You’re putting a lot of effort into training aerial silks–so you want to make sure that you are training the right habits! It’s possible to learn dozens of tricks but not advance your technique–so even if you have been training for years, you can look like a tangle of limbs. Read on to learn about subtle but powerful ways to clean up your technique and develop excellent training habits.
1. Pose before you practice
For any skill you practice in the air, take a moment to hold your body in a starting position. So, for example, if you are standing on a Russian climb about to go into a hip key, don’t launch into a hip key from your standing position. Release your feet, let the fabric fall to your side, engage your hollow body, breathe, and then proceed.
My students tell me that doing this makes them far more likely to correctly execute the skill. I know it can be a bit intimidating to do this because your energy is used by the effort of holding yourself in place. However, you must be able to do this to train well. If you can’t hang on the fabric for a moment before practicing a skill in the air, you are not ready to do that skill in the air. Build confidence that you can hang for 5-10 seconds by practicing just hanging as a skill of its own! That way you don’t feel like you have to rush into skills.
2. Slow down
One of the best ways to tire yourself out, lose form, and get frustrated is to go too fast. Moving quickly is tempting if you feel like your energy is running out. However, if you do not have enough energy to practice a skill at its appropriate pace or slower, then you are not ready for the skill–and that is OK! Do your best to strive for slow and steady no matter how unfamiliar the skill, and if you find yourself rushing or rapidly repeating, step back, get some water, enjoy watching your classmates, and breathe.
3. Pay attention to foot position
Sorry, I can’t get away with not saying “point your toes.” But I’ll try to be a little more specific than that.
I remember when I first started aerial, I could NOT think about my feet. I was fully consumed with remembering my wraps and trying to get my body to generally do the right thing. I knew it would be some time before I could think about pointing my toes. If this is you, do make that general effort to point to the best of your ability, but also set aside time to look for moments that your toes especially do NOT want to point. Those are areas you will need to bring a concerted mental effort to what you are doing until it becomes programmed into your muscle memory. I have found that the feet like to flex when hooking and unhooking knees and when lifting the second leg in Russian flirt. Notice the places you need to work on toe point and practice them with the sole purpose of bringing full attention on your feet (pun intended).
Another extremely common issue, and one that can often persist longer than unintended dorsiflexion is “sickling.” This is when the feet turn inward (pronate.) The main instances you really WANT to do this is when crocheting, basic climb, and positioning a foot for star drops or wheeldowns, because it adds security. Otherwise, when knee-hooking, hip keying, and generally posing, watch out for that inward turn. Think about leading outward with your pinky toe–it is much harder to go too far in that direction.
If you’re in the position I used to be, in which your brain just cannot handle the extra task of thinking about toe point, then dedicate your warmup and warmdown time to this! It is a lot easier to remember to point your toes when doing simple ground exercises, as opposed to actual aerial skills. Developing the habit on the ground will absolutely translate to the air over time. The video series FIT4FLIGHT emphasizes aerial technique on the ground, allowing you to condition and train technique at the same time and in a really supported way.
4. Effective fabric placement
A good rule of thumb is that if your body has a junction, the fabric should tuck all the way into it. For example, in a knee hook, you want the pole to be as far into your “knee armpit” as possible. In a hip key or a thigh hitch, the fabric should be as high up on your bottom leg as possible and follow the line of your pelvis. In a side tilt, the pole lines up with your inguinal fold (uppermost thigh, base of pelvis). If you’re hooking your elbow around the pole make sure it’s your joint and not your forearm that is cradling the fabric.
Tucking the fabric into body junctions increases security and comfort. This means being thorough in your movements. You definitely don’t want to “partially” hooked or locked into something. It’s not as safe, pretty, or comfortable.
I trust that you will find some of these tips helpful! Enjoy the journey, and celebrate all the wins, no matter how modest they may seem. If you’re looking for a structured path to better strength and technique in the air, I highly recommend FIT4FLIGHT, which I made for those exact purposes and is very popular among early aerialists since it gives really precise cues and insights that can be practiced at home.