Workout: Acro Fusion
Try moves like Throne or High-Flying Whale
BY KATE JONUSKA
Boulder Circus Center, 4747 26th St., 303-444- 8110, bouldercircuscenter.net
Instructor: When your job is to get people off their feet and into the air, establishing trust is key, and with his warm, open demeanor, you can’t ask for better than Ryan Hamity.
Himself an acrobat and performer, Hamity has led Acro Fusion classes at the Boulder Circus Center for four years and has helped hundreds of people conquer their fears while strengthening their core. In fact, he’s gotten all sorts in the air, making flyers out of everyone from his 90-year-old great grandma to his 2-year-old niece.
The drop-in Acro Fusion sessions Hamity leads can feel more like a club than a workout since the local Acro scene is a jolly crew who mostly know one another, though all are super-friendly to novices. Hamity also made new and old alike welcome during the class I attended, having each member of the group introduce themselves and explaining even the most basic moves with both patience and clarity.
What is the workout? Class starts with group stretching and a warm-up routine consisting of core-strengthening moves (such as plank and its many variations) and a fun cardio burst. Once the class began in earnest, we gathered together several times for instruction, then broke into groups of two or three to put into practice the demonstrated activity. The activity might be pure acrobatics (meaning a person or people holding another person or people in various positions), or it might have elements of gymnastics, yoga or other movement practices.
I was incredibly impressed with the instructors’ clear descriptions of each new move from the point of view of everyone involved — instructions were given in detail for the base, the flyer and the spotter, if a spotter was needed. During an activity, participants are asked to play all three roles in their turn, meaning that I got on my back on the floor and held another person above me, then I took a turn as the person being held, and I also stood by as safety, lest my groupmates needed support.
The variety and increasing complexity of the moves was well planned, and I was amazed how quickly I felt comfortable trying acro moves like Throne, High-Flying Whale and, as the class’s peak activity, an intermediate-level “pop” from one position to the other that literally made me clap my hands with glee.
What’s different? Unlike so many calorie- or muscle-focused workouts, Acro Fusion feels like a structured recess for adults, meaning that you will sweat and you will be physically challenged but almost as an afterthought, the main goal being having fun.
This is not the place to go to lose weight or tone up fast. Aside from the warm up, my class featured no other cardio, and none of my muscles became fatigued thanks to the rotating roles we all played and the regular instructional breaks. The goal instead is to stretch yourself mentally as well as physically, taking your body for an open-minded test drive to see what it can do. Communication with your partner or group is also as much a part of the learning process as the movement itself.
Speaking of open-minded, there are challenges in Acro Fusion you will not face at other workouts. You have to become comfortable as the flyer having a stranger put their bare feet between your shoulder blades or, as the base, moving your feet to find the ideal placement on your partner’s butt. Neither are usually part of my exercise routine.
But again, there was no judgement or shyness about the body in Acro Fusion, and it was a joy to witness people of all sizes, shapes and levels of experience strike a graceful pose while suspended in air.
Level: All levels of experience welcome, from seasoned acrobats to novices. (Advanced Acro Fusion classes are available for participants who can demonstrate proficiency.) Hamity says a background in yoga, gymnastics or dance can be helpful but only a playful attitude is necessary.
When: 8-10 p.m. Thursdays. My class wrapped up about 9:40 p.m., leaving the remainder of the time for free play in the gym.
What to prepare: Be sure to complete the safety waiver on the Circus Center’s website before participation. I recommend bringing water and sticking with workout clothes of the stretchier, tighter variety, the type in which you’d feel comfortable being upside down in a spotted handstand for several minutes (one of the first activities of the class I attended). Layers can be helpful, since sweat tends to dry and chill during instructional breaks. The class takes place barefoot.
Muscles worked: Every one of my muscles worked at one point or another, but my core didn’t get a break, every activity requiring conscious and constant core engagement. For example, as a base for any pose, the small of your back is pressed solid into the ground for support, and as flyer, being engaged and rigid makes you easier to hold aloft. The back also got a lot of work, especially as a top in Flyer/Bird, where the flyer’s chest curls upward like the Cobra yoga pose.
What I loved: Thanks to Hamity and the more advanced demonstrators who broke down each pose into accessible steps, I loved that I had little to no fear — which was less than I expected. With mostly a yoga background, I didn’t know how my skills would translate, but I found an environment full of encouragement and comfortably free from judgment.
Most of all, I loved feeling like I had a playdate with other adults. Flying another person on my feet — partners/groups are matched by size as much as possible, meaning I was always with another woman about as tall as I am — reminded me of being a kid and playing around barefoot in the grass.
What I didn’t like: I did find it a strain to be on my hands or using them to support others so much. My wrists were a little tweaky the next day, and I’d consider wrist support if Acro Fusion becomes a part of my regular routine. Personally, in the future I’d also plan on the class being a supplement to a daily workout rather than a substitute. My heart rate simply didn’t get or stay very high, and I felt like I utilized existing strength more than I was building new strength. After all — and this is a fun realization more than a drawback — once you understand the activity, stack your joints and balance the weight, holding an acrobatic pose can feel remarkably easy.
How I felt after the class: Enthusiastic and ready for more. I can hear the siren call of the circus, urging me to run away from gravity every Thursday night.