Let’s Fly! Stabilize the Hips with Supermans and Airplanes

I have gotten a lot of questions lately about pinching at the front of the hip and other hip stability issues. The Hip Superman & Airplane is a great exercise for improving the strength of the gluteus medius, minimus, and deep external rotators as well as the proprioceptive components of the hip.

More strength from these muscles will help prevent the head of the femur from slipping forward in the socket and causing discomfort in positions like the squat. (But if you’re experiencing pain, see a physio!)

1️⃣ Start in the standing T “Superman” position on a soft stance leg, hips facing the ground. Be sure you can hold this position for 10 seconds before progressing to the airplanes.

2️⃣ Bring your arms out to the side. Rotate your hips toward your stance leg, back to your start position, and away from your stance leg for 3-5 reps, building up to 10 reps.

3️⃣ If this gets easy, add light resistance to the stance leg. If you have knee valgus (knees fold in), switch the direction of this load to encourage more work from your outer hip (abductors).

This is a great accessory exercise. Slip it into your warmup, between sets when lifting, or while waiting for your cat, I mean clothes, to dry.

Here’s one of my favorite exercises to improve active shoulder flexion while in end-range thoracic extension. Cat Scratchers are great for Mexican handstands!

You can use a band, strap, or block between your elbows to encourage engagement through your arms.

1️⃣ Face the wall seated on your heels with your knees touching it. (If this exercise feels easy, just move your knees progressively away from the wall.

2️⃣ Bring your hands and rest them on the wall, palms facing each other, elbows straight.

3️⃣ Elevate your shoulders and externally rotate, wrapping your scapula around your armpits (like in a handstand).

4️⃣ Press your hands into the wall and start to slide them overhead. Look between your hands and lift your sternum while drawing your sits bones back in opposition. Stop when your sternum rests on the wall. (If you cannot reach the wall, lift your butt off of your heels just enough so you can without changing the position of your pelvis.)

5️⃣ Continue to wrap around the armpits and lift your arms off of the wall for 5-10 pulses. (If you cannot lift off of the wall, lift your butt off of your heels just enough so you can without changing the position of your pelvis.)

6️⃣ (Slide back down the wall if you have slid up.) Curl the pelvis and ripple to the spine to return to your start position.

Let me know how it goes. If you would like to try out my weekly mobility classes, I would love to have you.

Yo! Don’t Dump Into Your Low Back

Whether it’s splits or backbending, you want to avoid dumping into your low back. This means not placing all of your bend into a couple of vertebrae.

If you want to improve your front split, focus on back hip extension while minimizing lumbar extension. Control your pelvis so that it doesn’t tip forward into too much anterior tilt and control your ribs so they don’t lift and flare out too much.

A great place to practice this principle is in the lunged deadlift.

1️⃣ Prop the back leg on an object at about knee height when standing. (If this is too much of a stretch, lower the leg height.) Come into a lunge with your knee over your ankle and your body at the same level as your back leg. Your front foot can be slightly turned out for stability.

2️⃣ Bring your arms behind you, resting your stomach on your front thigh. Slightly close your ribs.

3️⃣ Press into your front foot as you lengthen through your back leg. Try to keep the back leg internally rotated.

4️⃣ Push your back hip forward and back thigh into the bench to leverage your upper body to an upright position. If you feel any pressure in your low back, connect more through the front body by curling the pubic bone up to the bottom of the sternum.

Don’t jump straight into this drill. It’s a doozy. Be sure the psoas, outer hip stabilizers, and inner thighs are activated and available to work.

Let me know how it goes. If you would like to try out my weekly mobility classes, I would love to have you!

WANT TO IMPROVE YOUR SPLITS? Focus On Your Back HIP

Splits, splits, splits! Focus on your back leg if you want to improve your splits.

A great way to ensure that you don’t over-stretch your hamstrings, a super common injury for aerialists and over-eager stretchers, is to take them out of the equation.

1. All you have to do is place blocks under your front knee. You want the blocks to lift the knee enough that your front hamstring does not feel much stretch. Keep the inner thigh in the front leg pushing in (i.e., adducting) even if you’re slightly turned out.

2. Shift your focus to the back leg. Use your hand to guide the thigh into internal rotation (knee down) as you push the back hip forward and down.

3. To ensure that you’re not leaning forward onto your front thigh, draw your belly button back into your spine and draw your ribs down. You’re trying to take some of the arch out of your low back without tucking the pelvis.

