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.
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:
- Tissue Prep: As a broad category, this includes using the foam roll, lacrosse ball, or peanut to muscle tissue surrounding the area that will soon be stretched. This serves to prepare the nervous and muscular system for the impending activity. In essence, it’s like bringing your neuromuscular system coffee in bed. “Hey…time to wake up…we’ve got some work ahead of us…”
- Nerve flossing/gliding: after the nervous system is fully caffeinated, this is a good time to introduce some gentle nerve glides. Important note: you should NOT feel a MASSIVE stretch here. With all nerve glides, the goal is to go slightly past the first point of resistance you feel, hold for a second or two, then relax.
- Active flexibility: Once your nerves have had their coffee and flossed, its time to make the surrounding muscles go to work. This is a great time for a targeted active flexibility hamstring exercise.
**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.
- Start lying on your back. First, grab behind the back of your knee and pull towards your opposite shoulder.
- Keep your toes pointed and straighten your leg as much as you can before you feel a slight tug – you could feel it in a few different places- hamstring, behind the knee, calf, or foot.
- Once you start to feel the tug, back off the stretch- bend your knee and flex your foot until you’re back in the starting position.
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.
- Start standing on one leg, with the other foot propped beside the standing ankle (for balance).
- During this whole exercise, you MUST keep your back straight and standing leg knee NOT locked out- with a very slight bend.
- Slowly reach forward, back straight, as far as you can go before your back bends or your hamstrings tell you to stop.
- Think about “booty out” the whole time. This keeps your pelvis anteriorly tilted, and ensures maximal hamstring stretch.
….DID IT WORK??
ARTIST: LISIE MICHEL, PHOTOGRAPHER: JON BECKLEY
WANT MORE GREAT ACTIVE FLEXIBILITY EXERCISES?
AERIALIST: ANASTASIA SAUVAGE. PHOTOGRAPHER: ELLE AIME PHOTOGRAPHY
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!