Stretching: down the rabbit hole

What’s exciting to me about circus is that it has so much potential to be a journey of self-discovery. Everyone starts in a different and unique place–not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. And from there, we explore and discover new possibilities. Everyone gets to approach and play with their limits–their current limits–and engage in the adventure of testing them, challenging them and, ideally, ultimately, redefining them. Along the way, you have the opportunity to get to know yourself better.

In particular, you have the opportunity to get better acquainted with your body. (And well you should! It’s your instrument, your vehicle for creating your own circus magic…) The great thing is that as you make your way in your journey, you’ll find that there are places where you need to do some extra work: you’ll find ways you need to be stronger and ways you need to move better. Sometimes ‘moving better’ will mean developing more stability and sometimes it will mean developing more mobility. The key lies in figuring out where and when and how.

And of course, why!

To continue the thought from my previous post, something that I see quite often in aerialists and flyers are signs of lower-cross syndrome. The piece of this puzzle that was on my mind involves overactive/tight hip flexors. In looking at how to best stretch your hip flexors (your psoas having been the focus), I mentioned the idea of setting up for the stretch by squeezing your butt. This probably should have been our starting point.

If you’re curious about the details of why and how this matters, check out Eric Cressey’s article here.

The key thought for today is this: if you’re stretching your hip flexors out properly, there’s still the question of why they’re so tight. A part of it may be that they’re spending a lot of time hanging out in a shortened position.

Startup Stock Photos
You can’t see them, but his hip flexors are in a shortened position here.

And when hip flexors spend a lot of time like this, they tend to make your glutes stop working as well as they should. When your glutes don’t work as well as they should, that means that your hamstrings become the dominant muscles when you’re trying to extend your hip. As Eric Cressey point out in his article, this situation can result in some not-so-great movement of your femoral head (that’s the tip of your thigh bone; the ‘ball’ in the ball-and-socket joint that is your hip) within the joint socket. Specifically, it can end up sliding forward rather than being stabilized by your glutes.

This can lead to irritation and pain…

which can misleadingly seem like tightness that you want to stretch…

and if you’re not stretching your hip flexors with a strong accompanying glute contraction (meaning a good squeeze of your butt, in case that wasn’t clear), then you’re just going to irritate it further.

Now, if you find yourself setting up to stretch your hip flexors and you’re having some trouble contracting your glute without feeling like your hamstring is about to spasm, try this:


The setup:

Lie on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat.

Pull one knee up toward your chest and hold it there with your hands.

This part is important: Exhale fully and forcefully to engage your core and lock your rib cage into position.

Lift the toes of the foot that’s still on the floor. Drive through your heel to lift your hips toward the ceiling without losing that core engagementYour torso should move as one piece.

Repeat eight times each side.

Please note: if your hip flexors are indeed tight, you are not likely to end up extending your hip all the way. That’s fine. It’s just a sign that you need to work on this: use this as an exercise to help your glutes fire and to help your hip flexors get the message that they can settle down.

You may also find that your hamstrings feel like they are working way too hard. It just means they’re trying to do the job your glutes should be doing. That’s ok too, because doing this drill helps that to get better.