contortion definition

Are you ready to take on the twisting journey of contortion? The definition of contortion according to the oxford dictionary is:

The skill of twisting and bending one’s body into strange and unnatural positions, as a form of entertainment.”she has been performing contortion internationally for twelve years”

I remember the days when I was young and could easily get my toes on my eyebrows. Well gone are those days, in fact, have terrible aerial back flexibility. My strong suit has always been my legs and that’s why I train them more. I get the results I desire. This year that is all going to change. I am going to start training my back flexibility.

Contortion is performance art, that showcases the performer’s extreme flexibility. This can be combined with acrobatics, lyra and or hand balancing. Soffi Dossi does a stunning lyra and contortion routine.

Usually, contortionists focus on one area of flexibility. For instance, there are front benders, back benders, dislocators and splits.

Contortion Definition: Front Benders

Front benders as the name suggests, are those who flex their spines forward in a number of strange and exotic ways. These are poses that make use of hips and hamstrings and sometimes the spine. 

That includes wrapping the feet behind your head and walking around on your hands like some kind of human crab. Examples of front bends are leg behind head, pigeon pose, human knot and fold through poses.

Contortion Pose: Legs Behind The Back

contortion definition

Legs behind the back are one of the introductory forward bend poses. So I am not quite there but it’s behind the shoulder that has to count for something right?

Here is the full pose:

lengthen hamstrings

Contortion Definition: Back Benders

contortion definition

Backbenders are exactly as it sounds. The bend and twist there back to create beautiful and exotic shapes. These include cobra, wheel, and chest stand just to name a few.

Backbends incorporate strength in the core, flexibility in the back, neck, and shoulders.

Contortion Definition: Splits

contortion definition

Splits are splitting your two legs apart and having them at a 180-degree angle. Over splits are any of the legs exceeding 180 degrees. For instance in the splits, both the front and back leg can both exceed 180 degrees. For a middle split, your legs must be over 180 degrees in an abduction motion.

Contortion Definition: Dislocators

Dislocators are contortionists that can dislocate the joints in the body. While some are born with this ability, it is said in the contortion community that dislocation can be achieved once your body comes to a point of extreme hypermobility.

Can Anyone Become A Contortionist?

The answer is yes pending you don’t have any serious injuries in the body. While it may be easier for some than others if you continually train then you can eventually get there.

The Different Types Of Contortion

There are two main schools of training for contortionism, Russian and Mongolian. Both hold significant cultural importance to each country and taught in specific ways, but with the end goal the same; to become more flexible. 

Factors That Can Reduce Flexibility

Hurdles that can occur are; having dense fascia, joint structure, age, and having a large amount of muscle mass.

Facia is the connective tissue in your body. Its primary role is to connect the muscles, joints, and structure of the body.

Fascia is a web of connective tissue formed in bands that wraps around all the internal parts of the body from head to toe and fuses it all together.  It allows the muscles to move freely alongside other structures and reduces friction. It can be found immediately beneath the skin, around muscles, groups of muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels, organs, and cells.

If our fascia is dense it makes it harder to breakthrough. Signs you might have dense fascia are; waking in the morning and having a stiff neck or when stretching finding strong resistance of the body which is not muscular when trying to move deeper into a stretch.

My contortion teacher Anya Shevelyuk was not flexible at all when she started her contortion training. It was hard work and perseverance that got her where she is today. If she can do it, then we can do it too!

Does Contortion Hurt?

No, you will feel some uncomfortably when you are training but nothing more then what you would feel during a normal exercise routine. If you feel pain you are doing it wrong or pushing yourself too far. Stop immediately.

Do Contortionists Have Back Problems Later In Life?

No. The only reason they would have pain is if they sustain an injury just like any other sport.

Focus Areas In Contortion

When focusing on contortion you want to be able to break up your practice. All poses use the upper and the lower body. You may want to focus your stretching practice on these targeted areas.

Upper body

  • Neck
  • Shoulders
  • Arms
  • Back

Lower Body

  • Hips
  • Hamstrings
  • Feet

How Do You Stretch For Contortion?

When you are stretching for contortion you must have a plan of action. That needs to start with introductory poses, leading to intermediate and then advanced.

