Roller Derby, Please Stop with the Pigeon Pose Obsession

pigeon-hipblock

I know you want to “open” your hips. I know you want to feel that big streeeeeeeetch after practice. I know every instagram yoga challenge ever has been telling you that big dramatic movements are the way to go.

And I’m still going to say this:

Skaters, you’ve got to stop with the pigeon obsession, especially while you’re wearing your gear.

Note: For the sake of clarity, I’ll refer to pigeon throughout this post as “pigeon prep”; the name pigeon (kapotasana) actually refers to a super deep backbend.

Here are four reasons to quit pigeon prep, at least as a standard post-practice move:

1. If you’re trying to stretch the deep muscle piriformis, pigeon prep likely won’t get it.

piriformisWait…what? Yep, you heard me right. Pigeon prep probably isn’t going to get at piriformis, at least not most effectively, in the way it’s usually done.

A typical pigeon prep (pictured at the top of this post) has the front hip in flexion (leg moving closer to torso), abduction (leg moving away from the other leg), and external rotation (knee and toes turned out to the side, like a mohawk turn). To stretch piriformis, the leg would need to be in adduction (leg moving closer to the other leg).  Also, for many bodies, gluteus maximus (that awesome derby booty) will limit your range of motion–so you won’t even get to piriformis.

For a better option, check out my YouTube video about hip strength and stretch; the move at 13:00 is a great way to get in there.

2. Especially if you’re doing pigeon prep with your gear on, you have a more of a chance of screwing up your knees and ankles.

 Your hips have a certain range of motion–how much depends on your individual bone structure and musculature. (Stay tuned for next week’s post about mohawk turns!) That means that if you ask your hips to “open” to a certain degree, and your hips can’t do it, something else will. That something is pretty much going to be the less stable joints: your knees or ankles. Which, as you know, are already taking a beating from roller derby.

Pigeon knee and ankle smaller

I took my knee pad off so you can see the twisting that’s happening around my knee; the bending at my ankle is pretty obvious. In these photos, I’m supporting myself a lot with my arms so that I don’t drop too much weight onto my joints in these positions, but this is the type of position that I often see people move in when they’re on skates. As you can guess, it’s not so great for the knee and ankle joints. That’s why if you’re going to do a variation of pigeon prep, I recommend reclined pigeon.

3. When you stretch, you should only move in a range in which you have muscular control.

Flexibility isn’t so great when there isn’t the strength to support it.

How do you move into pigeon prep? Do you flop down into it? Can you hold yourself up–and fold–without using your arms?When you stretch into a range in which the targeted muscles–in this case, the glutes–can’t do their job, you’re creating excessive mobility.

If you want to have that badass strong derby butt, you need stability, too. If you practice pigeon, both holding and folding in it, without using your arms to keep you up and move you, you’re building flexibility within the context of strength–a much better option for athletes.

4. Sensation isn’t really your best guide.

We’re now learning that when we “stretch” our muscles, we’re actually interacting with our nervous system, not changing muscle length. In other words, your muscles aren’t really “tight”; your nervous system thinks that they are, so it responds with sensation to let you know what a safe range of motion is. 

I’ll give you a moment to wrap your head around that one.

That means that someone who looks really flexible can still think their hips are “tight.” That also means that sensation isn’t really the way to tell that something needs to be stretched. And we’re not even talking about when there’s sensation or pain when you stretch, and it’s actually because you need to strengthen that muscle instead… (And that’s a good reason to see a physiotherapist who can help you figure out your muscular patterns, but that’s a whole other blog post or five.)

Basically, just because you feel sensation doesn’t mean you’re fixing “tight” muscles. And sensation isn’t what you should necessarily be seeking when you do yoga or stretch after practice.

I’m not saying that pigeon prep is always bad, and that there aren’t ways to do it safely! However, it’s not a fix-all, and it’s likely not doing what you think it’s doing.

Either way, pigeon prep with all your gear on isn’t really helping your joints.

Try the options listed above–reclined pigeon or cowface (13:00 into this video)–and see how they feel. Pigeon prep can be awesome, but it’s not a fix-all, and not the best way to keep your knees and ankles safe when you’re still in your gear.

Hip Strength and Stretch for Roller Derby

If your hips are hurting, stretching might not be what they need. This yoga practice will take you through some strengthening moves for your outer hips–super important for stability and balance!–and you’ll finish up with some gentle opening.

