In a previous post I discussed how to self-measure your ability to touch your toes. I promised a similar assessment for those who could easily touch their toes but wanted to find out what was limiting their pike (aka: forward pike, jack knife, seated forward fold, caterpillar, Paschimottanasana). Now I am following through on that promise with an algorithm to find out what is limiting your pike forward fold (pictured above) and what to do about it.
You may be interested in knowing how to improve your pike for gymnastics, diving, aerial circus arts, yoga or just to impress your friends. The full pike is not a level of flexibility the average person needs, and having it doesn’t make you healthier.
A Word of Caution
As a physical therapist I must caution you first that the lumbar flexion in the pike forward fold position is one that increases compression on the lumbar inter-vertebral discs. Excessive compression of a neutral spine will fracture the vertebrae (ie clif jumping), but numerous animal studies have shown that if you load and flex a spine enough, it is the discs that give out [1,2,3,4]. It isn’t clear if unloaded lumbar flexion stretching such as the pike causes disc degeneration in humans. But in any case I don’t recommend sitting in prolonged flexion, or lifting even light weights in lumbar flexion. If you have a disc extrusion , I recommend waiting until your body has absorbed the pieces before attempting pikes (anywhere from 8mo to 8yrs) . If you don’t have a back injury history but flexion hurts or doesn’t feel safe, consult a physical therapist before moving forward.
How to Find out What Is Limiting Your Pike
There are numerous things that can limit your pike forward fold but I group them into four main categories 1) Motor control or coordination 2) Lumbar spine and or hip flexion 3) Hamstrings and associated fascia 4) Nerve mobility including dura mater and sciatic nerve
Below is my algorithm in flow chart form to identify what is limiting your pike.This algorithm addresses the passive pike, if you have an excellent passive pike but can’t do an active pike such as a v-up, your problem is one of stability, motor control or strength.
You will need
- A vertical wall with no molding
- A cloth tape measure
- Something to record your numbers
*None of the information in this article or algorithm should replace the advice of your own health care provider and is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition.
Refer to these tests while going through the algorithm above.
The Seated Pike Nose to Floor
- Sit with your knees straight, feet together and the soles of your feet flat on the wall
- Pin the end of the tape measure to the floor at with your hand or a piece of tape.
- Drape the tape measure over one of your fingers.
- Exhale and fold forward.
- At the bottom, bring the draped portion of the tape measure to the tip of your nose.
- Pinch the tape measure to hold the lowest measurement.
- Return to upright and record the distance the distance you pinched in centimeters.
The Seated Pike Nose to Floor with Ankles Plantarflexed
- Start away from the wall with the ankles relaxed, then repeat same steps above.
The Seated Pike Nose to Floor with Neural Sensitization
- At the bottom of the pike, move the head up and down without moving anything else to see if the feeling of stretch in your legs and lower back changes.
The Butterfly Nose to Floor
- Bring the soles of your feet together with your knees at exactly 90 degrees.
- Measure your nose to floor distance.
How to Improve Your Pike
Follow the flow chart above to find your intervention, then refer to the list of interventions below. Measure again after the intervention and log your data.
Stability & Motor Control Interventions
- Seated Pike. Simply repeat 10 seated pikes, 3x per day. Repeated nose to floor measurement will accomplish the same thing.
- Seated Pike Towel Squeeze
- Seated Pike Band Pulldown
- Hip Flexor Stretching with Gluteal Activation
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
Hamstring & Fascial Interventions
Lumbar & Hip Flexion Interventions
Did it Work?
Please share the results of your self experiments in the comments below! In subsequent posts I will share some of the things that I have discovered in two years of self experimentation and over 1383 measurements of my own seated pike nose to floor distance.
- Dr Stuart McGill’s Thoughts on Lumbar Flexion. http://www.backfitpro.com/documents/Spine-flexion-myths-truths-and-issues.pdf
- D’Ambrosia, P., King, K., Davidson, B., Zhou, B., Lu, Y., Solomonow, M., (2010) Pro‐inflammatory cytokines expression increases following low and high magnitude cyclic loading of lumbar ligaments, Eur. Spine J., doi 10.1007/s00586‐010‐1371‐4.
- Cat spines were flexed and extended 15x per minute for 10 minutes. Seven hours after these 150 repetitions, the supraspinous ligament was still 30% longer and showed signs of inflammation.
- Veres, S.P., Robertson, P.A., Broom, N.D., (2009) The morphology of acute disc herniation: A clinically relevant model defining the role of flexion. SPINE: 34(21):2288‐2296.
- Sheep spines were flexed and injected with dye until they burst.
- Tampier, C., Drake, J., Callaghan, J., McGill, S.M. (2007) Progressive disc herniation: An investigation of the mechanism using radiologic, histochemical and microscopic dissection techniques. SPINE, 32(25): 2869‐2874.
- Pig spines were loaded with 330 force pounds and taken through 4400 to 14400 cycles of flexion and extension until herniation. Twelve of the 16 spines had some herniation, apparently 4 of them were tough enough to outlast the investigators.
- 1990 Saal- The Natural History of Lumbar Intervertebral Disc Extrusions Treated Nonoperatively.