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Ballet Talk for Dancers

How do you get this stretch?


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Ok, I have this obsession, its the stretch where you lie on your tummy and push upwards with your hands, so your back is arched, then you try to touch your feet to your head. For yoga people, its the advanced cobra.

Now, I have a stiff upper back, bane of my life, I can tell you. So I am always stretching it, holding stretches, doing cambres all over the place where I can. I got so far as to being able to walk down the wall to the floorso i ended up in a bridge, but even though my flexibility has improved a lot, for the life of me I cannot get my feet any nearer to my head. OK, perhaps its improved about an inch, but pahleeze. What on earth am I not working on properly? I mean, what muscles should I be working towards strengthening and stretching in order for me to do this?

Is it my back or is it the front of my thighs?..any ideas....and no one tell me this stretch just might not be possible, it has to be!

exasperatingly yours

Jeanettex :)

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You admit this stretch is an obsession. Maybe in the grand scheme of things in the studio, it's just not that important. Plenty of professional dancers can't do it either. Or maybe this is a question for the Yoga board.


I imagine that more than your back would be stretching. Also involved could be muscles in the front of the pelvis and in the upper legs.


In any case, as a man, I avoid exercises that involve lying on my pelvis and lifting both upper and lower body off the ground. I think you would understand why.

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taking a wild guess, in answer to your question...:


"I have a stiff upper back" - ! :)


gosh, jeanette, ...as often gets said here..., someone would have to SEE you, to provide the ideal answer...

(which just MIGHT be the one you don't want to hear).


maybe we should ask: how long have you been working specifically towards this stretch?, and very approximately (in brackets of say, ten years!), how old are you?, and how fit and flexible are you generally?


i realise regular readers may well know the answers to these questions - i am just trying to build up a picture that might help (all of us) towards a safe response...

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I know, I have no idea why it is an obsession..am I the only one who has an obsession with a stretch? maybe I should go see a shrink or something? hmmmm. No, although I love yoga, I cannot do it, except the meditation bit,it screws up my knees bigtime.

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This works a heck of a lot better if you're 4-7 years old, when relative body proportions are different, or if you're a dwarf. ("Go on, kick yerself in th' head, Weeman!" from the movie Jackass) People with Cooley's Anemia also can do it, even non-dancers, but that disease involves a lack of growth among other things. Don't let it bother you - it's sometimes seen in baby work(pre-ballet), but not used much in actual ballet. Getting close is close enough!:D

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Guest beckster

When I was doing Rhythmic Gym, I could do this position. BUT - I had the flexibility but not the strength (unusual for me, usually I'm the other way round) so I could only do it with the help of a rope or hoop. Not that I'm recommending that you start hauling your body up with a rope or anything. I certainly wouldn't be able to do it now. I think it's a nice trick though, like being able to push through middle splits or something, but not very useful!

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OKkaayy so I've made the psychiatrist appointment now..geeeee


now what was that bit about a rope and a hoop?....


So what exercises for a stiff upper back can I do? I seem to have done them all. The pilates exercises, the PT exercises, the yoga ones. If my back wasn't capable of this surely the doctor and PT would have told me by now. So I'm guessing its psychological rather than a physiological problem i.e. stress and tension.

So massage would be a good thing to sort it out....wow look I've just helped myself :cool:

Thanks guys x

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Hmm :)


I was very relieved to read this thread, since I've also got the stiff upper back problem. It mostly bugs me because I can't do an elegant backward bend (after a porte de bras forward, for example) - my back just doesn't bend above the waist. Very annoying.. :rolleyes:


I was wondering, where could I find some exercises to work on the backward bends? I have been doing bridges (pushing up from the floor) and occasionally walking down the wall with my hands - any others?




- Sanna

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I think there is an interesting point raised in this discussion. Jeanette, you said that you think this could be a psychological rather than a physiological problem. I agree that dance is as much mental as physical (if you tell yourself "I can't do a pirouette", you probably won't be able to). However, I also think as adults we tend to blame ourselves too much - i.e., "if it's not the fault of my body, it must be my head!"


As we've all heard before on this board, there are some things that some of us just can't do. Some days I get upset that I can't do a middle split. Some days I really just don't care. There probably is something of a psychological barrier - I don't enjoy working on it, therefore I don't hold those stretches as long as I probably should. But that doesn't mean that if I overcome my mental block I'll automatically be able to do a middle split. My body probably just isn't cut out for them. But there are plenty of other things that I can do! :)

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Wouldn't that be cool? You'd just go to a hypnotist who would undo some weird mental block and voila. I wonder if you were hypnotised into being able to do a 180 degree penchee if you would do it? now there's a mad crazy scientist sort of experiment....

I read in a paper recently that there has been a connection found between the tightness of muscles in the neck and upper back to that of the hamstrings. When these neck muscles were relaxed, hamstring length improved by 20%! But it s a preliminary study..interesting though. Thats 20% on people who had stretched for ever and had never improved or thought they could.

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fascinating, xena. thanks for that info. connections like that would not surprise me, even though i am someone with 'loose' hamstrings and a tendency to tightness in the neck and upper back! will be interested to hear of any more studies like this, if you come across them.

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Guest piccolo

I know the stretch you are talking about. I could do it as a kid and now ... not so much. I have lost some flexibility in my back but the main reason why I cannot do this stretch anymore is because my hip flexors and quads are pretty tight. For my hip flexors, my favorite stretch is the basic jazz lunge. (Both legs turned in, front leg bent at 90 degrees, hands on either side of front foot, back leg straight and resting on the flexed toes.) Then I slowly bend the back knee to the floor and back up to the lunge position several times to feel the stretch in the front of the hip. Then, to stretch the quads, I bring the knee all the way down to the floor, bend the heel as close to my butt as possible and hold the foot there with my hand. (Make sure that when you do these stretches that the front leg stays in 90 degrees -- i.e. don't push forward so that the knee goes past the toes -- and keep the pelvis down.)


This will at least get your toes closer to your head!

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Xena, I read that article about shorter upper neck muscles, and cannot understand a single word. Can someone translate into guttoral english por favor?



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