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posted: 4/15/2014 5:30 AM

CrossFit joins the circus

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  • Several Cirque du Soleil artists, including aerialist Igor Zaripov, are into CrossFit workouts.

      Several Cirque du Soleil artists, including aerialist Igor Zaripov, are into CrossFit workouts.
    OSA Images

By Vicky Hallett, The Washington Post

Cirque du Soleil has been working on a couple new moves: squats and dead lifts.

Those exercises aren't as flashy as most of the mind-blowing tricks the circus troupe is renowned for. But they're awesome for strength conditioning, says Allister Booth, head coach for the company's "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour," which is touring in 21 U.S. cities.

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They also figure prominently in CrossFit, which has become Cirque du Soleil's new exercise obsession.

"I'm a big believer that any cross training done safely is a good thing," says Booth, who performed with Cirque du Soleil from 1993 until 2005.

Although every performance astounds audiences, the cast members -- who are often plucked from the competitive world of sports -- can get bored doing the same tricks over and over again. CrossFit offers new challenges with each workout of the day.

Booth has arranged for the acquisition of new equipment, including a standing squat rack. (Hoisting heavy weights without one would be too risky, Booth says.) And he trains cast members either one-on-one or in groups.

Even when working with such a fit crew, Booth still must pay attention to their form.

Although certain athletes virtually grew up in gyms, they haven't necessarily been exposed to lifting weights before. That's especially true of the troupe's dancers, many of whom are self-taught, Booth adds. And because this particular show is focused on Jackson and his music, there are many more dancers in the cast than in a typical Cirque du Soleil production.

One common problem for people who have relied exclusively on body weight training, Booth notes, is that the fronts of their bodies have become stronger than their backs.

"They can do their jobs perfectly well, but they're imbalanced. In the long run, it's healthier for them to be balanced," says Booth, who notes that dead lifts are fantastic for back strengthening.

And speaking of backs, CrossFit's top competitors should watch theirs, Booth adds. The member of the "Immortal" cast most infatuated with CrossFit is Igor Zaripov, an aerial straps artist who has racked up several world records, including the one for the heaviest road vehicle ever pulled with teeth. (It was more than 27,000 pounds.)

To beat a guy like that, everyone else needs to start working on a couple new moves of their own.

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