Hyperextension: my newest nemesis

hyperextending elbows - the crooks of the elbows should face each other, not the front of the room

shoulders hyperextending, wrists should be over shoulders, not past them. I could illustrate this better, but it hurts to do it.

blurry picture (sorry) - my knees are hyperextending, so the backs of the knees are on the floor while the heels come slightly off the floor

Edit: please be sure to read the comments for further discussion on the pictures. It’s very hard to describe the motion that’s going on in words. : )

At my Anatomy weekend in July I learned something very valuable: I hyperextend everything.

I always knew that my elbows hyperextend while in all fours and down dog. And I’ve heard repeated warnings about hyperextension of the knees, but since I could look at my elbows and tell that they were hyperextended, I thought I’d just know if my knees were doing the same thing. And I had no idea that hyperextension of the shoulders was even possible.

During class at the training, the teacher gave a valuable clue that made it “click” in my brain. If you’re hyperextending a joint, then the joint is doing the work instead of the muscles. I already knew that – but how can you tell if the muscles are floating along letting the knee do all the work?

The key is that when your muscles are engaged, your patella (kneecap) is immobile. It follows that in a pose like triangle, if you can grab your kneecap and wiggle it, you’re hyperextending. If you add a slight bend to the knee, your muscles engage, and that kneecap becomes fixed.

This is one of those things I feel like I was the last to learn. But armed with this knowledge, I have slowly begun revolutionizing my practice. I feel like I need to re-learn every standing pose. It’s a big blow to my ego. I know adding the bend at the knee keeps my body safe and prevents injury, but darnit, the poses just don’t look as pretty as I’m used to!

So here’s to taking our ego out of our yoga and learning to modify the asanas for our own bodies, instead of the other way around : )

Namaste,
Jamie

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16 responses to “Hyperextension: my newest nemesis

  1. ThisOne'sOptimistic

    This is an excellent and very informative post. I’ve been aware of the fact that I hyperextend elbows in down dog (my teacher told me that) but now know I hyperextend everything… Thank you for your very helpful tips :)

  2. Hmm… I don’t, anatomy-wise, understand why the shoulders should be over the wrists in a forward fold. That seems to me like it is limiting shoulder mobility. Honestly, I’ve always had teachers say to try and bring the hands as close to the floor as you comfortable can, and, with assists, will actually gently bring my hands closer. Definitely curious…

    • I think the issue is when the shoulders are “winging” (a new term for me). In the fold, when the wrists are so far past the shoulders, + gravity, the shoulders almost pop out of joint. For people working on flexbility in their shoulders, bringing the hands towards the floor is a great exercise. But for us hyperextenders who already have the flexbility, it can cause injury. That is how it was explained to me, at least. Does that make better sense?

      • sure… i think, here, i would give a cuing to “ground the shoulder blades onto the back” … to find openness and grounding.

  3. Jamie – You always explain something that makes me have an “aha” moment. thanks!

  4. I still don’t understand the elbows – Are you hyperextending in the pic?

    • Yes, I am hyperextending in the picture. The insides of the elbows should face each other, instead of facing away from the body. To correct the hyperextension, you just have to put a tiny “micro-bend” in your elbows.

      • The direction the elbows face is indicative of shoulder and wrist rotation. Elbow hyperextension would be if the angle between the upper and Lower arm bones was greater than 180 degrees.

  5. I was thinking the same thing, Emma! Actually, same with the heels off the ground in dandasana, I have had teachers encourage the class to raise the heels a bit.

    Thanks for sharing, Jamie. I can’t wait to try a plank or downward dog and see what my elbows are doing. That one makes perfect sense to me!

    • Again, I think it depends on your body. If you’re contracting your muscles (quads mainly) to lift your heels in dandasana, then that’s fine and dandy. But I’m hardly contracting anything, my knees just do that on their own when I press down on them. Does that help? It’s really hard to explain — obviously, since I’ve been practicing for years and just “got it” myself!

  6. ohhhh. yep I’ve been told to ‘face your inner elbows to the front of the room’ in order to open up the shoulders in downdog…. which i can easily do…
    I should probably consider this during my next down dog.

    with everything else i’m good- as I’m not flexible really… but it’s really useful to know.

    today during eagle i popped something in my shoulder though… it was not pleasant.

  7. I just figured out my back is very flexible… perhaps another version of hyperextending when I do backbends! I learned a lot about it last month but not the movement of the patella thing… definitely going to tell my sister to give that a go!

  8. I don’t understand the crooks of the elbows facing each other instruction. I heard this in class for the first time the other day and I’m lost. If I try that in plank the how can I hug the elbows into the body in chat? Good luck with your new poses :)

    • In the photo, my elbows are hyperextending. Basically, the elbow is a hinge joint and by facing the insides of the elbows to the front of the room, the joint is bending slightly in the opposite direction it’s intended. If you do a bicep curl, bringing your wrist to your shoulder, and then extend the arm back out, the elbow joint should stop when even, not hyperextend to bring the wrist slightly lower than the elbow. Does that make sense?

      So when you’re in all fours and your elbows hyperextend, you need to add a very slight bend in the elbows. That will help rotate them back to the right position. Chaturunga is different though, that’s a bending of the elbows which is safe (as long as you’re not compromising your shoulder of course!)

      It’s very hard to explain through writing! Maybe the next time you’re in class you could ask the teacher to take a look at your elbows and explain. I hope I helped a bit. : )

  9. i’m definitely a hyper-extender! i’m very bendy and flexible and i have to watch it in my own practice. love your blog. found it by way of rachel the suburban yogini (love her!). hugs!!

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