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Contortionist's Back-Stretching Exercises for Front Bending

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
Contortionist's Back-Stretching Exercises for Front Bending
Classic Plow pose has your feet overhead, paving the way for harder poses Photo Credit shotsstudio/iStock/Getty Images

You may be wowed by the amazing feats of flexibility contortionists display at Cirque du Soleil or on shows such as "America's Got Talent." A lot of their ability comes from genetically flexible joints, but much is a result of committed training.

To be a successful contortionist, you must balance your flexibility with strength to support your joints in extreme positions. Front-bending contortion poses require a lot of play from the muscles at the back side of your body, including those behind the ribcage. You also need strength in the front of the hips to support your spine and pelvis to prevent you from being unstable and possibly injured.

Don't ever force yourself into any position, as contortion positions can take years to master. Some bodies will never be able to master the postures due to skeletal limitations.

When you do stretch, the sensations should be mild, never electric or piercing. Include the following regularly to open up the back side of your body.

Read More: Back Flexibility Stretches

Warm Up Your Spine

No matter how flexible you are, don't skip warming up your muscles before you stretch. Warm muscles reach farther and are less apt to be injured.

Child's pose warms up your back muscles.
Child's pose warms up your back muscles. Photo Credit fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

Child's pose, in which you kneel on a mat as you sit your buttocks over your heels and place your forehead in the floor, is a good initial awakener for the backside of your body. Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds, or make it dynamic by moving deliberately from all-fours into Child's pose 10 to 15 times.

Pilates also offers a dynamic stretch for the backside of your body with the exercise called rolling-like-a-ball. Do this exercise by sitting on a mat and then balancing on your sits bones with your knees bent and feet elevated. Place your hands lightly outside of your shins. Inhale and roll back to just behind your shoulder blades and use your core to roll you back up to the V-sit as you exhale. Repeat five to 10 times.

Yoga Stretches

Yoga offers a number of contortionist-like poses that stretch the backs of your ribs and hips so you can deeply melt into forward folds.

Use Shoulder Stand to create flexibility in the back of the neck, strength in the paraspinals and control of the core and hips. For this pose, you lie on your back and prop your hands against your lower back as you lift your legs and back up off the ground. Balance here, at the backs of your shoulders with your feet straight up to the ceiling, for up to 20 full breaths.

Plow takes Shoulder Stand a little farther. From Shoulder Stand, lower your legs — with control — toward the floor behind you. Let the toes tuck under to add a little resistance to the backs of your legs and ribs. Hold this variation for 10 or more breaths. Move into other variations, including Ear-Pressure pose, in which you stay rolled over but bend your knees to press against your ears, and straddle, in which you open your legs into a wide "V" while they're over your head.

Ear Pressure works from the standard Plow pose.
Ear Pressure works from the standard Plow pose. Photo Credit shotsstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Advanced Stretches

Once you're warm and feel relatively limber in Shoulder Stand and Plow, you can move on to more advanced contortion-specific poses.

A chair assisted straddle front bend requires the help of three chairs. They allow you to find a greater range of motion. Simple folding chairs or any sturdy types with no arms, but that are all the same height, are best.

Sit on one chair and place a foot on each of the other chairs. Your legs should be straight. Bend forward so that your head and chest drop between your legs and you can grasp the legs of the chair (on which you're seated) with your hands. Use your hands to gently pull you deeper into the stretch. Hold for several breaths.

With time, you'll stretch your head behind your thighs.
With time, you'll stretch your head behind your thighs. Photo Credit fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

Perform a similar advanced stretch from a standing position. Stand and widen your feet a little farther than hip-distance apart. Bend forward from your hips and pull your head, arms and chest through your legs as your hands hold on to the back of your thighs. Hold for several breaths.

Read More: What are the Benefits of Good Flexibility?

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