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Rigs,Trees & Mats, oh my!

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

During this season of quarantine it's likely you're eyeing that beam in your living room or tree in your back yard right about now. We know you're eager to get back in the air ASAP! While having your own at-home set up is very tempting for those looking to keep up their aerial practice, we want to highlight some safety concerns to make sure you stay safe. Given the current health crisis, now is an especially bad time to get injured.

The American Circus Educators Association (ACE), the trusted authority on circus education in America which the Aerial Physique Teacher Training program is recognized by shares the advice below:

There are plenty of exercises that you can do to improve as an aerialist while floor-bound, so maybe take this opportunity to work on those areas that you need help with. Some examples include flexibility, core strength, dance, foam rolling, and other rehabilitation work.

If you do decide that an at-home rig is a priority for you, here are some important safety tips and considerations:

  • Ask your instructor if you are ready for your own rig. Make sure that you are ready to train without instructor supervision.

  • Consider taking a rigging course, read books and educate yourself before buying your own equipment. Learn to safely rig and inspect your equipment from experts in the field.

  • Check out local laws and make sure that your at-home rig does not violate your homeowner’s or renter's insurance policy. Make sure you are not violating any laws that may prohibit your rig’s height. Homeowners insurance can often liken at-home rigs to trampolines or pools.

  • Contact a structural engineer to assess your beam that you want to use for your rigging set-up. Make sure they do a thorough inspection. Bonus points if they have experience/expertise in aerial rigging.

  • After getting approval from a structural engineer, contact an experienced rigger to help you install your rig. As a note, Aerial Physique does NOT offer rigging installation advice. We recommend joining and posting in the Safety in Aerial Arts Facebook group to find a rigger in your area.

  • Rigging at home can be costly, but should NEVER be a DIY project. A more affordable and safe option is getting a reputable, third party tested, freestanding aerial rig. We recommend Ludwig rigs. As a note, they are currently experiencing an 8 week waiting period from the date of order.

We STRONGLY advise against rigging from trees. There are many issues with this and Jill is extremely passionate about this topic. Here are just some of the concerns when it comes to rigging from trees.

  • The tree and branches need to be able to take a LOT of weight to be safe. When you simply climb, your weight doubles. When you do dynamic skills such as beats or drops the sudden shock load can be many times your body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, at the bottom of a dynamic skill you could generate 700+ lbs of force. In aerial rigging, we aim for a 10 to 1 ratio. Meaning, whatever you’re hanging from needs to be 10x stronger than the max force that you’ll be generating, not just your weight itself.

  • The amount of weight a tree can take is affected by many variables that are difficult if not impossible to control and quantify. These variables include age, species, soil conditions, insect infestations, disease, root systems, bark and circulatory system, internal conditions of the trunk, and weather conditions. Plus, rigging on a branch damages the internal circulation of the branch, so even if the branch is safe at the outset, by using the rig, you are damaging the branch’s connection to the trunk.* In addition to hiring a structural engineer and professional rigger, you would need to hire a professional arborist to inspect the tree’s health, and would need to do this frequently for maintenance. The cost of all of this will likely be in the thousands so you’re better off just getting a free standing rig.

  • Several fatalities have been attributed to Sudden Branch Drop Syndrome. A tree will shed large limbs and branches without warning when stressed.* The high risk is just not worth it! See this helpful video from @the_aerialista for visuals.

(*reference used - Issues in Tree Rigging for Aerialists by Liz Cooper)

ALWAYS use a proper mat. This goes for at home, and when doing aerial at studios and performance spaces. As we all know, aerial can be potentially dangerous. While mats cannot fully protect you from injury, they can definitely lessen the impact of a fall or mishap. Back in 2012, a mat saved the life of Aerial Physique Master Trainer Gabe Hilden-Reid, who dropped from 25 feet on his head while doing the double Kamikaze drop (a drop that we never recommend for anyone). Without the mat and the strength of his neck muscles, doctors said that he might have been decapitated. Suffice it to say that no matter how advanced you are, a mat is nothing to be ashamed of. No matter how experienced you are, we believe that everyone should use a mat and that you should never be made to feel embarrassed or “less than” for using one.

At Aerial Physique student showcases, we ALWAYS require a mat--no exception. In addition, for studio owners and instructors, all aerial insurance policies will likely require you to use mats anyways.

Here are some mat purchasing tips:

  • We recommend opting for mats that are at least 8 inches thick. The mats in our studio are 4’ x 8’ x 12”.

  • Mat options in the USA: Rubber Flooring Inc, We Sell Mats, Mats Mats Mats

  • If you are not in the USA, type “Gymnastics Crash Mats” or “Landing Mats” in your search engine.

  • When ordering mats, plan ahead and expect high shipping costs. Due to the large size of mats, they are not shipped by regular mail. They typically need to be delivered by freight which can result in a pretty hefty delivery fee.

  • Many mat manufacturers do not have every size and color in stock. Instead, they are “made to order.” If you want something other than the standard blue color you may have to wait 6-8 weeks.

  • If you are on a budget, we have seen aerialists use mattresses or futons in lieu of mats. While this is better than nothing, we still recommend the standard crash mats due to the manufacturing specifications.

We put this information together not to scare you, but to encourage you to make responsible and well-informed decisions for yourself. We deeply care about you and want you to stay safe, healthy and injury-free!

Recommended reading: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben Rigging Math Made Simple by Delbert Hall

Sources Used: American Circus Educators Issues in Tree Rigging for Aerialists by Liz Cooper Heather Adam - Safety in Aerial Arts Facebook Post


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