If there is one thing aerialists are likely to have in common, it is a bit of a fixation on microbends.
Understandably so – the slightest bend in your knee can have a really big impact on your overall aesthetic. There is a world of difference between 100% straight and 99% straight. As the saying goes, if you miss by a hair, you miss by a mile.
So it’s common for aerialists to get really fixated on solving this microbend problem, and it is definitely something to look into. However, in order to address microbends intelligently, efficiently, and effectively, we need to understand a few things about them.
When you think about it…have you ever noticed that even when your legs are straight, they may not look as straight as somebody else’s?
Or maybe your lines are super clean but your friends don’t look the same even though they do the same drills as you?
One thing to recognize is that bone structure plays a role in how your leg looks when you straighten it all the way.
This is really important to recognize because you might be beating yourself up for not overcoming your microbend when actually you have maxed out your range of motion behind the knee.
So even if you and somebody else have equally flexible hamstrings, equally strong quads, and happily gliding nerves, your fullest knee extensions may look quite different.
While bone structure can’t be changed, there are several other factors that cause microbending that you can address. Instead of trying to “remember” to straighten your legs all the time in aerial (micromanaging your microbend), I’m going to suggest practices that promote full knee extension in a more holistic way so it can be employed on a more subconscious level in the air.
My students hear me say this all the time – you want to use your floor warmups to really focus on technique, because you have more head space than when you’re doing complex aerial movement. The intention you bring to your floor drills and warmups is incredibly powerful for translating the form and technique you want to your actual work in the air.
In other words, warmups/floor drills are really the ideal time to be a perfectionist. Anyways, let’s talk microbends!
Microbending, or the subtle appearance of bent legs when they should be straight, can be caused by a combination of factors. The most fundamental factor is bone structure, which varies from person to person. Some individuals have a natural hyperextension in their knees, while others may have knees that appear flat or neutral when fully extended. There are also those who seem to have a slight microbend, regardless of their training efforts.
When bone structure isn’t the primary cause, microbending can result from various factors, including tight hamstrings, weak or inadequately engaged quadriceps, tight tendons, nerve tension, and fatigue. So, let’s dive into some practical suggestions to alleviate microbending to get you to your beautiful lines!
Tips to Alleviate Microbending
- Incorporate floor stretches for hamstrings: Start your journey to straighter legs by incorporating floor stretches that gently lengthen your hamstrings. This will help improve flexibility and essentially make your quads’ job easier. They don’t have to squeeze so hard because your hamstrings are sufficiently stretchy.
- Strengthen your quadriceps: When your quadriceps are weak, the are unable to easily pull your knee into full extension. Straddle leg lifts are a great choice to target this muscle group.
- Actually USE your quadriceps: It is possible that your quads are strong enough to straighten your knee, but you are simply not activating them. Again, take to the floor where you can really focus. Try poking your quads and squeezing to wake them up and say hello. Practice sitting in a straddle and squeezing the quads to press the back of your knee toward the ground. Your heels may lift off the ground depending on bone structure and hamstring flexibility. If your knees cannot touch the ground in the first place, you need to work more on hamstring flexibility first. Remember that the tighter your hamstrings, the harder your quads have to work to pull the knee straight.
- Practice nerve glides and leg stretches with dorsiflexion: Nerve tension can contribute to microbending. If you have a shooting or nervy sensation along the backs of your legs when attempting straight leg lifts or hamstring stretches, take up a practice of nerve glides and incorporate into your regular training routine.
- Nervous system regulation and relaxation: Work on full nervous system regulation and relaxation techniques such as breathwork, gentle stretching, and meditation in your daily life. Reducing stress and muscle tension can have a positive impact on your ability to maintain straight legs during aerial movements. Consider seeking assistance from a physical therapist or massage therapist. They can provide targeted treatments to release muscle and neural tension, addressing the root causes of microbending.
- Practice inverting with one leg bent: Incorporate inversion exercises with one leg bent and one leg straight. Lifting two straight legs is harder than lifting one straight leg. Instead of bent leg variations or “no-man’s land” knee bends, try tucking one leg in fully while the other extends maximally. This can help you focus on maintaining that quad engagement while in the air.
- Fatigue can cause microbends!: As you lose energy, you may start to notice microbends because the quads are getting tired and less able to lift your lower leg into extension. This isn’t true for everyone – I know aerialists who have so deeply conditioned their legs that even when they are tired, there is zero microbend. However, it is super normal to start to get floppy as you fatigue. If you can normally manage your microbends very well and this starts happening, it’s a good idea to start wrapping up your training.
You can do it!
Ultimately, you do not really want to be thinking very hard about knee extension while in the air – i.e., stop micromanaging your microbends. You want to develop the straight-leg elements and habits during your warmups on the floor and apparatus, and embed it into your muscle memory so that it becomes automated in the air.
Remember that microbends can be caused by a combination of bone structure, strength, flexibility, and nerves and that your legs are UTTERLY unique. While bone structure cannot be changed, you can work on improving your flexibility, strength, and nerve health to reduce microbending.
I do have a full workout dedicated to microbends in FIT4FLIGHT. This program is specially designed to guide you in automating the form you want in the air by getting to work intelligently on the floor. These videos also provide anatomical guidance so that you learn as you train! 100% downloadable with new videos continually added over time.
Good luck! Be sure to follow @wakefulscentaerial on Instagram if you don’t already and sign up for our mailing list for regular tips, updates, and special offers (see the side bar).