Let’s talk about hyperextension for a moment. This is something that comes naturally for me, and some of us can easily fall into this pattern if we aren’t aware of what it is and how it feels. I see it a lot in the yoga community due to deep pose holding. It wasn’t until I heard Scott Sonnon’s explanation of mechanical vs physiological lock that something clicked; I realized I was placing too much pressure on my elbows.
Physiological lock is another term for hyperextension. This involves over extending a hinge joint (commonly the knees or elbows) so the actual bones bear the weight. Hyperextension is easy to spot; the elbow or knee will visually bow out beyond the straight lock line. You will feel a lot of pressure in the joint complex when you do it.
Mechanical lock involves actively spreading the weight or load throughout the surrounding muscles to take pressure off the joint. This should be our goal if we want our joints to last. The famous saying “many hands (or muscles rather) make light work,” certainly applies. If you find that you have a tendency to hyperextend, the following reset can help you work your way out of it and engrain new patterns that turn your muscles on and make the load lighter.
- Slightly bend the hyperextending joint
- Externally rotate the joint clockwise with feet (if it’s the knees) or hands (if it’s the elbows) rooted into the ground. If it’s the elbows, from all 4s make sure shoulders are stacked directly over wrists.
- Press the ground away to create more space while maintaining that subtle bend from step 1.
It all comes down to finding that sweet spot of balance between extension and activation. In general, the less you dump into your joints and bones, the more longevity you’ll experience. Our sedentary lifestyle requires us to consciously train the ability to channel into the muscles until it becomes second nature. Hopefully this awareness will help you spot and prevent hyperextension so you can express your optimal strength and alignment.