Improve your flexibility to do the splits, do the splits to improve your fitness
What should you know and do before trying splits?
If you would like to improve your fitness, flexibility is a lot more important than you might think. Very often people focus more on building strength and neglect stretching which is a very big mistake. Working on your lexibility may help you avoid injuries evolving from muscle stiffness and open up new capabilities in other sport activities as you need to be flexible if you would like to be very good at any kind of sport. Although you don’t need to be able to do the splits if you aren’t dancer, gymnast or figure skater, it won’t hurt if you start your adventure with them as one of the best ways to improve your leg and hip flexibility is to train for good-old-fashioned splits. And even though it may seem a challenge for the majority of people, it isn’t impossible. You just need a good training suitable to your physical output conditions on which depends the time of gaining the result and obey a few major rules.
A bit of theory concerning splits
What is split exactly? The definition says that it is a physical position of leg requiring high level of flexibility (especially of the hamstrings and iliopsoas muscles) in which they are in line with each other and extended in opposite directions forming an angle of approximately 180 degrees.
There are two general forms of splits: side splits and front splits. The first ones are performed by extending the legs to the left and right of the torso (they are called also straddle splits, box splits or center splits). When it comes to front splits, they are performed by extending one leg forward of, and the other leg to the rear of the trunk.
Apart from these two major forms, there are also many variations like: oversplit (with the angle between legs bigger than 180 degrees); suspended split (in which body is supported only by the feet); split leap (executed fter leaping or jumping); standing split (legs lines are oriented upright either to the side or to the front); twisting split (executed by skipping form front to side split); and martial arts split (front split in which the back leg is turned so the inside edge of the foot rests on the floor).
How to learn to do the splits? Problems you may encounter
As it has been already said, first, you need to get to know your health conditions and body limits before you start training. The time of getting the result will depend on your natural level of flexibility, health status and age. It would be also good if you see your doctor before training, because some illnesses such as arthritis may prevent you from doing splits or at least make it dangerous. When it comes to planning training, the best is systematic practice.
After taking into consideration your body limits you may decide how long will your training lasts- several weeks or several months. Of course, it’s possible to learn splits faster (provided that you are fit enough by the start), but it’s simply not recommended by specialists.
Two major rules before you learn to do the splits
First rule says you shouldn’t force yourself into the splits. It’s really a bad idea because your muscle stretched too far before they’re ready can just snap. First of all, you should avoid injuries!
Rule number two says, you should get your body nice and warm first in order to improve your flexibility and increase range of motion in your joints which will also help you minimize the risk of injury and contribute to making your muscles pliable and ready to stretch to their maximum capacity.
What’s more, experts recommend three warm-up stretches which can help you to prepare to the main training. These are: Standing hamstring stretch, Forward fold and Low lunge. Let’s discuss the first one- standing hamstring stretch. It will stretch the back of your leg and hip flexors. You are supposed to place your right foot on top of a bench, directly in front of your right hip, then place your left foot directly under your left hip. You should remember to
keep your chest lifted, slightly bend forward at the hips until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your hamstring and then hold for 20 seconds.
When it comes to Forward fold, it will help you to open up the backs of your legs. How to do it? You are supposed to stand with feet parallel and a bit wider than your hips, spine and tall and a soft bend in your knees. Then, put up your butt toward the air and bring your chest as close to your legs as you can and the crown of your head toward the floor. You need to extend with each inhale by reaching for the floor; rest and settle into the pose with each
exhale. Maintain for 20 seconds and repeat two to three times.
As far as low lunge is concerned, it will help you to stretch the back of your thigh, the hamstrings. How to do it? You are supposed to stand with your feet hip- width apart. Then, step forwards with your right foot and stoop forward from the waist pressing your fingertips to the mat on each part of your right foot, bend your knees a bit and step back with your second leg into a low lunge. Put your left shin on the floor and sink your hips low holding for 20 seconds.
Training part one- 4 stretches to open up your hips
After we’ve discussed warm-up stretches, we can move to training. Let’s focus on stretches which will open up your hips. Get ready to change in your hips mobility! These stretches are specified by mobilizing parts of your body which are mostly problematic. As it has been already said, being systematic is the best form of training. But what else you need to remember is working on the edge of discomfort (but really carefully!) on the following exercises until you start feeling alterations in your hip mobility. Then, you can reduce the frequency.
Here you’ve got a few propositions for exercises which will help you to open up your hips:
Kneeling Lunge A, Frog, Pancake, Cossack Squat. To do the first one you need to keep a flattened lumbar spine and preserve the front leg foot out far enough in order to enable your knee be in a comfortable position while you shift forward. You need also to make three rounds : 10 contractions followed by a hold of 15-45 seconds.
When it comes to Frog, you need to maintain your hips and shoulders square and strengthen back knee and lengthen heel backwards keeping upper body still stable. Then, engage hip flexors by pulling your knee into the floor. And again, there are 3 rounds within 10 contractions followed by a hold of 15-45 seconds.
The last open up hips stretching exercise- Cossack Squat requires maintaining your body straight with the toes of your straight leg pointing up. Then, you must push your hips forward to maintain yourself straight and push your heel down to the floor attempting to get up.
Stretches to help you move better
Kneeling Lunge A, Hamstrings Variations and Kneeling Lunge with Foot Fold. These are exercises which contribute to improvement of your flexibility in the hamstrings and hip flexors. You may need it if you do exercises requiring extension of the legs. What’s more these exercises will help you develop freedom of movement and enable you learn faster any kind of sport you like.
How to do the split?
What if you have gone through your training and you feel ready to get started split? How to do it in practice? You are supposed to extend your front leg and transfer your weight back from a low lunge position. Now, you need to try slipping your back leg back behind you. Bring down your body towards the ground until the moment you feel stretch in your hamstring. When you come there stay upright with your chest held and your shoulders placed over your hips. Remember to keep looking straight. It will protect you from collapsing forward. Ideal split is when your leg will become completely straight.
For impatient. How to do the splits in one day?
As it has been mentioned before, the best approach to learn to do the split requires patience and should last at least several weeks. If you aren’t flexible from nature, learning splits in one day may cause you some problems. But if you’re good with near split you can try this even if you’re quite stiff. You must follow three major steps. The first step is logic- you need to start training early in the morning in order to prepare yourself. And you can’t force yourself. Keep in your mind that your muscle need some time- at least all day long. Of course, you can’t forget about mundane matters like comfortable and flexible clothes and breakfast before. Second step will involve finding a location and proper stretching. Find a big and quiet space where you will be able to focus on what’s important in your training and … get down to work! Be decisive but delicate and careful during stretching. Try to concentrate on all muscles of your legs. It’s highly recommended to stretch slowly step by step starting from your back, obliques, shoulders and the rest of the body. Don’t forget to stretch every part in order to avoid injuries. At this stage, when you will ready to do it, try to move your legs forward, more than right angle. Hold your back straight and try to move your hands out alongside the ground right in front of you. Rock your hips cautiously and slowly spread your legs to 90- degree angle and then, try to slowly spread them to 180 degrees.
No matter if you would like to do the split in one day or in one month, the paramount thing is to repeat these exercises and actions patiently and systematically until your body will be ready.