Have you ever had that feeling when you've finally nailed your straddle invert - being chuffed to pieces and feeling like omg I OWN my straddle inverts... and then your teacher says 'straighten your leg' and you glimpse in the mirror and you realise that your leg is not as straight as you thought. And you are like 'urgggh' how can that be, why are my knees not straight, because it totally felt like I was straightening my leg.
This my friends is what we call the dreaded micro bend or unintentional-bending-when-you-thought-it-was-totally-straight that happens during a straddle invert.
Are you a micro bend offender?
The way you can tell is next time you are doing one of those oh-so-straight leg straddle inverts get your Iphone out and video it. The camera never lies. Watch yourself back and you will realise that ooohhh yes there is actually a tiny bend in the leg that you never knew you were doing!
But do not despair... you do not have straddle failure... your straddles are very nearly there.
The micro bend is caused either by muscular tightness, weaknesses in the body or lack of awareness, so with some dedicated work on fine tuning your straddles, it won't be long before next time you invert you'll be the centre of attention. Because lovely straight leg straddles are the bomb! It's the difference between average and gorgeous, they transform amateur into profesh and a straight leg straddle means you can definitely OWN it.
Here are five top tips for fixing those ugly inverts.
1. STRETCH YOUR HAMSTRINGS
It may be that the micro bend is caused because you simply don't have the flexibility in your hamstrings to totally straighten your leg in the air. If this is the case then you need to work on some basic hamstring stretches as follows:
– standing forward fold (10 breaths)
– seated forward fold (10 breaths)
– lying leg raise (lift straight leg towards chest, hold calf and gently pull the leg towards you, at the same time press the knee away from you. 5 - 10 times, repeat each side )
2. ENGAGE YOUR QUADS
Focus on engaging your quads and what this feels like, as well as strengthening them.
Practice doing single leg raises (sometimes I call them scissor raises) with turn out (rotating the hips outwards) pointing the toes and squeezing the quads. As well as straddle raises again pointing the toes and squeezing the quads. I would say sets of ten is a good start.
You can do this on the floor, seated, resting in a hammock or on the aerial equipment depending on where you are. So no excuses you can do this at home or in the studio!
3. PUSH THROUGH THE BACKS OF YOUR KNEES
In order to keep your legs totally straight not only do you need to engage the quadriceps, but you need to learn to push through the back of the knees to gain those extra oh so important millimetres that will help to achieve your maximum extension. Try this exercise:
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, then bend your knees and flex your ankles, then straighten your legs and point your toes and push through the backs of your knees. Try and press your knees to the floor. Repeat this ten times - bending and straightening and pushing.
4. LENGTHEN LIKE A BALLERINA
Have you noticed how ballerina's have theeee most gorgeous lines and straight legs. Well obviously they spend hours practicing and perfecting and training this in their bodies. But so can you... practice extending and lengthening your legs with these exercises taken from a ballet class.
Stand with one hand supported by a chair and the other hand on your hip. Place your feet in ballet first (charlie chaplin stylee) and then practise lifting your leg up in a bent position and then straightening it out. Practice leg lifts and leg swings.
Or even better find a ballet video and practice the leg exercise section. Better still go try a ballet class!
5. BE AWARE IN THE AIR
Sometimes the micro bend is simply because you are too busy focusing on actually doing the invert itself - lifting your legs in the air, making sure you get them upside down, checking that your not hitting your neighbour, making sure your arms are holding out. All that sort of thing, which means that there is simply not enough head space to focus on the things you need to do to get your legs straight ie. engage your quads, push through your knees and lengthen like a ballerina.
So getting your straight leg straddle is the fine tuning that happens once you've got the nuts and bolts of doing a straddle invert (ie the strength needed to lift your legs over your head). So make sure that you can do a straddle invert pretty well before you start to fine tune and work on your form.
Then with your new awareness of the micro bend and the three things you need to be doing, practice your straddles with the focus solely on doing those three things! Before you know it those things will become trained into your body and will be automatic, which means you can then go and focus on the nuances of your choreography or playing with the audience and your straddle inverts will be the talk of the town!
So I hope that has been helpful and that you'll be OWNING that straddle invert from now on, because I wanna see you straddle like a mofo!!!