I often get asked for tipps about stretching, especially back stretching, so I thought I share with you what has helped me during my contortion journey. Keep in mind that it is still very individual what works for you and your body – everybody is different and different technics might work for you. But it is always good to give new ideas a try!
Let me show you my very first chest stand (sorry for bad quality) and my recent achievement, my first triple fold, before you read the tips as an extra motivation. All those tips helped me to get from that first photo to the second one.
Loose the fear
I think the first important step to get most out of your back bend training is to loose the fear of it. I was always very scared to stretch my back to intense and injure it. It is good if you have some respect, but it is not good for your training if you are scared. Your muscles will get thight and avoid you to go deeper and you won´t be able to breathe very good.
So how can you loose the fear? What worked for me is to train with a professional coach who helped me into different contortion poses and showed me that my limits are not where I thought they are. When I trained alone again I kept in my mind that I managed to bend much deeper with the trainer and started to believe more in myself and my ability to do it on my own again.
If you have not the opportunity to take a class or private with a trainer you slowly have to find out how much you can push into stretches. Don´t push too hard right from the beginning, slowly increase the intensity with each session and take note of how your body feels the next day. Like this you can safely find out how much force your body can bear. Often it is a lot more than we expect.
Learn to breathe and relax
For relaxing and holding a stretch longer it is essential that you can breathe freely without the anxiety to run out of air. I trained this a lot in my chest stands because those or one of the hardest positions to breathe. I go only up to the point where I can breathe VERY easily, I close my eyes and than just concentrate on my breathing. In back bends it is easier to breathe through your nose and in chest stands you shouldn´t try to breathe too deep. Deep slow breathes can help you in most other positions, but they are hard in chest stands and this might feel a bit odd. So try short breathes through your nose.
Try to stay in the position for a while, I never count but 30s would be a great start! Once you can manage to do that and feel good, try to push just a little deeper into your stretch and see if you can still breathe easily. Depending on how this works go back a bit or deeper again after a few breathes.
The better you can breathe in your backbends, the more you will relax and this helps you to go deeper into your position.
Train consistent and often
I think everyone knows that training regulary is super important, but often we have too many excuses why we can´t stretch today. Buf if you REALLY want it there is no excuse. To get my headsit I stretched daily, sometimes even twice a day for about 30-40min. This can be too much for others, be careful if you want to try to stretch that often. Not every back is made for that much training.
If you feel a little sore and it feels a little hard in the beginning, this is normal. But if you keep going your back will hopefully get loose again, if not you maybe need a rest day or two. Find out how often you can stretch and than stretch as often as your back allows you.
Always doing the same intensity and holding a stretch for not more than 10s doesn´t make it easy to progress. Of course it is hard in the beginning, but you can increase the duration very slowly. Even if you just add 5s each time, it is great! Every progress is good, no matter how small it is, always keep that in mind. Again relaxing and good breathing technic help you to hold stretches longer.
Let me give you an example on how I increase intensity and duration during my cobra stretch with the hands on the pole. When I do this stretch I first pull myself very slowly back, I take a lot of time for this if it is my first time that day. This helps my back to slowly get used to the movement. Once the stretch feels intense enough I hold it for a while, take a few deep breathes and than slowly pull myself deeper. Once it becomes really hard I pull myself to my limit just for a few seconds and than extend my arms just a little bit again so I can take a few more deep breathes and relax again. But I stay still in my back bend. I repeat this a few times, each time a bit longer and a bit deeper if possible. With this method I stay very long in my back bend and it allows me to go much deeper.
No front bends during training
This one is not for those with a sensible back. But I noticed that I get better results if I do no front bend during my back bend sessions. It is common to do a front bend after each back bend to relax the back. But to me this is like I would train two totally opposite things at the same time. I sometimes do a few back circles or use a blackroll as a little break but I never stay in a front bend. Once I finish my back stretching I start doing my front bends. It feels very hard first to get into it but if you take enough time and slowly round your back it will soon feel normal again. Take enough time for this part, it is super important for a healthy back! Never skip it, if you don´t have much time, keep your stretching shorter so you have enough time for a good cool down.
Stretch all parts
Many stretches focus on the lower back, but don´t forget your upper back, neck, shoulders and hips. You will need all those areas for those beautiful contortion poses. Here are a few examples for you.
Needle Scale will need mainly shoulder and hips and of course your lower back. Chest stand need a lot of neck and upper back flexibility. The wheel needs all parts mentioned above if you don´t do a certain variation. So better stretch all parts right from the beginning, you can still focus on different parts in each training if you want. That´s what I do often.
Don´t forget your muscles
A back which is super bendy and weak is not healthy, so I make sure to strengthen my back a lot. Do chest raises on your stomach with different arm or leg variations and work on lifting into your chest stand will help you. But it is not only healthy it is also necessary for some moves. A strong back will help you to hold your chest stand without pushing with your arms too much (or even without you arms!) or to go from a standing position slowly and controlled into your wheel pose.
Some people say that lots of muscles mean less flexibility. This is true if you just train your muscles for years without stretching, this will make you super stiff. But if you always train both in the same amount you can be flexible and strong. I think it is way more beautiful if somebody can show strong and flexible tricks at the same time.
Repeat the same positions and stretches again and again and again… The more often you do something the easier it will be. I can still remember my first attempts to go into triple fold. Getting my feet behind my armpits was such a struggle, I needed a couch or pole against my belly in my chest stand to avoid rolling back and still sometimes lost balanced and rolled on my side or my feet just came off again because I couldn´t position them properly. I kept going although it was super hard and now it feels so much easier, I need no support and the position feels usually stable.
It´s the same with all other positions no matter what prevents you from going deeper (breathe, flexibility, technic, strength,). It will get better if you don´t give up too early. Don´t get frustrated, even if you don´t see progress right away, each training is helpful for your back bend journey.
Turn bad days into good days
My back flexiblity differs a lot from day to day. Some days my back feels so soft and everything feels easy and other days I feel like nothing is possible. But luckily I can´t stop before I don´t feel satisfied with my result and I keep going even on those bad days. In the end I´m always surprised what I could achieve even if it was not my best but maybe close to it. So if you have one of those bad days don´t skip your training, use this as a motivation to train harder and show your body that you have no bad days!
You can also vary your training, sometimes I just don´t feel like doing chest stands because breathing is hard or I feel a bit dizzy than I do other positions that feel better today. This is totally fine, too. Also if something is painful you shouldn´t keep going of course. Be motivated and persistent but don´t overact.
Together is better
Most of the time I train contortion alone but sometimes I train with friends and this is always a great motivation. You can cheer at each other, motivate you, help each other with stretching or give a little extra push into a position. When I started training my triple fold, I always needed somebody next to me because otherwise I was too scared.
Also classes and trainers are of course great. You learn new stretches, new technics and new moves. The teacher can help you with hard poses and give you some support so you can relax more and go deeper into your stretch without getting scared.
I hope some of these tips will work for you, too and improve your back bends. If you have questions don´t hesitate to leave me a comment, I´m always happy if I can help and will do my best to help you. As said before, keep in mind that every body is different, be careful with back stretching and if you want to train super safe get a professional trainer 😉
Enjoy your flexy journey! <3