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👋 Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
Hey there! My name is Xander Taylor and I’m a 32 year-old professional circus artist. I’ve grown up across Canada, having been born in Alberta but then moving around Ontario and Quebec a fair bit.
Asking a touring circus artist what city they call home is a tricky one, but currently when I’m not touring I split my time between Montreal and Hamburg, Germany.
Before the performance industry shut down due to COVID-19, I was performing with my trapeze partner Mélanie Dupuis in Cirque du Soleil’s show “Totem”.
We perform with Cirque du Soleil on a six month rotation basis, which is awesome as it allows me to pursue other performance opportunities as a freelancer.
We’ve had the good fortune to perform in a variety of high profile theatres ranging from Broadway, London’s West End, to performing for royalty in the Royal Albert Hall.
We’ve also been award recipients at circus festivals of international renown, including the Young Stage Festival in Basel, Switzerland and the Festival International du Cirque de Demain in Paris.
Aside from my duo trapeze number, I also work with a custom-made solo apparatus called “dance strapeze”, with Cyr wheel, and prior to that I was performing in high dive shows.
I hold an Honours BSc in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo and am also a graduate of the National Circus School in Montreal.
At the moment, I’m also (slowly) starting my voiceover business, which has been great fun as it taps into a different side of performer creativity.
Having grown up as an elite athlete, fitness has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember.
However, I only started lifting weights when I was 18. The drastic difference in my performance and physique was fascinating to me, and greatly influenced my choice to study kinesiology as well as to continue exploring an acrobatic career.
⏱ Describe a typical day of training
Variety is the name of the game for me when it comes to describing my training.
As a trapeze artist, strength, flexibility and movement quality are all important, and as such require constant attention. My training also differs depending on whether I’m on a contract or not.
When performing my number 6 days a week, the priority is always feeling strong and safe in the show.
As a duo trapeze porter (the guy who catches the person flying around), your entire body is implicated. If your lower body fails, your legs can no longer latch onto the trapeze.
If your core is weak, the trapeze isn’t stabilized and dangerously swings around the space. If your upper body is exhausted, then your partner has no reliable support and will likely fall.
These reasons are why I tend to adopt a daily full body resistance training approach, four to five times a week, where I hit all the muscle groups but only to an RPE of about 7 or 8.
I don’t want to train close to failure and affect my functionality later on in the show. Having said that, when I’m off contract, I will indulge my inner masochist and have concentrated upper and lower body muscle group days.
Regardless of whether I’m on a contract, I do have a daily regime of physiotherapy exercises, core stabilization, and stretching.
These change depending on what injuries/weaknesses I’m dealing with, but in essence I’m always working on a balance of stability and mobility.
My stretching routine prior to trapeze training or a show is a blend of active and passive flexibility, and is an amalgamation of years of different teachers and methods.
At the moment though, I’m working largely with a program from Catie Brier Contortion, and seeing some great results!
Otherwise, when I have spare time I enjoy the occasional yoga class, dance class, or any other instruction that makes both my brain and body work differently.
I shouldn’t forget to mention the critical end to each day, which ever since I hit 30 has been to always ROLL OUT. It’s ridiculous how much more tension and pain I feel the next day after not having done this.
Sometimes saying no to that after show drink in order to properly roll out and have a hot bath has made a huge difference in my day to day wellbeing.
👊 How do you keep going and push harder?
Generally speaking, I think if you have a goal, you tend to have a reason to wake up every morning. In fitness, it’s the same thing.
If I have a set of goals in both the short and long term, I can structure my workouts and also remind myself what I’m working towards.
This also allows for some adaptability if ever something unexpected blocks the path to a goal (*cough* Corona *cough*).
A late discovery for me was the importance of actual enjoyment in order to adhere to a program. I’ve realized the following:
- I have so much more energy and motivation doing my weights session in the mornings. Find that time of day when you feel you have the most energy and stick with it.
- While the occasional chat is ok, I enjoy working out alone. I don’t like interrupting the flow of my workout and my rest intervals, and it’s a very meditative time for me.
- Always track what you’re lifting. I prefer writing in a training journal and not having my phone with me.
Not only am I keeping track of my training volume, but I’m also including notes on perceived form issues and motivational messages to myself for the next session.
🏆 How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Life has changed quite drastically since the pandemic hit in mid-March. I went from performing six days a week and being physical 8 hours a day, to zero performance work in the foreseeable future and all the training spaces closed down.
While my trapeze partner returned to Montreal, I spent the lockdown in Germany with my boyfriend, to make up for lost time on tour.
Most of my job-related goals have gone out the window for the moment, so I’ve taken this time to really slow down.
Being in the performance industry, your identity can sometimes become synonymous with your occupation, so I decided to spend some time getting to know the non-circus artist Xander.
With no major performances coming up, my daily regime has turned a lot more towards physiotherapy for any lingering injuries, taking a German intensive, building my voiceover business, as well as the occasional Zoom HIIT workout with Cirque du Soleil castmates to maintain a bit of community feeling.
I’ve also dropped a bit of muscle mass and gone up in percent body fat while re-connecting with the joy of preparing one’s own food (we usually have amazing kitchen staff on tour that do this for us).
