Getting started with flexibilityCoaching tips
Contortion is an amazing art with many options to take as your skills progress. Starting off with the right foundation is key if you want to make good, sustainable progress later on.
Starting your contortion journey
So you’re a complete beginner and you want to start to get flexible or even learn contortion skills? Or perhaps you’re already flexible in some areas but you want to get a good understanding of the basics that you’ll need to progress your contortion training – there’s no shame going back to the beginning. Having a strong foundation is key for progression to more advanced contortion skills.
The foundations are important in allowing you to build upon what you already know. They allow you to have a jumping off point, letting you get started without worrying about what you need to do. At the beginning the basics are your training, and almost more importantly they teach you how to train. Since a lot of advanced poses and skills are based around the same foundations, they are very good building blocks, as well as a point to return to if things are getting stale and you are no longer progressing.
Knowing the areas that you need to train
Most flexibility and contortion skills can be broken down into component pieces. In most cases a pose will use multiple parts of your body. Isolating the parts of the body that a skill needs is important when trying to break down a skill.
Broadly speaking we can say there are two main sections, upper and lower body. These sections divide into the following.
Types of contortion poses
Flexibility training can be broken down into distinct types, there can be some crossover between the types, however.
These are poses and tricks that primarily utilise the shoulders, hips and of course the spine. Backbending poses are usually achieved by arching the body backwards, or underneath yourself. Examples of classic backbending poses are bridge, bow and chest stand.
These are poses that make use of hips and hamstrings and a sometimes the spine. These poses are accomplished by the performer bending forwards, usually through their legs. Examples of frontbends are leg behind head, human knot and fold through poses.
Splits are well known in many other disciplines other than contortion. Splits are completed by having both the front leg and back leg flat against the floor making a 180 degree angle. This can be achieved with the legs out in front and directly behind the performer, or out to the sides.
Twists are less common than the more "traditional" types of poses seen in splits, frontbending and backbending. They do however have a level of versatility as ways to transition between poses. When executed well twists can add a shock factor to a performance as they are seen less commonly in contemporary contortion performances.
This is a much more specialised area of contortion that can also be associated with different styles of dance, most notably bone breaking. Dislocation poses can also be be combined with other pose types such as frontbending or backbending to make more advanced versions of certain poses.
While balancing itself isn't a type of contortion trick (for example say a straight, two handed handstand), there are many different types of balance that are commonly used in combination with a large variation of contortion poses. Balancing also takes many different forms and mainly relates to the fact that the performer's body is not on the ground.
Where to start if you’re completely new
If you’re starting from the very beginning, with zero to no pre-existing flexibility – or nothing out of the normal range of motion anyway; I would argue that hips and hamstrings are the way to go. These areas of the body, while having their own challenges are ultimately the best place to start your training off at as they’re fairly easy to train as compared to your back. Plus the gains in flexibility tend to come quicker in these areas, so they’re a good starting point to see some progression start to happen.
Find a coach
Having a contortion coach is the only true way that you can safely and effectively learn contortion. This is not to say that you can’t learn by yourself once you’ve been given a nudge in the right direction. There are a number of coaches around the world that you can train with either in person on more recently through video calls online. There are a growing number of coaches you can find on platforms such as Instagram or Facebook, however it would be recommended that you look for the testimonials and credentials of these coaches to make sure they have a good level of experience.
Find online resources (From a reputable coach)
A lot of coaches now offer online teaching in a live video call, but they also provide pre-recorded materials that you can follow along with and learn at your own pace. These are a great place to start if you're right at the beginning of your contortion journey and can be more cost effective than live or in-person private coaching.
If you have less reliable access to the internet or online materials are out of your budget then there are a number of physical book resources that can be useful to get yourself started. There are very few books specifically about contortion training, however there are many on general flexibility training that can be great to get you started.