Updated: May 21
December 19th, 2020
So when I was a baby poler watching the more advanced polers, Ayesha was the big dream for me. I remember thinking, the day I can do this trick, is the day I can happily give up pole knowing I did good. Haha, of course I became very quickly addicted to pole instead and have no intention of giving it up now!
But still that moment of achieving your first Ayesha is something so special, and something I worked a long time for. I remember being more than strong enough to do it at the time, but for some reason the move just wasn’t clicking! So I stepped back and put my physio hat on and started training for it off the pole too. And just like magic, everything clicked.
So I’m going to now share all my physio knowledge and break down the anatomy of an Ayesha, in the hope you can nail yours too!
It’s easy to get daunted by the Ayesha. And to be honest, there are SOOOO many requirements that need to work together to perform an Ayesha correctly:
180 degrees of shoulder mobility
Good shoulder stability
Overhead pushing and horizontal pulling strength
Strong and mobile elbows and wrists
Abdominal anti-rotation strength
Good hamstring and neural length
Good hip flexion and abdominal flexion strength
And finally good proprioception (body awareness) of where you are in space because everything from our wrists, elbows, shoulders and hips need to stack up correctly!
Let’s break the anatomy of this trick and each of these requirements down step by step:
Shoulder Range of Motion
To Ayesha correctly, our bottom arm requires 180 degrees of true overhead movement, whilst the top arm requires only about 110 degrees. This range of motion required from the bottom arm is a constant in all Ayeshas, regardless of the grip you’re using.
What do I mean by true range? Well we can ‘cheat’ and provide extra shoulder range by flaring our ribcage and using our upper back mobility to make up the 180 degrees of required movement. However to perform an Ayesha correctly no flaring should occur otherwise we risk injury. The easiest way to test if you have 180 degrees of true shoulder mobility is tucked in a ball against a wall with the ribcage flat as shown.
If this movement is lacking, then our body won’t stack correctly and we start to tip sideways in our Ayesha. The tipping point is discussed in greater detail later on. And stay tuned for my part 2 of this Ayesha series to learn how to improve shoulder range of motion and be strong in this movement.
Shoulder Passive and Active Stability
We can effectively think of an Ayesha as an uneven handstand (and hip pike), with all of our weight being dispersed through our arms whilst they perform different movements; one pulling and the other pushing.
For our upper body to withstand the forces of this position, we require joint stability and muscle strength. The shoulder is an inherently unstable joint, with the humeral head (shoulder) placed on the glenoid which is about 1/3rd of its size. For a quick visual, imagine a golf ball sitting on a tee. That’s like our shoulder sitting in the shoulder joint.
There’s a few key things that help keep our joint in this position. The first being the joint capsule which creates this vacuum effect to keep the shoulder in its socket. The second being the ligaments that completely surround the joint. These ligaments are fairly relaxed when our arms are by our side, by as we lift the arm overhead our ligaments become taught and act as a main stabiliser for our shoulder joint. Without our ligaments and joint capsule, our shoulder would become unstable in our Ayesha position and potentially dislocate!
Active Stability/Deep Shoulder Strength
So this then leads us to the third and final factor that allows our body to perform an Ayesha: active shoulder stability overhead. I.e. muscular stability!
Regardless of whether it’s the top or bottom arm, our shoulder stabilising muscles are working their butt off in an Ayesha. Our upper >lower trapezius, rhomboid, levator scapulae, and serratus anterior are busy elevating and stabilising the shoulder blade, whilst the rotator cuff (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis) are busy stabilising the actual shoulder in the socket whilst placed overhead. Phew! So much work being done in our shoulder joint before you even add the pulling or pushing components of the Ayesha!
For most of you, I’ve probably just spoken a foreign language. So check out each of these muscles as shown in the diagram along with their direction of pull shown below.
Overhead Push and Horizontal Pull
Ok, now that we’ve covered the most challenging concept of an Ayesha (shoulder stability), it’s all easy sailing from here. Quite simply, bottom arm needs to push and our top arm needs to pull in an Ayesha, all whilst our shoulder joint is been stabilised as previously discussed.