I’m embracing it though! Our state of body composition fluctuates so much, and I know that once I hop back into the weight room it won’t take too long to get back to where I was.
🤕 How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
I’ve experienced pain for the vast majority of my acrobatic life, and adaptability is what has allowed me to continue training and to continue pursuing my goals.
Don’t get me wrong…there are moments and injuries that require you to fully rest. But as it pertains to minor injuries, or a later rehabilitation stage after something more significant, I am often modifying my training and acrobatic material.
Not one trick or lifting weight is worth it if it means potential injury.
Generally speaking, my strategies for reducing injury occurrence are pretty straightforward. I sleep…a lot. I’m someone who needs 9-10 hours a night, and it makes all the difference.
Other than that, I have a weekly massage, roll out, have a few trips to the sauna (try a German Aufguss treatment if you haven’t…it’s amazing), and eat well.
With all the traveling we do, it can be difficult/impossible to rest properly while traveling on a plane, but I make sure to allow myself a full day off after a long haul flight.
Whenever I feel like I’m going towards the end of a city run of shows and the fatigue is piling up, I schedule a deload week, which is then followed by a week off as the show transfers to another city.
During this week I’ll cross-train, but I won’t typically be lifting.
Overall, when you perform with your body six days a week for years on end, you’re going to experience an injury of some kind.
I do my best to try to avoid injury but I also know that eventually something will start to hurt. When it does, I seek advice from a medical professional and adapt my training accordingly.
🍎 How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
I’m not too strict when it comes to my diet.
As a constant traveler, one of the best parts is eating your way through a city, and I refuse to deprive myself of that pleasure. Like many things in life, I enjoy my treats in moderation.
Overall, I aim for variety in my nutrition. I don’t restrict myself from any particular food group, but I do try to eat ethically and locally.
Five meals a day, still just aiming for the visual plate breakdown of ¼ protein, ¼ starch, and ½ vegetables/fruits. If there’s anything I calculate, it’s usually my total protein intake, which I keep on the higher end at about 1.4g/lb.
In my trapeze numbers, it is very rare that I perform with a shirt on (or pants for that matter), so I aim to keep my body fat under 12%. There isn’t an on/off season in circus, so this is maintained pretty much year-round.
Of course when I’m off contract I put on some fat and eat bit more liberally, but once I get back into training I can lose it relatively quickly.
Supplement-wise, there isn’t much I use honestly. I take a multivitamin every day to cover anything that might be missing and during the winter I supplement with vitamin D to maintain a strong immune system.
I use a 100% whey protein powder from Optimum Nutrition for ease of hitting my daily protein target, and while I don’t take caffeine supplements, I usually have a nice espresso prior to my workout. Serves both the pleasure and pump purposes!
If ever I have a particularly long workout or training day, I’ll have a little intra-workout snack of something high in sugar to keep me going.
Supplements Mentioned by XanderOptimum Nutrition
👍 What has inspired and motivated you?
This is a tough one to answer because I get inspired by different people and things every day.
I think one of my earliest fitness motivations was comic book heroes. Their sculpted bodies were an illustration of their strong will and courage, so I really felt as I pursued my own dreams of flying in the circus that the work put into my body naturally accompanied my ambition.
I also am a huge museum and art gallery junkie. Taking a trip back into history gives me so many ideas, and the male form from the Classical Period will always be an ideal of mine.
With a background in kinesiology, I stay on track and inform myself with evidence-based information.
There is a lot of information out there, both in and outside of the scientific community, so while I try to inform myself by reviewing scientific literature, sometimes there just isn’t enough time.
As a result, I watch videos from experts in the fitness industry who review and analyze these studies themselves, such as Jeff Nippard and Dr. Eric Helms.
✏️ Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
My advice for someone starting out would be to write out your specific short and long term goals.
Not everyone needs to buckle down and lift weights to feel good. Maybe it’s taking up dancing, maybe you want to try out a circus class.
Take a moment to ask yourself what you want, give it a try, and if you enjoy it, keep at it. If not, try something else!
I think a major issue with people wanting to “get fit” is that they start out forcing themselves to do something they don’t even enjoy because everyone else is doing it. That’s just not sustainable, and you won’t adhere to anything that way.
If your road leads into the realm of weight lifting to change your body composition, I would say to inform yourself as much as possible prior to starting.
The different information and opinions in the industry can be mind boggling, but The Muscle and Strength Pyramid books from Eric Helms do a great job of amassing most of the information you need, as well as debunking certain myths.
Also aim to find yourself a trainer that can start you off on the right course, helping you structure a program and have a good form foundation that will reduce your risk for injury.
I usually look for someone with a science degree and who has one of the more rigorous certifications (such as CSEP – Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology).
🤝 Are you taking on clients right now?
I haven’t been coaching in the last while due to my performance schedule, but now it seems like I’ll have more time.
I have coached on and off for the last 15 years, so if ever you’re looking for instruction in trapeze, floor acrobatics, Cyr wheel, stretching or diving, I am very free at the moment.
📝 Where can we learn more about you?
💬 Xander Taylor quotes
Xander shares some great, motivating insights in this interview. Feel free to share these quotes on your Instagram, Pinterest and so on 😍