Those stunts require SERIOUS muscle.
By James Fell
May 5, 2017
When you think of a “circus workout,” you probably envision bendy yoga poses, or plopping into the splits. But that’s not what the stars of Cirque du Soleil’s “O,” a show in Las Vegas that’s performed in and above water, swear by for their lean, toned, and hella strong physiques. These badass ladies fly above the crowd, get tossed around by colleagues for stunts, and perform fully-choreographed routines while submerged in water, which means that they need near superhero strength to nail their routines.
Cirque du Soleil is a Montreal-based troupe that came from humble beginnings, starting with street performances in a small town near Quebec City in the early 1980s. Now the company has permanent installations and traveling shows across the world that attract some insane talent. We got three of their most powerful female performers to share the workouts that keep them focused, fit, and flying high for every performance.
“O,” the aquatic show in Las Vegas, has more Olympic athletes performing in it than any other Cirque show, and Jenna is one of them. She competed in synchronized swimming during the Beijing games in 2008 and in London in 2012.
Since she needs strength to propel herself out of the water, Jenna, who has been with Cirque du Soleil for three years, is intensely focused on having a powerful lower body.
“For the synchronized swimmers in our show, we use our legs a lot in what we call an ‘egg beater’ action to keep our bodies out of the water,” she says. “So I have to have strong legs. I do a lot of weighted barbell squats and a lot of lunges.” She says she’ll do any kind of exercise that strengthens and protects her hips, too, because they’re used so much during each performance.
But core work is also important. “I like to do sit-ups with extra resistance,” Jenna says. “I hold a weight on my chest or out in front of my face while doing it.” Another exercise she describes are called push-pulls, where she uses a cable machine to push down with one hand, and pull up a dumbbell in her other hand. “That really gets the rotational muscles working,” Jenna says. “It works all across the abdominals beyond just the six-pack.”
While Jenna admits how she looks is one factor in her fitness program, it’s far from the only one. “The focus is to make sure I’m conditioned enough to be able to perform every night without getting major injuries,” she says.
Trying to get flat abs? If you’ve got a dumbbell on hand, you can do some of these moves:
Abigail has been with Cirque du Soleil for four years. She began touring with “Corteo” in South America and joined “O” two-and-a-half years ago. (And she has a nursing nine-month-old baby, too!). She has a background in artistic gymnastics, having competed for the University of Maryland for four years before retiring from the sport to get her master’s degree.
She performs in two main acts in “O,” one of which is on a flying boat, where she does some flying herself. “I have large men throwing me around and catching me again,” she says. “The other act is more endurance, but on the boat, it’s more acrobatic and strength-based. Having upper body strength and a strong core is very important.”
She also needs to be careful about her weight, but not for the reasons most people step on a scale. “As a flyer we get regularly weighed,” she says. “I have to sit at a certain weight that is comfortable for my catcher, but also isn’t unrealistic for my everyday life, because I hope to be doing this for a long time.”
“My workout regimen tends to be a lot of bodyweight lifting,” she says.” Abigail does engage in some weight lifting, but more to focus on smaller muscles in her shoulders to protect herself from any injuries.
She also does “monster walks,” which involve using a thick Theraband around both ankles to strengthen and sculpt the hips. “We do a series of four directions,” she said. “Keeping the legs apart with tension on the band, we walk side to side each way, and forwards and backwards.”
Despite having such an athletic career, Abigail relished the time off after the birth of her daughter.
“For eight weeks I did absolutely nothing,” she says. “I’d pushed myself my whole life, and something changed when my daughter was born that just told me I needed a break so I focused on her.” (The Slim, Sexy, Strong Workout DVD is the fast, flexible workout you’ve been waiting for!)
Misa has been a pool performer with Cirque du Soleil for two-and-a-half years, but hopes to one day switch over to becoming an aerialist who spends most of her time flying through the air. With all the twisting and turning involved in both aerials and swimming, it’s important to keep her abs super strong.
“I do a lot of core stuff,” she says. Plenty of people don’t enjoy doing planks, but Misa doesn’t mind, and she makes them more creative by trying plank variations with added weight to increase the challenge and enhance her strength.
She also likes the way her legs look when she’s this strong.
“Before I did synchronized swimming, I was doing ballet,” Misa says. “We would train all the muscles in the legs—even the small ones—to create lines and make them look nice.” And for Misa, that’s accomplished via a variety of squats and lunges, sometimes with added weight, and sometimes just using her own body weight.
But she’s also spending time working on upper body in her quest to become an aerialist. “I’m doing a lot of rows and lat pulldowns to strengthen my back,” she says.
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