Yoga for Crossovers

If you’re struggling with crossovers, these stretching and strengthening moves will help you make them happen. Work on your crossovers off-skates to build the core and hip support to do them on-skates! You’ll want two blocks or thick books–kneepads are optional to help recreate what happens on the track.

yogastrong derbystrong challenge: day 6

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Side Leg Lifts

Props: blocks, stacks of books, or a table or chair

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hands on the props of your choosing. Have your arms far enough in front of your that you’re not hunching.
  2. Inhale and lift your right leg out toward the right. Have the action come from your outer hip muscles, NOT from your hips shifting to the left. Exhale and lower your leg.
  3. Lift up and down 5-10 times, and switch to the other leg.

Alternative: Don’t worry about how high you’re lifting your leg. Focus on the muscle use!

Badass challenge: Instead of having your hands on blocks, grab your right big toe and lift your right leg out to the side. Repeat on the left.

– – – – –

You need to do this. Your body needs it. DO IT. – Jude E Boom, Boulder County Bombers

NEW Flat Mat Minimum Skills

Looking for something to help your derby hips (and the rest of your body!)? Flat Mat Minimum Skills gives you a way to learn yoga and work on rocking your WFTDA minimum skills at the same time! It starts January 4, so you can have fun over the holidays and then crush your 2016 goals.

Flat Mat Regionals

Want your body to move better so that your muscles and joints don’t feel so abused? If you already know a little yoga, Flat Mat Regionals is your jam. With four weeks of yoga sequences designed specifically for roller derby, your grumpy knees and hips will be ready to roll again starting January 4.

yogastrong derbystrong challenge: day 5

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Locust Pose (Glute Variation)

Props: none

    1. While lying on your belly, rest your forehead on the back of your hands.
    2. Bend your left knee to a 90-degree angle, and place your left fingertips 2-3 inches down from the back of your pelvis–basically, right in the center of your left butt cheek.
    3. Inhale and slowly begin to lift your left thigh away from the floor. Exhale to lower it down. The back of your thigh will do some of the lifting, but you want to feel your gluteals start working underneath your fingertips!
    4. Lift up and down 10-20 times, and switch to the other leg.

Alternative: Don’t worry about how high you’re lifting your leg. Focus on the muscle use!

Badass challenge: Do this with your leg extended.

– – – – –

You need to do this. Your body needs it. DO IT. – Jude E Boom, Boulder County Bombers

NEW Flat Mat Minimum Skills

Looking for something to help your derby hips (and the rest of your body!)? Flat Mat Minimum Skills gives you a way to learn yoga and work on rocking your WFTDA minimum skills at the same time! It starts January 4, so you can have fun over the holidays and then crush your 2016 goals.

Flat Mat Regionals

Want your body to move better so that your muscles and joints don’t feel so abused? If you already know a little yoga, Flat Mat Regionals is your jam. With four weeks of yoga sequences designed specifically for roller derby, your grumpy knees and hips will be ready to roll again starting January 4.

yogastrong derbystrong challenge: day 4

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Pulsing Three-Legged Dog

Props: none

    1. From downward facing dog, lift your left leg.
    2. Stack left hip over right, and keep the left leg extended. Don’t kick your leg back; you want it in line with your torso.
    3. Use your outer hip muscles to pulse your leg up and down. These are small movements, y’all!
    4. Pulse 10-20 times, then repeat with the right leg raised.

Alternative: Do this from hands and knees.

Badass challenge: Do this from plank pose!

– – – – –

You need to do this. Your body needs it. DO IT. – Jude E Boom, Boulder County Bombers

NEW Flat Mat Minimum Skills

Looking for something to help your derby hips (and the rest of your body!)? Flat Mat Minimum Skills gives you a way to learn yoga and work on rocking your WFTDA minimum skills at the same time! It starts January 4, so you can have fun over the holidays and then crush your 2016 goals.

Flat Mat Regionals

Want your body to move better so that your muscles and joints don’t feel so abused? If you already know a little yoga, Flat Mat Regionals is your jam. With four weeks of yoga sequences designed specifically for roller derby, your grumpy knees and hips will be ready to roll again starting January 4.

Hips Don’t Lie

Your hips don’t lie: they need a little more stretching and strengthening than you’re giving them!

This video will give you a little something mellow to do after practice, after a bout, after cross-training–or just because. You’ll get a little something for all around the hips, not just one part, to keep things feeling happier and more functional.

 

“Flat Mat Yoga is like having a yoga teacher with derby experience living in your inbox. It’s a great way to cross train!” – Sock Rae Blue, Carolina Rollergirls

Post-Practice Psoas Relief

If you’re tired of angry hip flexors after practicing or bouting, here’s a combo of moves you can try for some post-practice psoas relief. And of course, since one of your hip flexors is also a low back muscle, these moves can potentially help your low back feel better, too.

