Five practical fitness tips from the stars of Cirque du Soleil

Our fitness expert James Fell went backstage at a Cirque show and got the skinny on staying fit from the most amazing bodies.

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Strong is sexy. And as I get older, I find myself less motivated by vanity, and more focused on how well my body performs.

Many articles and fitness products appeal to changing the way you look, but when you’re motivated by making a body that’s more fit and more athletic, it can result in achieving vanity goals you never thought possible.

If you’ve ever seen Cirque du Soleil perform, you’ll understand what I mean. These performers have amazing physiques, and yet their training regimens are about wowing audiences with feats of strength, stamina, agility and grace. Looking good is just a side benefit.

Recently, I took my family to see their performance of Amaluna in Calgary. It was my fourth time seeing the troupe, and later I went backstage to interview two of the performers about how they train to keep healthy, high-performance, injury free and looking good.

Cirque du Soleil's Amy McClendon stars in Amaluna

Cirque du Soleil’s Amy McClendon stars in Amaluna

Here are five Cirque-inspired training tips you can use in your workouts:

1. Cross train
“Since coming here I’ve realized cross-training is very important,” says Amy McClendon (above), the show’s main dancer. After years on Broadway, Cirque brought her to a new physical level: “There is a lot of physical exertion. I go to the gym and do the elliptical on high resistance to keep my legs strong.”

Melanie Sinclair (below), who does the show’s uneven bars performance says, “I work out several days a week outside of the performances. Including the eight to 10 shows a week, it’s about 30 hours of training each week.” Her cardio of choice is 30 minutes of running on the treadmill or on the elliptical each day. She also brings a bicycle on tour and bikes into work each day. Aside from cardio and strength-training, they all do a lot of stretching to stay flexible as well.

2. Focus on core stability
“I like to do core work because most of my act is upper body so I want to balance that out for my own benefit,” explains Sinclair.

The whole dance team does a lot of Pilates as it’s a great way to build core strength quickly. It should be no surprise that Joseph Pilates was active in the New York ballet community helping extend dancers’ careers.

Pilates instructor Lisa Johnson explains that, “With flexibility comes lack of stability. Pilates is really good at providing stability to joints so they’re less prone to injury.”

Cirque du Soleil's Melanie Sinclair (Photo by Jim Shumway)

Cirque du Soleil’s Melanie Sinclair (Photo by Jim Shumway)

3. Have fun
To push yourself physically on a regular basis, it’s important to love what you do. And having fun is part of what motivates these performers.

“It’s performing and it’s something I love doing,” McClendon says. “There is a motivation that will never go away even when you’re tired. There is always something to look forward to.”

4. Take care of yourself
You only have one body and there’s growing concern over new workouts that push people too hard and can cause debilitating injuries with permanent damage. But Cirque du Soleil performers know all about how to push their bodies the smart way without getting hurt.

“There are always overuse injuries that come from doing the same thing every day,” says Chad Fraser, who does performance medicine for the group. “But the artists are pretty good about taking care of themselves.”

“You need to be smart,” says Sinclair, “Here the goal is to make sure you last.”

McClendon explains that each performer gets massage therapy once a week and that self-massage, with balls and rollers, is encouraged to maintain healthy muscles.

5. Food is fuel
No matter how much you exercise, it’s still possible to gain weight if you eat too much.

“I was eating too much sugar before,” McClendon confesses, “I had to incorporate more protein into my breakfasts so I wouldn’t get tired. There was a nutritionist back in Montreal who told me I needed more red meat. I needed the iron because of the physical demands on my body and I noticed an immediate difference.”

“It’s very demanding work,” Sinclair adds, “so I get a lot of leeway in the amount I eat. Getting enough calories in is very important.”

You likely don’t place near the demands on your body that these circus performers do, but your body is the only one you’ll ever have. Interpreting these tips from high performance athletes for your own use can help you keep your body a well-oiled machine for many years to come.

James S. Fell authors the syndicated column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Chicago Tribune and interviews celebrities about their fitness regimens for the Los Angeles Times. Get your FREE Weight Loss Report from James.

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