The Secret Key to Becoming a Better Aerialist

The Secret Key to Becoming a Better Aerialist

With the fall season upon us and performances coming up, we are seeing a spike in aerial related injuries. During my aerial classes, I interact with a lot of aerialists and a question that I usually ask is “Are you doing any kind of exercises outside of your aerial work?”  As Dr. Ivy Jordan wrote in a previous blog, “ to be a good runner, you must run; to be a great runner, you must strength train.” The same adage applies to aerialists, dancers, and any other athletes. Whether you are a professional or a novice dabbling in a sport/art form, strength training is critical to prevent injuries and to progress to the next level of your practice.

Aerial is a very unique art form and many aerialists who do not strength train present with muscular imbalances that can lead to injury and decline in performance.  Due to the nature of our practice, we aerialists overuse the “pulling muscles” and demonstrate weakness in the “pushing” muscles.  Constant climbing and over-reliance on the upper extremities contributes to rotator cuff injuries, scapular dysfunction, poor thoracic spine function, and compensatory strategies. One way to address the push-pull imbalance is to perform activities that require weightbearing on the arms. For instance, working on handstands can strengthen the “push” muscles and give the “pull” muscles a much needed break, which can help restore mechanical balance.

Strength is not the only factor; aerial is very much an endurance art. For instance, even if your rotator cuff muscles are relatively strong, lack of muscular endurance can easily translate to injury. Actively working on muscular endurance and stabilization drills is key to protecting these often neglected muscles and making sure that your body is healthy and strong to operate at its peak.

For the injured athlete and artist, trigger point dry needling is one manual intervention that the performance physical therapists at SPARK use to decrease pain and optimize performance. Myofascial trigger points (commonly referred to as “muscle knots”) are taut bands of muscle fibers located within a larger muscle. Trigger points are tender to the touch and can refer pain to distant areas. Aerialists commonly present with trigger points in the upper trapezius/neck musculature as well as the rotator cuff muscles. Trigger points cause pain and pain changes the way we move, compromising our technique and making us more prone to further injury.

Come see a free demonstration of dry needling at SPARK Physiotherapy’s Grand Opening Event on Saturday November 4th from 12pm-4pm and see how this intervention can help you excel and reach your goals.


Dr. Natalia M. Sleziak, PT, DPT

Performance Physical Therapist/Aerial Performance Specialist

Dr. Sleziak received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA and her Bachelor’s in Psychology from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. She obtained her dry needling certification through the Spinal Manipulation Institute and is fully certified in the Graston Technique. Natalia has a strong interest in working with the aerialist, acrobatic, gymnastic, and dance populations. She herself is an avid aerialist and actively practices silks and aerial lyra. Natalia enjoys keeping her exercise routine varied and stimulating through weight lifting, tumbling, and parkour. She places a strong emphasis on individualized treatment/fitness plans that cater to each client’s goals, interests, and lifestyle.