Contortion Backbends

If you have been following me for a while you would know that I am more of a splitty girl and not a backbender. I decided to find an expert that can tell us about their contortion backbends and how to approach progressions to advanced poses. Jamie Langridge pictured above is a mind blowing expert on backbends. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to interview him.

When did you start training in contortion?

“I was 15 years old when I started contorting however I always been bendy especially in my back and legs. Friends and family always noticed not only could my body bend in different but my skin also stretches. When I was older diagnosed with the hEDS. This means that my skin stretches.”

How did you start back bending?

“My journey into back bending started by copying a yoga and stretching book. I continually did these movements until I could do the poses.

Wanting to take my flexibility to another level I looked up “contortionist” on the internet and began copying the contortion poses. “

What is your view on Coaches?

“I think it’s important to seek a trainer on depending what your goals are but they are helpful regardless as they can point out what you need to improve on. “

What were some of the poses you started with?

Do you use assisted stretching as part of your program?

“I like assisted stretching at times however I personally feel it should be your accomplishment and it should be you doing as much of the work as possible.

Assisted stretching can often go wrong. This is because they don’t know your body well enough to be putting you into these extreme poses.

I have seen this happen a lot of times and unfortunately and the contortion careers of the artist come to an end. “

What advice would you give to aspiring contortionists?

Contortion Backbends

“As long as you train safely, warm up correctly you should be able to have a long career in the art of contortion. Warming up is always as important as your body changes as you get older.

Just remember that its easier to prevent an injury than recover from one.

Like any career I have had some fantastic times but not so great times but I kept pursuing it as I love it so much and I wanna keep at it for as long as possible. I always advise anyone if they get contacted or meet a trainer who wants to train them I would do your research on them:

  • Are they qualified?
  • Are they experienced?
  • Do they have their own personal experience?
  • Have they got a good reputation?

At the end of the day I always say it’s your body and you only get one back so you need to look after it!”

What are your favorite contortion backbends?

“I love my back fold, and triple fold.”

Do you do strength training as part of your training regime?

“Contortion is about control when doing a pose or a training exercise such as a waterfall. Strength and control are just as important as flexibility.”

A few of my exercises include:

  • Chin Ups
  • Push Ups
  • Handstands
  • Crunches
  • Bridges
  • PNF stretching

I just wanted to say a big thank you to you Jamie from myself and my readers your insight was very helpful.

With Jamies insight into back bending lets begin to look at yoga progressions in order to start moving into beginner and intermediate contortion poses.

The Contraindications of Contortion Backbends

There are a few considerations that need to be addressed before you start a back bending practice.

#1 Do you have a swayed back?

A swayed back is a sign of weak abdominals and performing backbends can make the swayed back worse. Before working on your back bending program ensure that you strengthen the core and hamstrings. You will need to stretch out the glutes and quadriceps. I have wrote a whole program on how to fix anterior pelvic tilt. Try this program for at least six weeks three times a day before starting on a backbend program.

#2 Hyperextension of the discs

Caillet and Gross believe that some arching is ok, although they claim hyperextension can cause injury to lower lumbar discs and spinal joints. How ever if you train correctly this can be avoided.

From my yoga instruction background I know that you should never have any compression in the spine or joints when performing backbends. It is the training of lengthening and extending. Not crunching.

A study of gymnasts and an age matched control group showed that the gymnasts did not have any more back problems than the controlled age matched group.

Risk Reduction

Contortion backbends

Starting with beginner poses and working your way up will dramatically decrease the risk. Start with poses such as cobra, upward dog and chest lifts in order to build strength and flexibility.

Contortion Backbend #1 King Pigeon

The back bending sequencing for each level are:

Beginner Flexibility Core Poses

Camel and Pigeon are two of the main core poses to start with when working towards king pigeon. Camel increases your back flexibility, opens the chest, hip flexors and shoulders. It strengthens the core in order to support the bend.

Pigeon opens the glutes, hamstrings and relieves tension in the lower back. We need to have flexible and strong quads in order to balance and support your body when you are working towards King Pigeon pose.

Camel

Contortion Backbend camel pose

How To:

  • Begin in a kneeling position
  • Extend the legs so that your hips are inline with your knees.
  • Place your hands on the back of your hips.
  • Extend the spine and allow the heart to naturally open.
  • Do not sink backwards. This needs to be achieved with the legs in the same position.
  • I like to do this pose with the front of my body flush against the wall. This ensures no cheating.
  • If your arms reach your feet then take a hold of the heels.
  • Remember don’t cheat! You are only cheating yourself.

