We all want to have the splits, spreadies, spatchcock, russian split and rainbow marchenko on our list… but how do we train for them without tearing a precious hamstring?

Ask a group of elite polers and aerialists at any workshop event and almost guaranteed over half of the group will admit to having had a torn hamstring. Not good statistics! Initial injury often leaves you at high risk of recurrence.

When you ask your body to bend, extend and contort in ways it isn’t ready for – unfortunately something has to give, most often muscle or tendon.

During tricks – tears often occur when contracting and lengthening the muscle; this is called eccentric contraction.

The Hamstring muscles include:

– Bicep femoris
– Semimembranosus
– Semitendinosus

They attach from your ‘sit bones’ (ischial tuberosities) to your lower leg bones (tibia and fibula). Stretching is about moving the two attachment points apart to put the tissue on tension. Bicep femoris is the most commonly injured.

So how do we train our flexibility to be ready for these amazing tricks?

Flexibility actually requires strength! Think about getting that foot hat, you won’t be able to get your feet tickling your head without the strength to move your spine into that position and safely hold it. Active contract/relax flexibility training is perfect for improving strength and flexibility concurrently. You do need to do a thorough warm up and hold back slightly from your full stretch limit to safely use PNF stretching. If you begin to get apprehensive that the stretch pain feels different, like something is too under load or discomfort is increasing without changing position – you need to reduce stretch depth. Be aware of your body position and in partner stretching, communicate!

The “No pain, No gain” mantra is not applicable in stretching. Do not push too far; flexibility takes time.

It is common sense to not attempt a high flexibility move if you know you cannot yet get into the position off the apparatus! Adrenalin can mask the signals telling you that you should stop when an injury is about to occur.

So morale of the story – listen to your body, be patient and keep consistent with your stretch routine and you’ll be putting these astonishing tricks in your performances sooner than you think x

Written by Lauren Feather

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Want to increase your flexibility? Learn a little muscle knowledge and how to do it safely.