In this article we focus on the physical preparation for flying acro. Keep in mind that if you are fairly new or just beginning in this sport, you’ll no doubt be on a larger serial glider. This is the most appropriate place to begin as these gliders have been tested and proven not to be extremely dynamic and in the case of EN-A and EN-B models, they generally want to reinflate and fly with little input.
Unfortunately the passive flight characteristics come with a trade-off. While less mentally taxing, they are more physically demanding. Weight-shifting needs to be exaggerated and done with authority. Brake inputs require longer pulling motions and more strength. The good news is, it gets easier. As your technique improves and your timing gets spot on, you’ll fly more efficiently. The stalls become less violent and that transition to SAT requires less strength!
To be ready for next Spring, it’s time to target the major muscles involved when beginning acro. Even though we are focusing on upper body movements here, don’t slack on those legs! Your body needs a good set of wheels for a well rounded physique and chicken legs just don’t look right.
We start with the back. One of the most important muscle groups for flying acro and one of the most difficult to train. Difficult because we can’t see the muscles. It’s also easy to do many movements incorrectly and transfer the majority of the resistance to the muscle groups in your arms, mainly the biceps.
The brake range is long on a serial glider and this creates a problem. The back muscles are very powerful but unfortunately their range isn’t enough to accommodate the distance the brakes will need to travel for a serial glider. Once the back has reached the maximum distance of it’s stroke, you must transition to the triceps to get the extension needed for certain maneuvers. By using a seat bench and an overhead cable it’s possible to replicate the motion in the gym. Start above your head at full extension and pull just as you would for a single arm pull down. At the bottom of the pull, transition to a tricep extension.
Well conditioned biceps and triceps will pay dividends come next Spring. You’ll need to master Full Stall and Spin. When you’re just getting started, these won’t be the most graceful maneuvers and controlling that big rag overhead will keep the cravates from putting in the drink. Triceps extensions using cables and a pushdown technique closely resemble the movements of flying our gliders. Machines that target the triceps are good to supplement but don’t rely on them as your only exercises. Cables require more of the smaller stabilizing muscles that you will need to use in order to keep the joints firmly in place and avoid injury.
The biceps aid the back in the initial pull of the controls when the hands are high. Less strength is required of the biceps at the hands up position as it creates little drag on the trailing edge. Beginning acro doesn’t require softball size biceps but strength here will be necessary as you progress through hotter gliders where the control movements are in the upper range of the stroke. Make biceps excercise a regular part of your weight training but don’t get too consumed with trying to mimic a flying movement. Focus that effort on the back and triceps muscles!
The abdominals will provide the balance needed for all weight shifting so make sure they’re up to the task. You don’t need a washboard stomach and you don’t have to look like an underwear model. Even if you’ve never seen an abdominal muscle at your midsection, I assure you they are there. Keep them tight and ready for action and you’ll have a much better chance of stopping that big asymmetric surge or riser twist! So weather it’s old school weighted crunches, planks, 8 minute abs or sweatin’ to the oldies really doesn’t matter. Just be sure to get them ready for action.
Round out the rest of your upper body routine with chest and shoulder training. Barbell and dumbbell presses are great for both and cable exercises are always very effective. Squats in my opinion are the building block of all leg training. If you have a hard landing, the strength and support you’ve gained from training could be the difference between life or death. The ability to absorb energy through strong muscles and stability of the joints and spine increase the likelihood of avoiding permanent injury. In addition to squats, leg presses and deadlifts will finish off many of the big muscles we’re working below the waist. You can add extensions and curls but don’t rely on these solely. They won’t build up the many muscles required to absorb a hard landing.
Even though most of us aren’t flying as much right now due to the seasons, there’s a lot to get done in order to make the best progress next Spring. In future articles we’ll cover mental training, video review, winter wingovers and much more. If there’s a topic you would like to know more about, please comment or contact me by email. Beginning acro opens the mind to endless questions and maybe I can help answer them.