You’ve booked bootcamps, cycling classes, megaformer workouts, and spent hours at the barre, but can you say the same for aerial fitness? While just as Instagrammable as the aforementioned wellness crazes, aerial fitness is one workout that few can say they’ve actually tried. Hey, we get it: Hanging upside-down can seem nearly impossible (not to mention scary). But, it turns out, the benefits of doing so make it well worth stepping (er, swinging) outside your comfort zone.
Meet the Expert
To learn all the ways aerial fitness might benefit your wellness routine and overall mood, keep scrolling for what two pros have to say about the method.
What Is Aerial Yoga?
Aerial fitness (also called aerial hammock or aerial yoga) is a type of airborne fitness that is practiced in a silk hammock suspended from the ceiling to support your body weight, instead of stretched out across a mat laying on the floor. Classes typically involve yoga, Pilates, dance, and more, which is why most instructors prefer the term aerial fitness or aerial hammock over aerial yoga.
Unlike traditional yoga, which focuses specifically on, well, yoga, aerial fitness incorporates elements of other exercises, too—all while working to defy gravity. “Depending on the teacher’s background and education, there may be more emphasis on certain elements than others and choice of apparatus,” notes AntiGravity master instructor trainer Say. (AntiGravity Fitness was founded in New York City in 1991 by Christopher Harrison, whose teachings are revered worldwide).
Just because aerial fitness focuses on movements in mid-air doesn’t mean there’s zero floor work, though. As Say points out, a portion of aerial fitness teaches how to use both the aerial fitness apparatus and the floor. However, some more advanced classes require climbing up and staying in the air like an aerial arts performance.
The Benefits of Aerial Fitness
- Deepens stretches
- Relieves joint pressure and spinal compression that floor workouts can trigger
- Releases tension
- Increases balance and proprioception (bodily awareness)
- Enhances core strength
- Improves breath awareness
- Easier access to inverted postures
- Releases endorphins
As you can see, there are myriad benefits of aerial fitness. While all of these offer positive additions to your daily routine, possibly the most notable is the fact that hanging suspended in the air somehow offers a sense of safety that’s hard to match.
“Some describe the feeling as being in a cocoon, which can be especially comforting for healing trauma,” says Quattrocchi.
What to Expect During an Aerial Fitness Class
You might think that flips and inversions are at the top of the list, however, before even discussing specific movements, Quattrocchi says that the first thing you should expect when signing up for an aerial fitness class is to face your fears and learn to trust. “The hammock will hold you,” she says.
Outside of the mental component, Say says what to expect comes down to the aerial fitness class you’re taking. “Depending on the brand, teacher, and class emphasis, an aerial fitness class can be anywhere from a slow-flowing, meditative, restorative experience with a body-mind-spirit connection to a kind of suspension fitness, using the apparatus to gain flexibility, strength, mobility, and agility in preparation for gymnastics and aerial arts-influenced flips and tricks,” she says, noting that whatever the style is it's always good to address dizziness issues for safety.
How Aerial Yoga Compares to Classic Yoga
Aerial yoga is complementary to traditional yoga, Quattrocchi reminds us. “Both of them have their respective benefits, but aerial yoga could be a better option for those who experience joint or spinal pain,” she says, noting that aerial yoga helps you get deeper into postures by using the silk hammock as a prop for the body to access contact points that are normally harder to make alone. This, in a way, means that despite the assumption that aerial fitness is challenging (being suspended and all), partaking in the practice can lead to improved flexibility and more ease of movement in traditional yoga.
Regardless of the class style you sign up for, you can expect instructors to guide you through each sequence. One thing’s for sure: You’ll feel it in your abs in the days to come. “Many positions require abdominal activation to keep balance and alignment,” Quattrocchi says. “The best part is, your focus will be so into finding the pose that you barely even notice all that fire going on in your center.”
Aerial Fitness Moves You Can Do at Home
First things first, let’s be clear: Without the proper hammock set-up, an at-home aerial yoga practice can be very dangerous. You should always have someone on hand, to spot you, or in case you slip or get hurt. With that in mind, you have a couple of options when it comes to attempting at-home aerial fitness.
If you have a hammock or silks…
Depending on ceiling height and circumference space, Say says you can do most basic aerial fitness moves, including hanging upside down. However, before putting your trust into your hammock, Say notes to keep two things in mind:
1. Double-check your equipment. You should always get a professional contractor to inspect and install equipment onto structures like beams and ceilings. There are also free-standing structures available, but again students should research to find safe, reputable companies versus the most cheaply-made ones. This goes down to the smallest pieces connecting everything, like carabiners and daisy chains. Also, as far as the apparatus itself, invest in equipment that has been tested. For example, the AntiGravity Hammock ($299) itself can hold over 1,000 pounds. If you search for information about or photos of aerial yoga, you might find some users practicing on silks installed to tree branches. This is not safe, as there's no way of knowing the strength of that branch. Trust us; the only way to do this safely is to hire a professional.
2. Ensure you know all the moves. You should always learn the proper wraps, grips, mounts, dismounts, and progressions before doing this on your own. The equipment is not just a prop. It is often holding your entire body in space.
If you don’t have a hammock or silks…
Quattrocchi recommends using a yoga strap as a substitute for the silk hammock to access deeper depth in postures like floor bow, dancer’s pose, and reclined pigeon.
The Final Takeaway
Whether you do aerial fitness in a studio or hone your skills to such an extent that you can bring the method into your own home, the benefits of the practice are well worth flipping upside down for.
Ruggieri RM, Costa PB. Contralateral muscle imbalances and physiological profile of recreational aerial athletes. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2019;4(3). doi:10.3390/jfmk4030049