To be able to effectively push we require maximal effort from our triceps, anterior and middle deltoid, pectoralis major and minor of our bottom arm whilst in an overhead position. Not asking for much right?
FIGURE 7, 8 AND 9, AYESHA PUSHING ARM FRONT, SIDE AND BACK VIEW
The pulling muscles of our top arm are effectively the opposite of the pushing muscles in our bottom arm. Makes sense! And as mentioned earlier, our top arm is placed at maximum 110 degrees of shoulder elevation, so when it pulls, it pulls us horizontally, like a rowing motion.
Now, the different grip positions do slightly change the requirements of our pulling arm by using different wrist and forearm muscles (I’ll chat about this later), but the main shoulder principles stay the same. The pulling muscles we need are our: biceps, middle and posterior deltoid, trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi.
FIGURE 10, 11 AND 12, AYESHA PULLING ARM FRONT, SIDE AND BACK VIEW
Our shoulder muscles play a bit of a juggling act so to speak. Our shoulder blade external rotators provide a sense of deep joint stability to this position, but our latissimus dorsi which acts to pull the top arm also has a second role as an internal rotator. So if we aren’t correctly stabilising the shoulder joint with our external rotators, our lats can take over and pull the shoulder into internal rotation. And as we found out in our twisted grip blogs, internal rotation can be a position of compression and discomfort for some. So it’s important that all muscles are working together in harmony to produce the right result!
Yes, there is way more to this Ayesha than was once thought!
Elbows and Wrists
Our bottom elbow requires 180 degrees of movement in this position, and a strong sense of extension produced by the triceps when pushing. An Ayesha can be done with a slightly bent top arm if required for a greater bicep activation.
Our bottom wrist requires approximately 30 degrees of wrist extension and 20 degrees of ulnar deviation. Wrist pain in an Ayesha isn’t uncommon, but can be slightly amended by modifying the grip position into a neutral wrist position as shown.
Different Ayesha Grips
A change in grip positions on the pole changes what muscles are predominantly being used in the wrist and forearm, and has flow on effect at the shoulder joint.
The key point of importance in this grip is that our forearm is in a supinated position. Our bicep is a particularly powerful supinator of the forearm in addition to being an important pulling muscle of the shoulder, which is why this grip position feels easier than cup grip.
Cup grip places the forearm in a pronation position which is a harder position for our bicep (the main pulling muscle) to activate. We need really strong forearm and back muscles for this position. Which is why this grip can feel so challenging for many! But it does have its upsides; this grip maintains a neutral (non-rotated) position for the wrist, the shoulder isn’t placed into internal rotation unlike twisted grip and it is performed with a slightly bent arm which requires less shoulder range of motion than twisted grip.
Lastly, our twisted grip requires pronation of our forearm, and most importantly internal rotation of the shoulder. Twisted grip is discussed in more detail in these two blogs here and here.
Because the arm is straight and in a closed pack position, our body can have a sense of feeling stronger than usual. However this grip can bring a fake sense of security and if we don’t engage our shoulder correctly in this position, we can risk serious shoulder injury.
FIGURE 15, 16 AND 17, AYESHA STRAIGHT, CUP AND TWISTED GRIP
Where do I look??
Until you are strong enough to start looking around, I would suggest to look up on a diagonal at the pole to keep your neck in line with your body and reduce the risk of neck strain. You can also look up towards the roof with slight neck bend which may help to improve your sense of proprioception and engagement.
Anti-Rotation, abdominal engagement and hip flexion
Well done for getting it this far through the blog! We are finally past the upper body!! Time for the trunk.
When we are finally strong enough to take our legs off in an Ayesha, there can be a sense of our body wanting to cartwheel out of this position towards our bottom arm leg. Well this is where a really strong pull through the top arm (biceps) and good anti-rotation strength come in handy.
Anti-rotation is our abdominals’ ability to resist a motion. So in this case, the ability to resist the desire to cartwheel out of the Ayesha. To resist this pull we need to actively engage the abdominals on the top arm side. This involves active engagement of our obliques. A simple cue to help this is to focus on actively bringing the leg on the side of the top arm down towards the chest via our lower abdominals/hip flexors.
