Although it’s one of the most popular a hamstring stretches out there, a lot goes into a well formed pike pose. It’s beneficial and treacherous to beginners and flexible practitioners alike. I’ll attempt to touch on the pitfalls of this pose and suggest cues to set you closer to the perfect pike.
If you are not much of a reader, I recommend checking out my tutorial on the subject. It’s essentially a concise visual version of this post and has a cool background music.
Good alignment Starts with your mind
A root cause to many mistakes in this pose is the objective we give to our body. When you give the non specific command of “get as close as you can to your feet” you body will do whatever it can to reach your head to your feet. It means, for instance that rounding at the back is a fair game, because it does put your head closer to the feet.
The real reason why you do a pike is really to stretch. Therefore you should set the goal to “stretch your hamstrings and calves” so your body will not be so compelled to round down because it doesn’t help this goal.
Hips don’t lie
Inflexible hamstrings will tug on your hips, which in turn will tug on your lower back. Yes, you will get lower if you let your hips be tucked under. No, it won’t help your objective to get the best stretch in your hamstrings. When you prevent your hips from tucking under you are directly pulling on the hamstrings and leaving everything else out.
In practice what it means is that when you are doing a pike and you try to stick your butt out, you’ll feel a great stretch right from the base of your hamstrings.
Straight long back
It’s entirely possible that your hips are doing the right thing but your body still compensates and uses your back to get closer to the floor. It’s not entirely bad, after performing a pike with good form you can allow your body to round down and relax even deeper into the stretch. But if you had to choose between the two, always choose the straight back version.
Since we are not interested in getting close to the feet anymore, distancing yourself away should not contradict our goal. Straightening your back will lead to more body weight being away from the center, which would gently load more on the hamstrings and add to the stretch.
Our body parts are all connected. For one, our torso will follow our gaze. If you look at your legs your back will curl in towards them. If you look up to the wall you back will extend. If your back curls in, the hips will tuck under, if it will remain straight and long it would be easier to keep good form in the hips. Therefore, look up, extend through the crown of the head, straighten the back and the rest will follow.
Getting that additional weighted load from straightening your back will only work if the center of gravity is in front of the legs, not right over it. Shifting the weight from the heels to the toes will bring most of your body ahead of the legs and will help gravity help you. As a bonus, it also helps to tilt the hips forward even more. Just don’t let the heels raise off the floor.
Want even more load? Extend your arms forward in front of you. The further are more parts of your body away from the body, the more load it will put on your hamstrings. It’s physics, brah.
Weak in the knees
Bent knees let the hamstrings and the calves to be less stretched. If you bend your knees enough you can comfortably put your hands on the floor. But that’s not a pike, right? That’s an exaggerated example of what happens if you bend ever so slightly. It still looks like a pike and it gets you lower, but stretches the hamstrings less. If your hips are tilted forward well you might still feel the stretch, but it won’t be best one you can get.
Many people hold a lot of tightness behind the knees because they spend most of the day with the knees bent. It’s where the hamstrings and the calves intervene, both are targets of the pike stretch. Bending at the knees prevents you from pulling on the lower end of the hamstring as well as you could, and takes away most of the stretch in the calves.
The cue, though, is simple enough. Straighten the knees out and keep them engaged. This won’t only help your goal of getting the most out of your pike, but also strengthens and protects the knee, and is a vital habit to have in other stretches like the pancake split.
If you’re not sure what does engaging the knees really means, Kristina of Fit & Bendy explains it best in this tutorial.
Keep checking your form for the above as you go deeper into the stretch.
Now, I hope, it’s clear to you why the left pic is a big red no and why the right one is a delicious green yes.
Your pike might not be much now, but if you get a good stretch today it will be amazing one day. Progress not perfection!