Featured: Nicole Woyak, www.nicolewoyak.com
In the last post, I discussed a little bit about basic muscle and nerve anatomy, and how to tell which structure may be contributing to difficulties with your pike stretch. Quick (and VERY simplified) review: if you are able to reach a lot further in your pike with your toes pointed than flexed, your sciatic nerve mobility may be a large contributing factor. What does this mean? This may indicate that you could benefit from exercises to increase sciatic nerve mobility.
As mentioned previously, nerves don’t like to be stretched the same way that muscles do. In general, if you want to increase muscle flexibility, you want to bring the origin away from the insertion and hold in that position. Because of nerve anatomy, they don’t respond well to the same type of stretch. Throughout the whole nerve pathway from origin to insertion, nerves are encased in a protective sheath. In order to have full neural mobility, nerves are designed to be able to slide and glide within the sheath. Problems arise when, for a multitude of reasons, the nerve gets stuck to the sheath somewhere throughout the nerve’s pathway. If your sciatic nerve gets stuck to the nerve sheath, this can negatively affect your ability to pike like a Chinese diver.
OK, so…how do you UN-stick the nerve?? Nerves tend to respond very well to a “gliding/flossing” action as opposed to a long hold “tensioning” action. This means that you increase tension at one end of the nerve, and put the other end of the nerve on slack— then reverse this motion. Nerves respond better to slow rhythmic movement, and as such, you want to repeat this “gliding” pattern for multiple repetitions in one set.
Check out this awesome youtube video showing what it looks like when a nerve glides properly:
Nerve mobility TRIPLE THREAT
There are three exercises I’m going to discuss here, and I feel that all are equally important. In order to get the most effect out of your nerve flossing, you want to make sure you’re sequencing your warm up the correct way. For the purpose of your pike, I like to use the following sequence of events:
**AFTER all of these exercises, if passive stretching is part of your practice, it goes here**
Now that we understand the general sequencing of flossing and stretching, here are my suggested exercises.
:Sit on a hard surface (chair, panel mat, weightlifting bench) with a lacrosse ball or peanut right below where your glutes meet your hamstring, and knee bent. Start by straightening and bending your leg, and apply some light pressure to the top of your thigh if you want to ramp up the intensity. Do this at three different points along your hamstring.
You can also do this along your calf with your legs stretched in front of you:
Nerve Flossing/ Gliding
There are a LOT of ways to do these, but this variation seems to be one that works quite well for most performing artists.
Repeat this 10-15 times per side
**It is NOT beneficial to push into a big stretch or go to the point of pain, improving nerve mobility is NOT a “no pain no gain” type thing.
If your leg doesn’t get all the way straight, don’t freak out! the goal here is NOT a perfectly straight leg, the goal is to improve nerve mobility (it’s also a nice quad strengthening exercise that will help you keep your knees straight during aerial inversions and handstand work).
Active Flexibility: The Bend and Snap
This is a GREAT exercise for active hamstring flexibility.
If this is too easy, try the same thing but balancing on one leg instead of using the other leg for support. Keep your non-weight bearing foot glued to opposite ankle, don't let it drift back.
....Did it Work??
Artist: Lisie Michel, @lisierae. Photographer: Jon Beckley, @jonbeckley
How do you know if these exercises worked? Before you do them, take a photo (or actually measure) how far you can reach forward in your pike stretch with your toes pointed, and again with your toes flexed. Follow this up with the aforementioned three exercises, and re-test. If your sciatic nerve mobility was limiting the stretch, the “toes flexed” version should be much closer to your toes pointed version after doing the nerve glides on both legs. This means that you took out some of the nerve tension and your pike now is getting more into a muscle stretch.
Want more great active flexibility exercises?
Aerialist: Anastasia Sauvage, www.anastasiasauvage.com. Photographer: Elle Aime Photography
If you like these exercises but want MORE, check out my active flexibly plan for SPLITS or PIKE: these comprehensive plans have photos, descriptions, AND links to full videos of each exercise. More importantly, it explains the "WHY" behind my active flexibility exercises...what makes these exercises work, and why we focus on specific muscle groups. Click the button below to check them out!
And, of Course, the DISCLAIMER!
When SHOULDN’T you do this? If you have low back pain, a hamstring strain, or pain going down your back/butt/hamstring/calf, you should definitely get evaluated by a physio before moving forward with these exercises! DON'T TRY TO BE YOUR OWN DOCTOR! Even if you ARE a doctor. We make terrible patients.
Questions? Concerns? Feel free to comment below…and happy piking!