How to stay strong as you get flexibleCoaching tips
Strength is a key element in all contortion training (and generally flexibility training) regardless of your discipline, performance type or general ambition. Strength is an often overlooked component of contortion training which in the worst cases can result ultimately in injury but can also contribute to slowing or even stopping your ability to progress.
Having an appropriate level of strength to match your level of contortion ability is essential, especially as you move into more performance-level tricks. Every good contortion training programme should include a large element of strength, especially for those that are more naturally inclined towards flexibility.
Why is strength important for flexibility?
Any physical training that we do with our body is generally about pushing your muscular boundaries in order to unlock improvement. This is done by repeating a movement or action consistently until our body is comfortable with that action and so allows us to move on to a slightly more difficult action.
With flexibility training this works in a particular way, your body is smart and adaptable but ultimately it aims to keep you safe. When we train our flexibility we push our bodies into what is known as the end range of our mobility. This end range is usually felt where we feel a physical barrier or physical discomfort as we stretch through our range of motion. This sensation is the body’s way of telling you that you are at the end range of that particular muscle’s ability to support your weight. If we push through this barrier it is highly likely that we will experience pain and in the worse case injury.
So how do we stretch past our current limits?
For contortion training, strength adds in an element of stability, this is important as it means that you have more control of the tricks and poses that you’re wanting to execute, but also means you are leaning less on your ligaments and tendons and more so on your muscles which are much more able to take the strain of training. This is why having an element of active flexibility training can be beneficial for people to help them get further along with the tricks they are learning.
What do we mean by active and passive? (The simple version)
While there are smaller ways to group these types of stretches, in their simplest forms there are two types of stretches you can do.
Passive stretches are those where an external force is creating the stretch and that particular body part is relaxed. This might be a person, an external weight or immoveable object (like a wall)
Active stretches (sometimes called static-active stretches because you are not moving), for the sake of this simplified definition are where you aim to stretch a particular body part but only using your own strength. A good example you can try yourself is a laying hamstring stretch.
Passive laying hamstring stretch
- Start laying on the floor
- Bring your right leg off the ground and grab the foot with your hand in the air (You might need to use a strap if you’re not able to take hold of your foot yet)
- Gently pull your leg towards your head while locking it out and relaxing it as much as possible
- Hold for 30s
Active laying hamstring stretch
- Start laying on the floor
- Bring the right leg off the ground into the air using only the strength of that leg and take it as far as you can
- Hold for 30s (Or until you run out of strength)
It is very likely that you will notice quite a large difference in how far you can go between the passive and active exercises. The bigger the difference the more important that it is to work on your active flexibility. Quite often when you start to close this gap you will notice an increase in your passive flexibility soon after.
Areas of strength to work on
General overall strength for contortion
Like all physical activity performances, having a good general level of conditioning is important for being able to keep up your training consistency as well as being able to effortlessly perform your contortion routine. Some great areas for you to think about training are the following:
When we talk about “core” strength we’re mainly talking about your abdominals (the muscles that go across your stomach area often referred to as “abs”) These muscles are largely responsible for helping keep your back supported, which is very important when it comes to extreme backbending. Your abdominals are also useful for things like compression when piking up into handstands.
Your glutes are another important and large muscle group that has many benefits to work on. They help support your back as well as help drive your hips forwards and also support your legs in tricks like hang backs and drop backs.
Having strong hamstrings helps with having a more stable base for things like splits and then progressing to oversplits.