Learning the beginner foundational poses will help you build a strong foundation among all areas of contortion being front bending, back bending and splits.

How Does Contortion Work?

Just like any flexibility routine, you continually work towards your goals step by step.

Contortion Coaches

Contortion coaches are invaluable because they can work with you with 1:1 assisted stretching. This is a powerful tool to accelerate your flexibility. I would recommend seeing a coach once a week. If you are in the Jacksonville, Fl area I would love to work with you. You can contact me on [email protected]

6 Foundational Contortion Poses For Beginners

  • Cobra.
  • Straight legged bridge.
  • Pigeon pose.
  • Butterfly pose.
  • Forward fold/Pike pose.
  • Bridge pose.

Contortion Pose #1 King Pigeon Pose.

How To Do Pigeon Pose:

  • Begin in a downward-facing dog.
  • Bend your left knee and sweep your left shin forward bring it forward in between your hands to become parallel with the mat. 
  • Extend your right leg behind you your hips should be squared forward and your right knee should face down onto the floor.
  • Lift your chest using your fingertips to bring your torso to an upright position.

How To Do King Pigeon Pose:

  • From pigeon.
  • Lift your chest using your fingertips to bring your torso to an upright position.
  • Press down onto the floor with your hips and tailbone and lift up with your chest.
  • Bend your right knee and flex your foot drawing your heel to your buttock.
  • Reach back with your right-hand Palm facing upward and grasp your toes from the inside of your foot.
  • Support yourself with the fingertips of the left hand. 
  • Lift up through your spine open your chest and hold for 5 breaths. 

Contortion Pose #2 Cobra

How To Do Cobra Pose:

  • Laying on the stomach, bring your hands by the waist. Fingers facing forward and the palms flat.
  • Take the knees a bit wider than hip-width apart. 
  • Lift your heart using the organic lift of the spine.
  • Pull your heart forward and up using the strength of your arms.
  • Claw the earth towards your hips.
  • Shoulders are back and down. 
  • Squeeze your toes together to touch
  • As you lift your chest higher to let your head back you can bend the knees and touch the crown of your head with your toes.
  • To come down exhale and release your spine and legs onto the earth

Contortion Pose #3 Bridge

How To Do Bridge Pose:

  • Starting laying on the ground face up.
  • Place your palms above your shoulders.
  • Fingers should be facing the shoulders.
  • Bend the knee and bring the feet towards the glutes.
  • Engage the chest arms, glutes and legs.
  • Extend the arms and legs.

Contortion Pose #4 Pike

How To Do Pike Pose:

  • Starting in a seated position.
  • Bring your legs out straight in front of you.
  • Exhale fold forward bend your spine.
  • Relax fully let go of the head and neck.

Contortion Pose #5 Butterfly

How To Do Butterfly Pose:

  • Sitting on the floor with your palms flat on the floor behind your back.
  • Lift your legs up in front of you and bend your knees.
  • Activating your hamstrings, squeeze your heels towards your groin.
  • Take your knees wide apart and place your feet on the floor as close to your groin. as you can.
  • Inhale and interlace the tips of your fingers over your toes.
  • Use your thumbs to pry open the soles of your feet, like pages of a book.
contortion definition
Straight Leg Bridge with Stag Foot.

Contortion Pose #6 Straight Leg Bridge

How To Do Straight Leg Bridge Pose:

  • Starting laying on the ground face up.
  • Place your palms above your shoulders.
  • Fingers should be facing the shoulders.
  • Bend the knee and bring the feet towards the glutes.
  • Engage the chest arms, glutes and legs.
  • Extend the arms and legs.
  • Begin to straighten the knees.
  • The legs should be straight.
  • You will feel a deeper stretch in the thoracic spine.

Behind The Scenes Training Routine

World-renowned contortionist Sophie Dossi, gives a glimpse into her training routine.

Intermediate Contortion Poses & Routines

The following videos are of the beginner to intermediate poses. All of the videos include the stretching routine to achieve the pose. Which one do you think is closest to you achieving?

Front Splits & Oversplits

When training for your front splits it is imperative that you know the correct technique and how to train for your body’s individual needs. Click here for the complete guide.

