Absolute Beginners: 5 Things I Learned Doing Aerial Fitness

I’ve been out on medical for the last two weeks, which means two things: First, that I haven’t been going to the gym much, and second, that Absolute Beginners took a two-week hiatus with me. Of course, me being an all-in sort of gal, I scheduled an aerial fitness class for the very first day I was back working, thinking that maybe it’d be a gentler way to exercise than my normal barbell lifting.

NOOOOOOOPE.

I panted, grunted, and pained my way through what ended up being a really, truly challenging experience. And, as all challenging experiences tend to do, it taught me a few lessons. Here’s what I learned in aerial fitness:

1. There are, in fact, fitness spaces in which I feel completely out of place.

I haven’t gotten this feeling in a while, and inasmuch as that’s the case, I feel like I’ve been letting some Absolute Beginners down, because that feeling – “I do not belong here!” – is what I think keeps most fitness newbies from trying new things. In a lot of my posts, I’ve stuck to my comfort zone – stretching at home, doing exercise videos, etc. – but walking into AirFit, it became immediately clear to me that my fitness experience was drastically different than that of the two students who were climbing and dangling over the silk hammocks, Instagramming each other.

Watching them, the question popped in my mind: Is this something I want to learn how to do? Or really, because of course everyone wants to be an air ballerina, Do I want to put in the work to get to that level of competence? That, there, is a question that’ll instill a good amount of self-doubt. But, hell, I feel that way at the gym when I’m lifting, sometimes, seeing people squat 300 pounds or run crazy circuits. It doesn’t really matter what other people can do. What matters is figuring out what you can and can’t yet do, and what your goals are, based on that information.

2. Oh my god, I have no upper body strength.

There were various points during the class when I’d have gotten myself halfway through a movement, was upside down, with the hammock wrapped around my hips and ankles, and then the instructor, April, would tell us to pull ourselves up with our arms. Cue panic bells! You want me to lift the whole rest of my body with my arms?! What?!

Every time I tried, I fell or failed. It was not pretty. But I paid to get a workout, and if that workout included me doing the very best that I could and still not making it through the movement, so be it, I would go as far as I could, over and over, and look like a mess but still try.

3. Oh my god, my legs are super-heavy.

Another flipping problem I had during the class was that I am extremely bottom-heavy (thanks, barbell lifting). I have giant quads and hamstrings. There’s nothing, like, streamlined about my body: I’ve got no power up top and ALL THE POWER in my legs.

So imagine you’re sitting in a hammock, and April here wants you to use your (basically not even functioning) shoulders to pull the sides of the hammock in an X across your hips, and then swing your (heavy-ass) legs up through the space between the X. You kick and kick and try to get the timing right between your underdeveloped arms and your over heavy, overdeveloped legs, and you just can’t. What do you do? You keep trying until April says it’s time to do something else, son. You keep on trying.

4. Most of the time, I feel like I’m super-capable of doing anything, but I have just hit a capability wall.

When I took a swimming class, I thought, “Yeah, man, I can do this” – and I did! I brushed up on the swimming skills I wanted to have and then quit when we started getting into topics that were over my head and made me freak the fuck out about maybe drowning. When I went rock climbing, I was like, “Well, this is terrifying, but I get the logic” – and I loved it!

But aerial fitness? Dude, I am straight-up not capable. YET. I fumbled my way through that class and was nowhere near as graceful about it as I could be (I’m used to being able to grunt my way through hard stuff when I’m lifting, OK?). It was weirdly refreshing to be completely outside of the realm of my possibilities, though.

5. Never tell me the odds!

This has been my motto ever since I started marathon training, almost a year ago. Applied to an individual workout or a challenging new activity, it means this: Try and try and try. Failing over and over is fine, because in the course of failing, you’re still acclimating your muscles to the activity. If you fail once, don’t let it put you off forever. Trying and failing is still working out. So, you failed. But you did it! You worked out, and you tried something new!

I’d be proud to know that I could wrap myself in silk and hang from the ceiling upside-down by the strength of my body alone. So is it worth the work to get there? I think yes – although if I’m going to be totally honest, I’m so intimidated by how challenging the class was that for now, I’m heading back to the gym to work on my upper body strength. And I’ll be going with the attitude in mind that failure doesn’t mean regression, it’s just a step on the way to progress.

Thanks to AirFitNow and April! Send me a line at [email protected] and follow me on Facebook.