Back Bend Progress

OK, I’ll admit it. My back bends are shocking! The truth of it is, my back isn’t naturally flexible, and back bends are hard work. I don’t feel my back in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog) or Ustrasana (Camel Pose), but I do in Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose, Back Bend, Bridge, Crab or Wheel). The problem is, bridge is really tough on my wrists. Over the last year, one of my friends has made some great improvements in his back bends just by plugging away at it. I’ve decided finally to bite the bullet and follow suit. From Christmas until April this year I’ve was using the following program more or less every day:

  • Lie over a swiss ball with my feet on the floor and my shoulders and head dangling until I get bored.
  • Lie over a swiss ball with my shoulders on the floor and my feet dangling until I get bored.
  • Lie over a swiss ball with both my hands and feet on the floor, in a full bridge position, and attempt to lift off the ball a few times. In between lifts I attempt to squeeze the ball between my shoulders and heels by tensing my hamstrings and back.
  • Lie in an Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog), with my body supported by the swiss ball. Sometimes I leave the arms in the conventional position, sometime I bear-hug the ball.
  • Do a bridge, with my feet raised on something, like a step, so I can move into my shoulders a little more.
  • Do a regular bridge, without the ball, for a few seconds, come down to my head, move my hands closer and repeat. On the last hold I do a few press ups in the bridge position.

Essentially, it’s just doing lots of bridges, but the ball takes the weight off my hands and lets me hold the posture for a lot longer than I would be able to without it. My back bend isn’t wonderful, but it’s improving. I’ll keep tagging progress shots on to this page over the coming months.

13th January 2007 – I was about 2-3 weeks into my specific back bend training at this point. The guy who took this photo for me said it was already a considerable improvement over my previous back bend.

10th February 2007 – Although this was a month later, I had the best part of two weeks off due to illness. There is some progress here. The back bend is a little better, and the feet aren’t pointed out quite so much. It’s easier to see the improvement in the arm position by looking at the angle of the forearm to the hand. It will be interesting to see what a full months stretching will result in.

10th March 2007 – I’ve done quite a bit of work on my back bends this month. I did my routine, or minor variations on it, pretty much every day. The major improvement seems to have come in my shoulders. My arms look much more upright, but it’s hard to see if the back bend itself has improved. Even so, the result is a much neater bridge, and I need less warm up to get there, which is great. With a bit of luck, and a lot of practice, I’ll get my arms perpendicular to the floor by next month.

7th April 2007 – I think this shows definite signs of improvement. Although the arms aren’t yet where I want them to be, the arch looks higher, so it’s definitely moving in the right direction.

Just after taking this shot I came across The Contortionist’s Handbook on the net. The type of stretching listed on this site is really simple. I couldn’t to all the moves, but I was able copy the approach. All I can say is wow! I’m totally impressed at how good my back felt and how flexible it was. I have now switched over to the following routine, which is effectively considered a warm up routine: :)

  • Stand with your back to a wall. Do standing back bends, taking hands to wall, trying to drop back lower with each attempt. For each drop back, hold for a 5 count, then come back up and rest for a 5 count. Do 10+ reps of this.
  • Kneel down and drop back into Ustrasana (Camel Pose), hold for a 5 count, then raise to kneeling and rest for a 5 count. Do 10+ reps of this.
  • Push up into Urdhva Dhanurasana (Bridge) and hold for a 5 count. Lower to the head and rest for a 5 count. Do 10+ reps of this.

Let’s see how I get on this month.

12th May 2007 – It wasn’t a great month for stretching. I had some time off and it shows. There’s no improvement. If anything, it’s actually got worse. I guess I’ll just have to keep plugging away at it.

9th June 2007 – A pull in my right glute and some alignment issues stopped me from doing too much this month. I don’t think I can see any real improvements, but I guess I should be happy I’ve not regressed this month.

7th July 2007 -This looks a little worse to me. I’ve been doing a lot of back work, but focussing mainly on standing back bends. Although this feels good, I think my hip flexors and shoulders have gone backwards, hence the dissapointing results. I think I’ve got to get some wrist supports and do more bridge work.

More to come…

Cheers Tim…