Areas Of Focus:

Splits Routine

  • Supine leg kicks.
  • Hamstring pulses.
  • Hamstring stretch.
  • Glutes stretch.
  • Single leg dog pulses.
  • Pyramid pose rocks.
  • Lunge pulses.
  • Goddess pose.
  • Wide-legged forward fold.
  • Runners lunge.
  • Quadricep stretch.
  • Deer pose.
  • Splits.
  • Forward fold and Splits.
  • Splits and backbend.
  • Open gate pose.

Over Splits Routine:

  • Front leg kicks.
  • Side leg kicks.
  • Back leg kicks.
  • Stag leg lifts.
  • Lizard lunge.
  • Runners stretch.
  • Splits up the wall.
  • Elevated back oversplit.
  • Elevated front oversplit.

Middle Splits

Areas Of Focus:


  • Jumping jacks.
  • High knees.
  • Forward fold to yogi squat.
  • Lunge.
  • Single leg pike.
  • Goddess pose.
  • Goddess pose squats.
  • Lunge.
  • Runners hamstring stretch.
  • Pike position side stretch.
  • Forward fold in a pike position.
  • Pancake pose.
  • Butterfly pose.
  • Side stretch butterfly pose.
  • Forward fold butterfly pose.
  • Cross legs to center.
  • Supine position bend and straighten the legs.
  • Sit-ups in a supine straddle.
  • Hug the knees.
  • Frog pose.
  • Wall splits 2 minutes.
  • Middle split 1 minute.
  • Single leg oversplit.
  • Childs pose.

Basic Bridge

Areas Of Focus:

  • Shoulders
  • Neck
  • Chest
  • Spine

For the upper body, join my Facebook Group here for free routines.

contortion definition

Back Routine:

  • Bridge rocks.
  • Bridge walking the hands as close to the feet as possible.
  • Straight legged forearm bridge.
  • Seated bridge.
  • Knee bridge.
  • Forward fold.
  • Wall handstand with seat.
  • Handstand arch.
  • Walk down bridge.

Y stand

Areas Of Focus:

  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • ITB
  • TFL

Y Stand Routine

  • Wide-legged flat back forward fold.
  • Wide-legged fold to the left then the right.
  • Lunge.
  • Supine ITB stretch.
  • Step kicks.
  • Thigh hold.
  • Calf hold.
  • Ankle hold.
  • Foot hold.

Stag Forearm Stand

Areas Of Focus:

  • Shoulders
  • Back
  • Hips

Forearm Stand Routine

  • Shoulder stretch.
  • Chest stretch.
  • Forearm stretch.
  • Wrist stretch front and back.
  • Lizard lunge.
  • Splits.
  • Cobra.
  • Handstands.
  • Forearm stands.
  • Try the different variations.

How Often Should I Practice

Scientific studies show that a stretching regime performed three times a week will yield results in four weeks. If you can train more then perhaps alternate legs with the back so that you are giving each area of your body a day off. That way you get three training sessions in on two focus areas of your body.

Full List Of The Names Contortion Poses

Names of Beginner Contortion Poses

  • Cobra.
  • Straight legged bridge.
  • Pigeon pose.
  • Butterfly pose.
  • Forward fold/Pike pose.
  • Bridge pose.

Names of Intermediate Contortion Poses

  • Twisted leg behind the head.
  • Standing leg behind head.
  • Bow pose.
  • Leaning backbend pose.
  • Leg behind head arm balance.
  • Bridge stag.
  • Chair sit bridge.
  • Stag bow pose.
  • Fold through.

Names of Advanced Poses:

  • Chest stand.
  • Kneeling backbend.
  • Cradle.
  • Chest stand face frame.
  • Human knot.
  • Doughnut.

If you are ready to advance your training and really nail those backbends Circus and Contortion performer Laura Proud tells us about the game-changing stretches she uses to unlock her back.

Ready to enter your chest stand? Make sure you know the safe and correct technique. Click here for the guide.

So I hope you like the introduction to contortion and the contortion definitions. what are you going to work on next? I really want to nail the fold through.

Ready to start taking your flexibility to the next level? Join me for a class for free with the code “First Class.”

In happiness and health,

Jadore Vanessa

Related Articles

Do you really have your front split?

How to do a chest stand.

How to start training for contortion backbends.

Contortion training vs yoga training. What you need to know.

contortion definition

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