Pigeon

Contortion backbend king pigeon

How to:

  • Begin in downward-facing dog
  • Bend your left knee and sweep your left shin forward bring it forward keeping it at a right angle so the shins are inline with the front of the mat.  If you are less flexible you can bring it closer to the groin.
  • The back leg straightens.
  • 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.
  • Fold forward and bring your chest towards the mat.

Intermediate Contortion Backbend: King Pigeon Pose

King pigeon is not a beginner pose, although it is a good one to work towards when you are just starting out. This pose requires that you have good strength and flexibility in the quads, glutes, abdominals, as well as open shoulders.

Contortion Back Bend King pigeon

How To:

  • Begin in 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.
  • 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 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. 
  • Grasp the toes from the outside of your foot.
  • Keep your fingertips on the floor in front of you for balance.
  • Rotate your shoulder outwards Point your right elbow to the ceiling pull your sternum upwards and pull your foot towards your head. 
  • If you can point your left elbow upwards and grab your toes with your left hand. 

Kapotasana

This training regime for Kapotasana is stellar! I couldn’t have written it better myself. To work on getting this deep backbend make sure that you practice three times per week every week.

contortion back bends

How To:

  • Begin in a kneeling position
  • Extend the legs so that your hips are inline with your knees.
  • Place your hands on the back of your hips.
  • Extend the spine and allow the heart to naturally open.
  • Do not sink backwards. This needs to be achieved with the legs in the same position.
  • I like to do this pose with the front of my body flush against the wall. This ensures no cheating.
  • If your arms reach your feet then take a hold of the heels.
  • Take a few breaths here.
  • Take both hands to the sky palms facing each other.
  • Let the arms draw backwards so that the shoulder and biceps are next to the ears.
  • Take a few breaths here.
  • Try to get your hands to reach the ground.
  • Bring your fingers to your toes.
  • Now as you hold both your feet, squeeze the elbows towards each other, and push the hip forward while keeping the space and length of your lower back intact.
  • Exhale and bring your elbows to the floor.
  • Stay here for as long as it is comfortable.
  • If that is less than 30 seconds then hold the prior pose afterwards for 30 seconds.

Advanced Contortion Backbend: The Triple Fold

If you are training for the triple fold then you are way more advanced than me! The ‘warm up’ poses in this training video is life goals for me. If this is something you can do shoot me an email I would love to interview you.

Contortion Backbend #2 Bridge

To start training for bridge pose also known as wheel there are a few poses you will want to master before hand.

Beginner Backbend: Wheel Pose

How To:

  • Starting laying on the ground face up.
  • Place your palms above your shoulders.
  • Fingers should be facing the shoulders.
  • Knees bend and feet come to the bottom of the sit bones.
  • Depress your weight into your feet and hands.
  • Lift the body, engage your core and open your heart.
  • Try to walk your feet closer towards the hands.

Intermediate Backbend: Wall Walk Downs

How To:

  • With your back facing the wall.
  • Inhale fully extend your arms above your head.
  • Exhale gently extend the spine and open the chest.
  • Place your hands on the wall.
  • Slowly begin to walk down.
  • When you get to a point where you don’t want to go any further simply stay in that position and hold for 30 seconds to build further strength.

Advanced Backbend: Bridge Legs Catch

Should I Train Front Bends With Backbends?

In contortion you generally have back benders and front benders. Many contortionists generally just train back bends and not front bends in the same session.

Coming from a Hatha yoga background we were trained to always train the opposing line in the body in order to keep balance and harmony in the body. Meaning if you train backward folds you need to train forward folds too.

I personally see no harm in throwing in a few cats and cows as well as child poses to help neutralize the spine.

Backbends Are Energizing

Did you know that training backbends can increase your energy levels? This is because the backbends excite the nervous system and produce more oxygen and increasing the blood flow.

I hope you enjoyed my post on contortion backbends. Would you like me to interview more contortionists?

Ready to take your flexibility to the next level? Take a class on me with the code “First Class.”

Stay Limber,

Jadore Vanessa

Vanessa Barthelmes.

Check Out Our Related Articles:

How to train for contortion. It’s very different to yoga.

How to enter your chest stand safely.

100 days of contortion challenge.

5 contortion definitions and how to do the poses.

How to do Contortion back bends

Check out my flexibility classes and online coaching.

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