Once you feel comfortable and confident in your Ayesha balance, then you can focus on actively engaging both hip flexors and quads down to the floor.
Other muscles that we use to perform our Ayesha are our hip abductors & external rotators (glutes!). These muscles control how wide a part our legs sit and also the rotation of our hips in space. The distance of the legs from each other however does not make or break our Ayesha.
Am I flexy enough through my back and hamstrings?
Most likely yes! An Ayesha does require a beautiful hip pike and gravity does help slightly in this position to bring the legs down to the chest.
Ideally we should have 135 degrees of hamstring flexibility to perform this trick, but it can certainly be done with less. This movement may be limited by hamstring length, but also and more commonly neural (nerve) mobility.
The nervous system is the body's communication system and controls our ability to speak, move, feel etc. There are around 7 trillion nerves in our body. However some particularly important ones which control our leg movement and sensation are located in the spinal column and travel down the back of our legs. In our Ayesha position, these nerves are placed on stretch. And the more flexible these nerves (and muscles) are, the closer we can bring our legs to the ground in our Ayesha.
The tipping point
The last thing our body needs to perform an Ayesha is really good spatial awareness known as proprioception. Because let’s face it, being upside down can absolutely screw with your mind. But without a good even stack of the body, an Ayesha won’t happen. Any change to the centre of balance when setting up for this trick, will lead to an unsuccessful attempt. So it’s important to keep everything stacked when setting up.
And don’t forget, without good shoulder ROM & strength there will be collapse through the bottom arm shoulder & a drop of the hip to the side.
Once your Ayesha is mastered, you can attempt your pencil. It’s another one of those epic feel good moves! The main differences to note are that the shoulder mobility required of the bottom arm is actually less in this position, so it may feel easier for some. However it’s generally more challenging to hold because the balance point is quite narrow.
All muscle activation stays the same in this position with the exception of the hip flexors which are no longer required. Instead our glutes become our powerhouse muscles here, and bring our hips into a neutral stacked alignment.
Roadmap to Ayesha
Wondering how you work up to your Ayesha? This is the roadmap I recommend (below).
You may notice that I suggest gaining your ayesha via a Jamilla and not a basic Straddle entry. My rationale behind this is this transition requires considerable overhead strength of the bottom arm and proprioception to shift the body from a horizontal position of a Jamilla to the upside down position of a Butterfly. This transition helps to ensure you are actively engaging your shoulders correctly and not hanging out of your top arm. And being safe & confident in this position first significantly builds confidence towards the Ayesha.
Check out these great videos of Mischka below demonstrating each of the stages:
Screening for your Ayesha
Ever wondered "am I ready for my Ayesha???" Well if you are feeling super strong & confident in your jamilla to pike (apprentice to inverted D) transition, then you're probably thinking about levelling up to your Static V!
But how do you know if you're strong enough to handle the demands of this move? We’ve put together this quick & easy pole screening checklist to work on prior to learning your Ayesha with your instructor:
180 degrees of true shoulder flexion
60+ degrees of shoulder internal rotation in supine (90 degrees when overhead)
80+ degrees of forearm pronation
Overhead external rotation strength - break the bar - 3 x 8
Overhead pushing strength - single arm down dog - 3 x 10 each side
Horizontal pulling strength - incline rows - 3 x 8 each side
Anti-rotation strength - elbow plank taps - 2 x 20
And don't forget a strong foundation off the pole will help you nail this move in the safest and quickest way possible. Pass this checklist first and then you know you're in good stead to control your Ayesha.
And there you have it! YOU MADE IT!
The most comprehensive review of the Ayesha going around. Every in and out that you could possibly need, summarised in one epic blog!
I hope you enjoyed nerding out on Ayesha anatomy as much as I did. Feel free to place any questions or comments in the section below or shoot me an email on what anatomy series you would like to see next.
Have you been struggling to nail your Ayesha but not sure why? Or recovering with an injury and it’s getting in the way of your pole?
Online telehealth appointments can be booked with the Pole Physio via our ‘Book Online’ page that can be found here. Assessment and tailored rehabilitation are provided in accordance with best practice and evidence-based treatment to help you unleash your 'poletential'.
Until next time, train safe.
The Pole Physio