Maybe it’s the popularity of Cirque du Soleil or maybe it’s the success of high-flying acts on America’s Got Talent. Either way, the mania for all things acrobatic, gravity-defying and daring shows no signs of slowing down and even the fitness-minded are trying out the flying trapeze for a novel experience. Besides offering an intense full-body workout as muscles pull, lift and contort through the air, this new pastime also makes for some cool photo ops.
I can’t say I had any burning desire to get on a trapeze when I showed up at I.Fly Trapeze School in East Meadow but I was game to give it a go. The facility’s Eisenhower Park location seemed an unlikely setting for a circus act, but the outdoor setting (from April to October) is the home of a crew of Club Med veterans who took their love for acrobatics and founded Long Island’s only trapeze lesson venue.
The friendly crew coaxes both newbies and experienced flyers off the ground, up the ladder, onto the swinging platform and into the air. After a brief introduction and explanation, we were instructed to climb one by one onto the hanging ladder. The more I thought about it, the more I psyched myself out. I just had to remember I was harnessed into a safety line held by an expert and that the net wasn’t too far away. I just had to fly.
Climbing the ladder and getting onto the 23-foot-tall platform was the most intimidating part, but once I took my first turn I was much more relaxed and able to focus on the brief sequence of moves rather than my fear. We started by gripping the trapeze bar with two hands, swinging forward and back, hooking legs onto the bar, dropping arms to hang upside down and then attempting the grand exit of a backward flip onto the safety netting. The instructors called out cues as I swung and it was crucial to do what they said when they said it, otherwise my momentum would fall apart.
The 90-minute lessons are progressive and can be picked up where they were left off to allow for more difficult holds and hooks. Although the lessons have a low entry barrier—no exceptional strength or fitness ability required—the core workout is definitely there. Anthony Rosamilia, co-owner with his brother Marco, told me about an 86-year-old regular who flies at I.Fly.
The day I went it was cool and windy, but as long as it’s not raining, the school is open for aerial business. Everyone in the ten-person class managed to make several successful trips through the air, each time practicing form (a core workout comes from holding the body straight) and only one student out of ten declined to attempt the second portion of the class: Catches. For this, an instructor hung by his legs, catching students as we swung forward, then flew us though the air and dropped us deftly down onto the net. A few “creative dismounts” happened, but the overall feeling of safety was palpable.
The group classes showed the positive side of peer pressure: No one wants want to be the one to back down and once up the ladder, might as well jump. Then, of course, you’re glad you did. There’s also something to be said for trying new experiences for the sake of the brain. Mental ruts are just as possible as physical ones and attempting something new (possibly a bit scary) is good stimulation. Those suffering from acrophobia, a fear of heights, can enjoy testing their boundaries in a safe, fun way.
Holding the body straight in order to fly through the air works all the core muscles as well as the arms, back and shoulders. Putting it all together—upper body, core and the mental concentration to follow the aerial choreography—makes for a complete mind-body exercise. Those braving the trapeze should be prepared to be sore the next day, but shouldn’t worry about not being able to do it. I am not particularly brave but I was glad I overcame that little voice that told me to quit, even as I climbed the ladder for the first time. The real fun comes only when that little voice is addressed, confronted and told to shut up. Kind of like life, I guess.