Anatomical image of psoas major - art by Stephanie Cost

For those unfamiliar, your hip flexors–which include your mighty psoas, pictured above–are the muscles located at the front of your hip that connect your leg to your pelvis and abdomen. Their job? Any action that brings the front of your thigh closer to your torso: think high knees! It also unsurprisingly that when we sit a lot, they weaken, and when we skate and spend a lot of time squatting, they get grumpy.

Happier Hip Flexor Yoga Flow

Start out lying on your back with the soles of your feet flat on the floor.

Constructive Rest Position

Wiggle your feet away from each other so they’re as wide apart as your mat, and let your knees drop in toward each other (feet apart, knees together). Slowly begin to rock your legs from side to side. Those movements can be as big or as small as makes sense for your hips and low back–in other words, your legs don’t have to come anywhere near the floor.

Psoas Release Step Two

Bring your feet back to hip-width apart (about in line with your sitz bones, the bony parts in your butt). Hug your left knee toward your chest, and slide your right heel toward the front of your mat. Your right leg does not have to straighten fully! You might only slide your heel as far forward as it will go without arching your back away from the floor–which might just be a few inches.

Hold for 5-10 breaths, and repeat with right knee hugged in toward your chest.

001Derbylife002Derbylife

Make your way over onto hands and knees–don’t be shy about cushioning your knees with a blanket or three–and begin to move in cow/cat. As you inhale, lift head and tailbone up and feel your shoulders slide away from your ears (left image). As you exhale, round your spine and curl head and tailbone toward the floor (right image).

Hip flexor magic

From cow/cat, step your right foot forward–you might want to have your hands up on blocks or books–and move into hip flexor magic.

Tuck your back toes, and press back through your left heel to begin lifting your left knee off the floor—but only lift your knee as much as you can without changing the position/height of your pelvis. That’s probably going to be a pretty tiny movement, and that’s a-okay: you’re strengthening and stretching your hip flexors. Do this about 10 times, and then lower your back knee to the floor. Before you switch legs…

004Derbylife

…lower your left knee down to the floor. Place your right hand on your right thigh, and as you inhale, bring your left arm alongside your left ear. As you exhale, lean toward your right with your left arm overhead.

Hold for 5-10 breaths, and then switch sides: bring your left foot forward, and repeat hip flexor magic and this side-stretching lunge (left hand on left thigh, reach right arm overhead) on the opposite side.

Hip Flexor Tree

Return to your back. (It’s easier to see when I’m standing!) While lying on your back, cross your right ankle on top of your left thigh. You might take one end of your skate noose or a belt around your right ankle, and hold the other end of the noose with your left hand. Try to keep your left hip from lifting away from the floor! You could place a book or rolled-up towel underneath your right knee to help support that.

Repeat with your left ankle crossed over your right thigh.

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Last but not least, REST. You might want to place a rolled-up blanket or towel underneath your knees for a little support.

Go on, give your hip flexors a little love and attention!

 

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Strengthen Your Outer Hips, Part 2

Check out how steady standing poses can be–this is totally possible for you, too!

If you watched the video in my last blog post about how to strengthen your outer hips, you might have wondered how to use those moves while you’re actually, you know, doing yoga. This video will show you!

You’ll need two blocks–or two stacks of books–and a folded up blanket or towel for this practice. You can use this to get ideas to add in when you take yoga classes or watch yoga videos, or you can do it on its own as a quick practice! (Note: if you do not want to kneel, skip to the second half of the video for some standing moves.)

This will all help create stability, which will help your balance–and you know that’ll be useful on the track! Bonus: when these muscles are all working they way they’re supposed to, you’ll be less likely to compensate and overuse others.

– – – – –

Kickit’s style is really accessible, and the instructions are clear and for various levels. Big Banger recommends it. – Big Banger, Nashville Rollergirls

NEW Flat Mat Minimum Skills

Looking for something to help your derby hips (and the rest of your body!)? Flat Mat Minimum Skills gives you a way to learn yoga and work on rocking your WFTDA minimum skills at the same time! It starts January 4, so you can have fun over the holidays and then crush your 2016 goals.

Flat Mat Regionals

Want your body to move better so that your muscles and joints don’t feel so abused? If you already know a little yoga, Flat Mat Regionals is your jam. With four weeks of yoga sequences designed specifically for roller derby, your grumpy knees and hips will be ready to roll again starting January 4.

Say hi!