly catch on or tear the fabric. No big earrings, no spiky rings, zippers etc. Take off your dangly pendant and tape over any spiky piercings you can’t remove.

4. You can’t wear shoes to do aerials so your footwear doesn’t matter as long as you take it off.

5. Bring lots of water, and make sure to drink it in class. You might also want to bring a protein-rich treat for after class to help build muscle.

I just had my first class and now I feel like I have the flu and can’t lift my arms.

It’s possible that you may have the flu, but feeling like you just got run over by a truck is a common side effect of your first aerial class.*

For most of us, our first aerial class is a level of physicality that we’re not used to experiencing, and that morning-after response is your body freaking out over it. But don’t worry. Take some anti-inflammatory meds (ibuprofin, advil, aleeve), and drink lots of water to flush out any toxins. Treat yourself to a hot bath, and if you can, try to gently stretch out any parts that are sore.

*This has been confirmed by someone who has both been hit by a truck, and been a beginner aerialist.

I just had my first class and I’m really excited! What should I do in-between now and my next class?

You’ll want to follow the advice above and start working your upper body and core. Check out /r/bodyweightfitness for good starting programs. You’ll also want to begin stretching on a regular basis. Practice the stretches you’ve learned in class, or go to a yoga class.

If you do start adding exercises and stretching to your regimen it’s really important to make sure that every exercise you do you’re doing with proper form and engagement to prevent injury. Also, make sure that you don’t over-stretch as that can lead to injury.

Where can I find a studio near me?

Reddit user nebulawanderer put together this awesome map with a bunch of aerial studios on it! Because aerials is inherently risky though, do your own research–check out their webpage or go to their studio to make sure you’ve got a good one. They should have specialized insurance, plenty of crash mats under their students, and should be happy to talk to you about their rigging and teaching qualifications.

I just saw silks on youtube and I really want to get a pair!

Aerials is risky business and downright dangerous when trained improperly, so back up a few steps and find a good studio to train at before you do anything else! One of the worst things an aerialist can do is invest in home rigging before they’re ready. We have seen many newer aerialists injure themselves practicing at home, or simply forming bad habits from self-teaching.