I had the biggest honor to do a private with my flexibility guru, and it was so insightful for me. Unlike many stretching classes where all I had to do is endure the pain, in her private I actually had to work hard and it wasn’t painful to the least.
After a short warmup we started with a little bit of hamstring stretches. Since hamstrings are (only) the area I had no trouble with, we went over it pretty fast. She did corrected my back rounding and told me to keep my waist small. This cue kept coming up during all my leg stretches.
Now, hip flexors are entirely a different story. I let her know I’m having trouble with gaining flexibility in my hip flexors and we focused on that area a lot.
First we over the kneeling lunge and how to do it properly with a hip tuck. She told me that my left side, which I consider my bed side, was actually my better one. “There’s no such thing as bad side”, she told me, “only good and better sides”.
This came as a totally surprise to me because I genuinely believed my right side was more flexible, and how could I miss something so obvious? She explained that it tends to open up more, giving the illusion of being more flexible. When she made me poke the muscle in my hip it was bone solid, and I asked her jokingly “what, it’s not my hip bone there?”.
I’m still not 100% sure that my other side is better, in terms of flexibility at least. It is better aligned and stays more square, but maybe it does that because it’s more inflexible in that aspect too?
Glute bridge with a leg crossed over
The next exercise she suggested had to be done with a yoga block which we didn’t have. The exercise is to go into a glute bridge position and place a block at the small of the back. Place the ankle of one leg on the knee of the other and engage the outer hip muscle to open the knee to the side.
Next we did the butterfly pose, when I had to engage the outer hip muscles again to get the knees to the floor. First facing forward, then towards each side while still trying to create space away from the hips and not crunch into them.
I didn’t get a chance to ask her, but these two exercises she gave me do not seem to target the hip flexors directly. I’m vaguely aware there’s a connection between hip flexor and external hip rotation flexibility, but I’m still not 100% understand what’s going on.
Kristina had a prepped talk on this topic. She explained to me that when we go into middle splits, our inner thigh muscles feel responsible to keep our legs from falling off so they tighten up. If I wanted to do a middle split, I need to have someone else to do that for them, so that they can relax and lengthen. That someone else is the outer thigh muscles, and gaining flexibility for middles is directly related to strength in the outer thighs.
First stretch on the topic of middle splits was sitting straddle. The most important (and hard to execute) cue was to engage the outer thigh muscles the entire time. It was hard to pin point and engage that exact muscles even when Kristina was poking at my butt.
First we did side bends to each leg, shoulder to floor and keeping the chest open toward the ceiling while reaching the top arm towards the foot. After bending towards each side, I lowered down into the pancake, where the out thigh engagement is most critical, and experienced my first painless pancake even. My inner thighs stop resisting and it was glorious.
Next came the actual middle split. She had me lowering down in the middle of the room, from a wide straddle with hands on the floor in front of me. The outer thigh engagement was critical here, and she advised me to back up as soon as I lose it. If you go so low that your outer thighs can’t support you, your inner thighs kick in, which is counter productive.
I’ve done the shoulder rehab workshop with Kristina in PoleExpo, so there wasn’t a whole lot to add. She did break down the internal/external shoulder rotation by tracing two lines: The inner line runs from the thumb up to the pecs while the outer line runs from the pinky up to the lats. Slouching and lack of proper shoulder alignment comes from relaying on/overusing/misusing the inner line, while actively engaging the outer line opens up the chest and engages the back for better flexibility and more strength.
“How do you stretch after a pole workout?” She asked me. I obediently went to the nearest wall, and leaned my arm behind me, admitting I don’t feel much of a stretch.
She moved me away from the wall and instructed me to bend me knees slightly, put my arm up and turn away with my head, other shoulder and chest. After a while, I move the arm to a 45 degree angle and then horizontally. She instructed me to push into the wall then try to relax the inner line and engage the outer line. My pecs never a better stretch.
Although shoulders are instrumental for many backbends, hips are quite important as well. I wanted to think I was mindful of my hips, and trying to extend them when doing backbends, but in reality Kristina kept correcting my posture over and over again, made me engage my lower abs and downstairs butt to actually achieve that desirable hip extension. I actually have a photo evidence of how hip extension helps you get a better backbend, but I’ll save it for a separate post.
After a short warm up of cats, cows and rolls I started easing into back bending with some Cobras. Instead of pushing right up, Kristina made me start the arch by tucking the pelvis, lifting the head up, sliding the shoulders down, then the chest with hands off the floor and only then push up little by little while maintaining that initial upper back engagement through the outer shoulder line.
I did all this while she kept reminding me to use my downstairs butt and teased me how my belly still touches the finger she stuck under it. I was amazed at the amount of muscle engagement I was missing in my cobras, and the resulting invigorating back and chest opening that happened.
My back felt fairly ready so jump straight into bridges. I complained about feeling restricted in my shoulders and arms, especially when doing the chest to wall bridge. Kristina made me align my shoulder before pushing up, by pushing up to the crown of my head, making sure my shoulders are parallel and engage the outer line. Keeping that engagement allowed me to open my chest more and push more comfortably forward (and up) when I was up.
Kristina also made me do the first steps towards standing back up to bridge. She said to get the arms towards the feet and not the other way. I was able to walk my hands a little bit, but I’m not too close to actually standing up yet.
Drop to Bridge
Last but not least came dropping back to bridge. I’m no where near it, but Kristina said it would be a great exercise for upper back articulation and control. Starting with the hands on the pelvic triangle, suck in belly and push ribs forward. Drop the head back, shoulders down. Engage outer line to open the chest and start bending upper back backwards. To come out, use the abs and bring the head up last.