Trick Tips: Split Grip Ayesha (Part 1)
Nemesis Trick: Split (True) grip Ayesha- PART 1
Based on an introduction via Inverted D with Extended Butterfly as Bonus
Terminology intermission for a second:
Hand grip- Most East coasters that I know call this a “Split” grip; most West Coasters I know call this a “True” grip, and the rest of the world is a patchwork. It’s also called “baseball” grip. No matter what, it’s the grip where you reach towards the pole with your thumb up and palm facing the pole, and grip with thumb on one side and fingers wrapped around the other. I’ll refer to it as split grip from here on out, but really all of the info below could be applied to Chinese/cupped grip as well as Twisted Grip, although I have some words about Twisted a little bit deeper in the blog. I also have a separate tutorial just on the elbow grip Ayesha, which explains all the info below in a slightly different way and is a few years old [link here]. Feel free to reference for some reinforcement!
Leg positioning- As a default, I refer to this (inverted straddle) as an Ayesha leg position. I’ve also heard this pose referred to as a handspring, but I use Handspring to describe the mount itself (standing facing away from the pole, lifting hips up and overhead) rather than the final position. Just like in gymnastics, a handspring is a movement- just as a Shoulder mount is a movement (mounting the pole) with the hands in various grips, and various final positions can be held at the end. I’m using the straddle as the default for explanation here as it is a lower center of balance than pencil legs, but once you have this nailed you can of course work all the leg variations.
Okay. I get asked about the split grip Ayesha all the time, as it seems to be a real nemesis move for people who have strength (like they can easily invert, or even shoulder mount) and can do other related tricks (like elbow grip Ayesha) but just can’t seem to wrap their heads around this confidently. And even if you are just thinking about starting to work on it, it can seem really intimidating. So, I wanted to really take some time to think about to explain it. Because, the reality is that the split grip Ayesha is the end of a progression, and it takes some talking through of the entire progression to get you to an Ayesha with all the knowledge and body awareness that you need. And split grip is a way, way safer grip than Twisted so if you’re starting on any handspring/Ayesha at all, this is REALLY the grip you should be working the most so I want to make sure that it seems accessible and is doable. I’ll explain first with photos and text, and then recap everything with a video at the end of the tutorial, next week. And I’m breaking this up into two parts, because there’s a lot of information here.
So, let’s start at the very beginning.
Imagine you want to push a wall down with your hands. How would you get set up to push against that wall for maximum pushing power? You can give this a try too if you want. In fact, if you have trouble with this move, you definitely should. Get yourself pushing into a wall as hard as you can. What position feels most natural to be as forceful as possible?
It’s pretty clear, right? You want your hands low on the wall so that you can really get your weight to transfer into them as you push with your feet. You want your arms straight and head dropped down between them. Your shoulders are actually hugging your ears because as you PUSH into the wall, your shoulder blades slide up your back and your arm bones actually come closer together as you shrug your shoulders up. Your back is slightly rounded or flat and your core is engaged. You basically become a human battering ram. All your weight transfers smoothly and cleanly right into that damn wall. See the line?
Now what happens if you lift your head and look to face the wall as you push? Your whole body position has to change, doesn’t it?
So, how powerful do you feel now?
Not very, right? Do you see how your weight now breaks at the shoulder, how it’s not a long straight line from hand to torso anymore? Do you see how curling your spine and lifting your head literally changes the entire strength of the push? This doesn’t feel natural or comfortable, does it?
What you’ve done here is emulate a handstand position with your upper body. Congratulations! So why do you care?
Any time you are doing a trick on the pole where you are inverted and one hand is low on the pole, and supporting your weight above, whether you’re in split grip, elbow grip, twisted grip, or fluffy puppy grip (I made that up) you are in a one-handed handstand. You actually also want to PUSH into the bottom hand, actively, not just resting your weight in it. Right? So, you want to be in that strong push position so that your weight transfers smoothly all the way down into the pole instead of getting stopped and broken in your shoulder. Up till now, doing all the spins and inverts, you’re being told to keep your shoulders away from your ears. But when you are bearing weight on your hands, with your weight transferring down into them from above (as opposed to just holding on with them), the physics change and so does the engagement you need to find to protect yourself.
So, instead of looking down at the ground, for all the tricks mentioned in the rest of this tutorial, look UP the pole. It keeps your spine aligned, keeps your back from arching, and also allows you to access engagement through your core and your pushing power more easily by enabling that handstand position. It also helps you to see your feet and the relation of your body to the pole and will provide you with valuable visual cues to correct alignment and orientation.