4. Challenge your quad (rectus femoris) flexibility by trying to keep all of those engagements and bend your knee (heel to butt) without lifting your hips. This is really hard for me! You’ll know you’ve maintained your internal rotation if the toe points straight up to the ceiling. If it goes all CRAZY out to the side, your TFL is probably tight.

5. If everything looks a-ok, you can strap your back foot, and begin lifting the bottom of the ribs forward and then up to the ceiling. Push down through your front, leveraging your upper body backwards to increase your hip extension. To avoid dumping into your low back, keep a deep abdominal connection between your public space and sternum by thinking of your public bone drawing slightly up to the ceiling without changing the position of your pelvis.

Here’s one of my favorite exercises to improve active shoulder flexion while in end-range thoracic extension. Cat Scratchers are great for Mexican handstands!

You can use a band, strap, or block between your elbows to encourage engagement through your arms.

1️⃣ Face the wall seated on your heels with your knees touching it. (If this exercise feels easy, just move your knees progressively away from the wall.

2️⃣ Bring your hands and rest them on the wall, palms facing each other, elbows straight.

3️⃣ Elevate your shoulders and externally rotate, wrapping your scapula around your armpits (like in a handstand).

4️⃣ Press your hands into the wall and start to slide them overhead. Look between your hands and lift your sternum while drawing your sits bones back in opposition. Stop when your sternum rests on the wall. (If you cannot reach the wall, lift your butt off of your heels just enough so you can without changing the position of your pelvis.)

5️⃣ Continue to wrap around the armpits and lift your arms off of the wall for 5-10 pulses. (If you cannot lift off of the wall, lift your butt off of your heels just enough so you can without changing the position of your pelvis.)

6️⃣ (Slide back down the wall if you have slid up.) Curl the pelvis and ripple to the spine to return to your start position.

Interested in hearing more of the latest and greatest aerial and mobility training tips? Join my mailing list. Or join a live mobility class.

Start Here If You Want a Neck Hang

One of the most common issues I see with neck hangs (on all apparatuses) is not properly activating your deep neck flexors.

Think about the backbend. In order to prevent hinging into our most flexible parts of the spine and to access your upper back, you need to co-contract muscles on the front side of the body.

The same applies in the neck.

1. To contact your deep neck flexors, just move your head back in space (not down to your chest). You’ll look funny and feel muscles contracting at the base on the neck. That slight double chin is our starting point.

2. From there, maintain that contraction and lift the chin as far as you can.

3. Then lift the collarbones.

4. Then lift the sternum.

5. Then lift the bottom of the ribs.

THIS is your engagement. Get used to it. Learn to love it… in cobras, in bridges, in all of the backbending.

Don’t squeeze your shoulder blades together to find the lift. In fact, scapular protraction and elevation makes it easier to access the upper thoracic spine. And guess what? A neck hang requires upper thoracic extension with load.

So start without the pesky load and work the mobility.

Your entrance into a neck hang can make it easier to get the shoulder blades out of the way. You’ll see in the video that I use a wooden dowel to approximate holding onto a trapeze bar. As I release the “bar,” I slide my hands up and lift my shoulder blades as I raise my arms.

Yes, there’s more to it than this. Load and balance are essential. But if you’re looking to get started in building the strength for this skill, start here.

Helpful? Let me know below! Interested in hearing more of the latest and greatest aerial and mobility training tips? Join my mailing list.

Are you training to failure? Maybe you shouldn’t be.

Dean Somerset put out a musing today on his blog about training to failure, and it has me thinking about its applications in circus. The thing about strength training is that everything works to a degree. It might not be the most efficient use of your time but it usually does something.

“The balancing act of training is imparting enough stress to see positive adaptations, but not so much as to cause serious tissue damage or worsening performance.” – Dean

So what do I mean by failure exactly? Dean made this handy little graph.

“Technique failure” is when your form starts to break down. “Mechanical failure” is when you physically cannot do another rep.

In circus, we’re often trying to acquire new skills, which require new load demands on the body. Often as we try new things we fail. A lot. Sometimes it is because we’re not quite strong enough yet.

Aerialists, in particular, push themselves to mechanical failure on the regular.

Does pushing circus artists to mechanical failure matter?

Simply put, yes! Why?

1. A circus athlete’s skill level should guide their training program. 

Beginners will generally get the most benefits from stopping when they hit technique failure. Pushing to mechanical failure has limited benefit and risks injury.

Advanced circus athletes can benefit from higher stresses and are less likely to risk injury once their form starts to break down.

Think of all of the years of shoulder prehab work a professional aerialist has done. If she is doing 1-arm beats on straps and goes a little off course, those muscles kick in to protect her shoulder. A beginner has no guardrails.

