A little over a year ago, a friend recommended I read Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. At the risk of oversimplifying, it’s a book about the importance of knowing why we do what we do. On the surface of it, it’s a book for business and for building a truly remarkable organization. And as if that weren’t enough, this simple idea of knowing why we’re doing what we’re doing can take us to some profound places.
For me, the goal is to change the conversation that we’re having in circus about strength and conditioning. Why? Because if we make sure that our collective approach to strength and conditioning involves addressing movement dysfunction, muscle imbalances, stretching out the muscles that need stretching and building a solid foundation of core control, mobility where we need it and stability where we don’t, then we can all continue to train and explore and grow and experience all of the wonderfulness that is circus.
Because if we’re not smart about how we train, we seriously run the risk of injury. This definitely includes those basic things like whether your instructor puts mats under you when you’re upside down and hanging from things–no matter how high off the ground–but it also includes things like whether we’re taking good care of our bodies, day in and day out, always making sure mind and body are ready for the rather serious demands we’re about to place on them.
The preceding paragraphs may have just been a bit of a ramble leading up to the idea that I wanted to share: stretching your hip flexors.
Why stretch your hip flexors?
Because we sit too much. There’s a longer explanation, but it boils down to this: sitting makes your hip flexors tight and short. If you’re working towards a split, like Miss Cardeñoso’s here, you’ll need those hip flexors to lengthen.
And the devil is in the details…
The particular hip flexor muscle on my mind today is the psoas. As you can see from the image here, your psoas muscle is attached to several of the vertebrae in your lower back. This means that if you’re stretching your hip flexors like this (please note the arch in the lower back):
By allowing the lower back to arch, it means the psoas doesn’t get stretched effectively. It also means kind of cranking on your lower back, particularly if your core isn’t engaged. Basically, this means that when you try for a split, you’ll arch your lower back to compensate for the lack of hip extension. This is a substitution pattern that’s a great recipe for lower back pain.
So instead, try it this way:
Position your knee directly under your hip. Squeeze the glute of that leg. Hard.
Forcefully and fully exhale. Notice how this locks your ribcage in place and braces your core. Maintain this engagement (and feel free to breathe normally as you do).
For many, this will be stretch enough. Hold it there and enjoy.
If you need more, maintain the glute contraction on the side of the knee that’s down, keep your core braced (no back arching!) and then shift your weight forward and enjoy!