Note that the tighter your shoulders are, the more you are going to actually have to work through your muscles to push super super super hard to get your shoulders into the right position. If they are super super super tight, without intending to, you may actually look more like the “bad” photo. And that’s important to note too, because if that’s the case, then you need to really work on your shoulder mobility because if you try to stack weight on the bottom shoulder in the “bad”, misaligned position, you WILL stress your bottom shoulder tremendously and it will not be healthy or happy.
Ok, now that we’ve gone over that, let’s take it onto the pole.
This is your training wheels move. Before extended butterfly. This is where you start to really drill the principles behind stacking your weight on your bottom arm through the entire shoulder, and the relationship between your hips and leaning out and away from the pole, and also keeping your chest square to the pole while you’re in the position. You can get here from a butterfly, or from an apprentice/jamilla (all these transitions are coming in a video next week), or even from a caterpillar.
So, in an inverted D, your arms are working really hard. You can see my entire armpit and it looks longer and bigger than you’d ever think possible, because I’m stretching my bottom shoulder up and actually hugging my ear with it. My top arm is slightly bent (more on that in a sec). My back is flat and core is super engaged as I push through the bottom shoulder, and my head is looking up the pole. My ankles are there as a safety net to further stabilize and to allow me to find balance facing the pole as I maintain square hips. The further you have your hips dropped away from the pole, the lower your ankles will need to be and the closer together your hands will need to be. It’s geometry. Also, the further apart your arms are, the closer your hips will have to be to the pole. So I would use this as a general guideline:
This is a downward dog in Yoga. Notice my hips are square, my shoulders are square. I’m facing the ground with both hips and shoulders and both my hipbones are in a line at the same height, and so are my shoulders. Everything is balanced and symmetrical. I’m pushing through my shoulders super hard (like we just discussed) and pushing through the floor. This is your goal when you’re doing a D. You want to be totally facing the pole and square through hips and shoulders. Your arms and legs may be a little further apart and the angle may not be exactly the same (every body is a little different, especially if you have a different leg/torso length or strength) but this is about what you shoot for. But you notice one big difference? A D on the pole requires one hand up and one hand down. A downward dog, your hands are right next to each other.
If you’re in an inverted D, and your bottom arm and shoulder are carrying all this weight, and pushing into the ground, what is your top arm really doing? Like, what function does it serve?
Imagine that you have to stand on one foot in a super tall platform heel and are losing your balance (this never happens to pole dancers, ever, right?). You can reach out with one hand to grab a pole and correct yourself. What is that arm doing to help you to stabilize? Is it straight or bent? It’s bent, of course, right? So, think about it. If you keep that arm straight, then you have to mobilize through your shoulder blade and back to use that arm to counterbalance and you have to make sure your torso is working too. You don’t have much range of motion to make movements with the arm to pull or push you back to standing upright and balanced. However- if you keep that arm slightly bent, then you now allow yourself the ability to use the muscles within your entire arm and the elbow, to counter your wobbles by pulling you in towards the pole or pushing the pole away. Now this is another reason why I don’t like people starting with twisted grip: you have both arms straight in a twisted grip, and you are robbing your body, especially when you first learn it, of the ability to counterbalance using as many muscles and joints as possible. You are handicapping yourself.
So when you are doing the D, and any inverted split grip work really, it’s actually preferable that you are able to bend in the upper arm as you get more comfortable with the position. You will also need that bend to be able to manipulate your body’s distance from the pole. Because you aren’t using that hand to hang off of- you are using the arm to stabilize you, and counterbalance the movement in the rest of your body. Let me say that again: you are NOT hanging off the top arm. If you hang off your top arm, you will not be able to keep your shoulders square. You will have chest opening to face the wall, or your arms will be so far apart that you will not have any pushing power in your bottom arm and you will be dangling for dear life from the top hand only.
If you do a D correctly, ALL your weight is actually transferring smoothly into the bottom hand. This is the biggest mental shift you need to make if you are coming into this movement from a butterfly. While you can work this with a straight arm, know that by keeping your arm straight you will be limiting your ability to stabilize and control the movement. In fact, the next step in working on your D is to get comfortable with changing your body’s relationship to the pole by moving in the D and that will require that you get comfy in your bent arm so you can control the movement of your body.
Think about if you were to do a one-handed handstand next to the pole, with your other hand on the pole for support. What is that hand doing? Is it pulling you, actively, and bearing weight? Or is it there for support and counterbalance? It’s the same idea here. If you are finding your hips turn out of square and you are falling out to one side or the other from your D, it’s just about 100% that you are not pushing enough through the bottom arm and you are pulling too much with the top arm.
For the transition to an extended butterfly and also a split grip Ayesha, stay tuned! I’ll be posting it next week. Hope this all helps! <3