In a corner of the Le Rêve gym, a Herculean athlete does a handstand and splits his muscular legs into a completely level, horizontal line, toes pointed. With perfect form, he bends his elbows and does a “push-up.” It’s just part of the warm-up for the performers, as they train for moves requiring strength and agility, such as balancing on a wire-framed globe or doing an upside-down tango underwater in the aquatic theater-in-the-round performance at the Wynn.
The gymnasts, aerialists and synchronized swimmers do what’s called a Four-Point Workout, spending equal time on their necks, abs, lower and upper bodies. This workout targets the major muscle groups, creating a strong foundation—and it’s not just for high-diving acts.
Steve McCauley, head of health services at the Wynn, says the basics of this workout are for everyone because it lays the groundwork for any other exercise regimen, ensuring strong performance and less susceptibility to injury. “Every person who seeks to do a certain activity—whether that be recreational or professional sports—has to have a certain basic foundational strength.”
The key is to forgo weight machines. This allows you to work your muscles in more of a 360-degree fashion whenever possible, such as pairing a lunge with a counterpart reverse lunge, yielding those perfectly proportioned, chiseled muscles the performers have, McCauley says. “Machines just teach you to be good at machines,” adds Mathew Miller, strength and conditioning coach.
The show’s 80 performers train about 12 hours a week to prepare for more than 450 performances a year. “They’re being slammed down, hanging upside down and falling into water,” McCauley says. “We are training their body to withstand trauma and abuse.” That’s probably not one of your personal goals, but you can still work Four-Points exercises into your fitness program.
Note: For all the movements below, do 12 to 15 repetitions and three to four sets to build muscular endurance.
A Le Rêve neck exercise.
Le Rêve: Head lift. With weighted head straps, performers lift up to 10 pounds in all four directions.
You: Head lift. Lie facedown on a bench or your bed with your head and back hanging off, your shoulders just at the edge.
Place your tongue on the roof your mouth, which tightens the muscles in the front of your neck.
Lift your head as far as you can without causing pain. Hold for five seconds.
Slowly lower your head to starting position.
Switch to lying on your back, left and right side and repeat.
“Many times the neck and movement of the head is ignored,” McCauley says. “The benefit is going to be postural, providing an improved baseline from which you can do other activities.”
Le Rêve: Weighted squats. Performers complete squats holding as much as their own body weight overhead.
You: Lunge and reverse lunge.
Stand with feet shoulder- width apart.
Leading with left leg, slowly lower into a lunge, keeping knees at 90-degree angles (make sure left knee doesn’t go past toes).
Push off with heel to bring left foot back.
Touch floor with left foot, and then push left leg back into a reverse lunge.
Push off toes to come back to return to start position.
Repeat with right leg.
Besides strengthening muscles, this exercise also helps with balance, Miller says.
An ab workout, Le Rêve style.
Le Rêve: Extreme leg lift. Performers hang by their hands from a stationary bar and lift their legs to their chest using their abdominals. Up to 20 percent of their body weight is added to increase difficulty.
You: Kettlebell sit-ups.
Lie down with 18-pound pound kettlebells in each hand if you’re a man, eight pounds for women. The balls of the kettlebells should be touching your wrists.
Stretch out with both arms and legs flat on the floor.
Using your abdominals, raise your body to a sitting position, keeping back straight, legs flat and arms outstretched.
Slowly roll down to starting position, one vertebrae at a time, keeping abs tight.
Le Rêve: Handstand push-ups and extreme pull-ups. For the former, they balance in a handstand position using extra weight, then engage their arm muscles to push up and away from the floor. For the pull-ups, they use various grips and attach weight at the legs or waist.
You: Push-ups and pull-ups.
For the former, place hands flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart and extend legs behind you with feet together. Bend arms to where chest is six inches from floor and hold for two seconds inhaling. Then raise your body for two seconds exhaling. (Modification: Keep knees on floor.)
For the latter, stand below stationary bar with feet shoulder-width apart and grip bar with palms facing you. Bend knees and cross ankles for balance, then pull up so your chin is at bar. Lower yourself so elbows are straight. (Modification: Use a step to lift into the “finish” position.) Hold chin at bar for five seconds. Slowly lower yourself in a controlled motion.
“The best exercises are universal and tried and true,” McCauley says.