2. A skill’s technical requirements should guide how far to push to mechanical failure.

All skills are not equal. If a movement has a low technical requirement, it is less risky to push to mechanical failure. Even a beginner can push to mechanical failure in toes to bar, for example, so long as they recover well from the exercise.

3. An athlete’s goals should guide their training.

No matter a circus artist’s level, waking up with severe Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) can be problematic. And training to mechanical failure is DOMS-land. Do you have a show the next day? Do you have to be active for your job? Do you just not want to feel like ass after training? Then think twice before training to mechanical failure.

Keep in mind that as training stress goes up, so do potential gains and risks. Going harder is not always the answer. Play with different approaches and see what works for your body. You can build the ability to tolerate stress over time and still see gains all over the place without trashing your body.

I just wanted to share this article that I read today on internal vs. external cueing and share some of my thoughts. In it, Matt Kuzdub, a high-level tennis athlete, discusses what the research has shown on cueing and why he thinks that it is not all that.

Hint: I agree! 

I like to think of external cueing as playing the short game and internal cueing as playing the long game.

We need both. If you want to see what all short game looks like, that’s the current political process in the US. Not the best model for high performance.

And all long game? Well, that’s academia. Where something might be happening. But it is not totally clear. I mean, if you have tenure, there’s no rush.

According to Matt, “I believe there’s a constant tug and pull, a back and forth, a mix and match type scenario that should occur. Sometimes, we need to focus on the positioning and/or execution of a particular body part. Other times, we should focus more on an external factor like the flight of the ball or a target. But this will all depend on the athlete, their preferences, their skill level, the time of year, the complexity of the task, the sport in question, and probably a host of other factors I haven’t yet considered.”

The problem I see in circus is an over-reliance not on internal cueing, but on non-specific internal cueing.

What does that mean?

I posted about this on Instagram.  

As I say in the post, instead of just saying, “I need you to lift your hips,” you should instead give specific details about HOW to achieve that, e.g., “by pulling the bottom of your ribs forward and your right shoulder blade back.” You don’t need to give 50 cues at once but you do need to be specific about a strategy for achieving a technical outcome.

And if you’re not a coach?

Get comfortable asking for the feedback you need.

If you’re not getting the feedback you need, ask your coach for it. Unsure how, try: “What remains stable and what moves?” That will help them focus on the specificity you just might need to move forward.

Interested in hearing more of the latest and greatest aerial and mobility training tips? Join my mailing list.

Get the Underbutt & Low Back Toasty for Dynamic Skills

Whether you’re looking to lift into cheststands or increase the height of your trapeze beats, you’ll want to thoroughly warm up your hip extension and back. After you’ve done some muscle activation work (think child’s pose leg lifts, woodpeckers, and slow cobras), consider adding some dynamic lifts. If you don’t train you need dynamic mobility, train it dynamically!

It’s important to do these off of the edge of a bench or spotting block, so your pelvis can curl as your legs come down and arch as you lift.

Place your arms overhead and hold on. Wrap your scapula around your armpits and close your ribs.

In the legs together versions, you are trying to lift them as high as you can using your underbutt.

In the legs apart versions, you are try to add in the back to lift as high as you can.

Let me know how it goes! Drop me a heart to let me kno

Here’s one of my favorite exercises to improve active shoulder flexion while in end-range thoracic extension. Cat Scratchers are great for Mexican handstands!

You can use a band, strap, or block between your elbows to encourage engagement through your arms.

1️⃣ Face the wall seated on your heels with your knees touching it. (If this exercise feels easy, just move your knees progressively away from the wall.

2️⃣ Bring your hands and rest them on the wall, palms facing each other, elbows straight.

3️⃣ Elevate your shoulders and externally rotate, wrapping your scapula around your armpits (like in a handstand).

4️⃣ Press your hands into the wall and start to slide them overhead. Look between your hands and lift your sternum while drawing your sits bones back in opposition. Stop when your sternum rests on the wall. (If you cannot reach the wall, lift your butt off of your heels just enough so you can without changing the position of your pelvis.)

5️⃣ Continue to wrap around the armpits and lift your arms off of the wall for 5-10 pulses. (If you cannot lift off of the wall, lift your butt off of your heels just enough so you can without changing the position of your pelvis.)

6️⃣ (Slide back down the wall if you have slid up.) Curl the pelvis and ripple to the spine to return to your start position.

Interested in hearing more of the latest and greatest aerial and mobility training tips? Join my mailing list. Or join a live mobility class.

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