How do contortionists bend their backs

How can I learn to open my upper back?

It is true that the upper back cannot anatomically bend backwards on its own: the thoracic spine is designed to twist, not straighten, the back. Contortionists, however, have special tricks for opening the upper back. This blog article describes the mechanics of upper back enlargement - no exercise! If you need backbending exercises, please feel free to contact me.

Here are 5 main tips:

  1. Use your lats!

Using the lats is the hidden key and the easiest way to open the upper back. The underarm latissimus helps improve shoulder mobility in all directions. It sits under your ribs and allows your middle back to open when you pull your ribs forward. So how is he involved in the lengthening of the upper back? As the largest muscle on the back, it can help open the chest, shoulders, and middle back as a unit. It's counterintuitive tension. The opposite of what people normally do. (Most of the time you make your back more rounded in straight handstands / push-ups).

So how do you use the lat to open your upper back? Part of it is knowing how to properly contract your shoulders to open your chest. You can imagine opening the ribs like the gills of a fish. (Try opening your middle back once without touching your upper back. This is very difficult if you cannot use your lat properly). The pectoral and intercostal muscles (rib muscles - the muscles for breathing) are also used. These muscles are not as big as the lats, so they only help with opening and are not the main motive force. The ratio of the shoulders to the upper back is subjective, depending on the person. It is best to actively pay attention to what you feel in the movement when doing exercises.

2. Use your shoulders with your upper back! Not against him!

The shoulders can help in both the extended and closed position. In the cobrapose, needle, and closed bridge, lengthening the shoulders helps the upper back curve up and down. In a contorsion handstand / elbow stand, the shoulders are “closed” but the lats are still actively working to open the chest. People with flexible upper backs often neglect their shoulders. For example, they walk into the bridge from standing with their arms floating behind their head / bum so that their upper back extends deeply but their shoulders / lats don't snap to bring their hands closer to their feet. The upper back can open without the shoulders. But it is important to understand how to use the two together to be able to perform certain movements.

Likewise, the shoulders can prevent the upper back from opening when the lat is not activated. If you have hypermobile shoulders that twist out: The twisting of your shoulders prevents your chest and upper back from opening. If the shoulders are rotated too much internally ("armpits away from the chest"), it is physically difficult to open the chest.

As long as I push with my elbows, I use my lats. It allows me to push my shoulders out and bend my upper back. If my elbows let loose, I also lose curvature in my upper back.

Hypermobile elbows are another factor that decreases shoulder extension. You cannot properly access your lats when your elbows are bent. You can especially feel this in tricks like the needle scale. The overhead grip requires a lot of active shoulder extension with the upper back.

  1. Use your chest and your neck / throat!

The pecs are less muscular in terms of size, but they help the lats activate and open the chest. If you just use the lats without tensing your pecs, you won't move that much.

The neck plays a huge role in opening the upper back. If you stretch your neck without pulling your shoulders into proper alignment, you will block yourself. For example, a cobra has to have its chest open with its neck. But this is not possible if the shoulders are pulled too far forward. The same applies to the contorsion handstand: If the shoulders are too tightly tensioned, the neck and thus also the upper back are blocked.

  1. Use your lower abs!

In all the wall stretches, you should lean back and actively stick out your buttocks. At the same time you try to tighten your stomach a little. This helps to avoid falling too deeply into the lower back and instead activates the vertebrae higher up.
If you tilt your hips, you automatically get a straight back and curve further up. In the picture you can clearly see that the lower back remains straight.

  1. Now everything in common: Use your shoulders and neck to use your upper back

The final piece of the puzzle is now body awareness. Practice using your shoulders, neck, and chest in a variety of positions together. Don't forget the hips and lower abs!

Learning to feel your upper back isn't as hard as you might think. It is much harder to consciously control the middle back or to work with the lower back intentionally. With the middle and lower back, you need even more body awareness.

Much motivation and good luck with your training!