I really, really almost could not resist writing this article’s headline as “Spilt Survival Guide”. Don’t bet surprised: listen to three of my stories that I believe capture all the challenges of mastering, performing, and imagining this flexibility miracle – front and side splits. All stories are based on facts. Names are changed, though.
About four years ago, my client, Kate booked a one-on-one class with me, and of course, we started with “where we are now” and “where we want to be” in fitness and Pilates and healthy wellbeing terminology. We discussed it all nicely but when I mentioned something about stretching, Kate freaked out, literally.
Surprised to my Pilates core, I asked what the reason was, and she told me that prior to making an appointment with me she had a trial class in gymnastics for adults. And what went wrong? – Well, it was all very good, until the trainer – a former professional gymnast – asked all students to sit on the floor with legs as wide as possible apart and lean forward…
The next moment Kate recalled was that all of a sudden that trainer girl jumped on her back, pulling a poor stretching newbie down to the floor while shouting “You can do it, you, Badass!!” Needless to say, they never met again.
So, the first item in your Split Survival Kit should be this: chose your trainer carefully.
And I really mean this. Whether you decide to master your splits in the gym, pole dance studio, or through an online video course, pay attention to who your mentor will be. Decent credentials are good, but the trainer’s general competence, approach and, well, common sense, are even better.
Ok, let’s keep the scary stories rolling. As a trainer, you always have students who do really well. And one of them was Bridgitte. At the end of every of our stretching classes, she gracefully sat into the splits, and it was SO beautiful and heart-melting! But the pitfall of the splits is that once you get into them, you should continue practicing every day or so.
Watch this: on the corporate party, Bridgitte decided to participate in some improvisational talent show and guess what – to perform a split. Applause. Unfortunately, because of lack of prior warm-up, she pulled an inner thigh muscle and could not perform even a basic stretching routine for more than six months after that party.
Two-in-one tip to go to your Split Survival Kit: first, never ever underestimate the importance of proper warm up before doing splits; second, you have to commit to stretching as a daily practice not only to see results, but also not to lose them the very next day.
The final story underscores the statement above while having a unique charming twist.
Jane, my client and friend for years, came back from long winter holidays at a ski resort, tried to perform the splits and, perplexed by not achieving the results she used to, asked me “Why is it so easy to eat and so hard stretch for the splits?” That was a time for me to get puzzled 🙂
And I am happy to outline the next, third, note for Your Split Survival Guide: be prepared, stretching process may cause you some discomfort.
Actually, it is a politically approved way to say “NO PAIN NO GAIN,” but please be aware that stretching should never cause strong pain or discomfort – that’s a sure-fire way to overdo it.
To cheer you up, here is an awesome quote about split stretching from a science writer and former massage therapist: “Increased flexibility may simply be an increased tolerance for the discomfort of excessive muscle elongation” by Paul Ingraham, Quite a Stretch
So, if there should be only three things you take away from this article before jumping into the split routine, let it be those: choose your mentor properly, always remember about warm up and be patient. I think that is worth a separate visual:
Now it’s time to turn our basic survival kit to the ultimate one. We will do so by adding some fancy scientific staff and one sure-fire way to cut your long-time way to mastering splits in a half. Right before you are ready to lose your motivation and break your split New Year resolution 🙂
Three questions bother many of my clients much enough for me to look for scientifically-based answers. “Why is it so hard?” And “How fast is fast (or “When can I finally get there?!!)” and “Which type of stretching exercises is the best?”
Step by step.
1. Why is stretching into the splits is so hard?
To answer that, we studied a fabulous work by Dr. Phil Page, a researcher, clinician, author, and content expert, “Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation”
In that article, Dr. Phil Page diligently explains the origins of tightness, which limits one’s range of motion. Two major causes that decrease our range of motion are joint restraints and muscular stiffness. One of the ways muscles can become shortened is through postural adaptation (I read it like “poor postural habits and sedentary lifestyle”). Well, it is very believable: with aging, we move around less frequently, sit long hours in front of our computers, so our body becomes stiffer unless we prevent this process with daily flexibility routine.
2. Which type of stretching exercises is the best?
Basically, there are two major types of stretching technique: static stretching – when you hold a specific stretching position for some period of time (those exercises are often named by crazy instructors, I am included, as “rest positions”); and dynamic stretching, when you move your arm or leg through its full range of motion and pre-contraction stretching, or its ballistic type – when you stretch with “bouncing.” By the way, the last type, with bouncing, may cause some serious injuries; so, it is wise to stick to other types of stretching exercises.
“The rule of thumb is “strength before stretch”. It is imperative to prevent injury that the strength support the stretch. So for the splits, I would go to the hips for strength and get the heat in the muscles before attempting the stretch,” – says Mabelle Bastien, True Pilates Maui studio Owner.
3. How fast is fast?
It depends on so many factors (gender, flexibility level, age, the intensity of all other workouts, just to name a few), that you really shouldn’t worry about any specific terms. But if you press me to say exact timeframe, I would say, somewhere in between 2 and 6 months of regular training.
As promised, there is a way to shorten your way to the splits in half. The name of this miracle is balanced body training, in other words, Pilates (some say that yoga does this trick too).
The truth is, a good split takes the flexibility and strength of the entire body, not only your legs. If you are really serious about splits, include one hour a week of Pilates and yoga. These practices will elongate your spine, open hip flexors, increase your flexibility in hips, quads, and hamstrings, and strengthen your core (back) to make splits come naturally to your body.
Front splits series is a combination of strength, flexibility and control (as wise man once said).
And that is what exactly Pilates is doing to your body.
Take a look at The One Leg Circle – classical Pilates exercise, a must-have for every stretching-for-results philosophy adherent.
The benefits: provides a dynamic stretch for the hamstring, adductor, and abductor’s muscles and improves the mobility of hip joints.
The performance technique:
- Start on a mat, lying flat on back with arms by side.
- Straighten one leg on the mat with the foot flexed and the other leg – up to the ceiling.
- Perform circle with the top leg, moving it across the body, down, and around. Reverse the circle in the other direction, and repeat on the other leg.
Tips and Modifications:
- Engage your abdominal and back muscles to control the movement: keep your abdominals in, and be sure to leave both hips on the mat without wiggling.
- Keep your upper body relaxed, and do not hold your breath.
- Aim for pelvic stability and total body control, rather than to huge circle. Start with relatively small leg circle, and increase a range of motion only when the pelvis can stay still on the mat.
- For starters, go with the supporting leg bent with the foot on the floor.
- To experience a bigger range of motion without losing control on your movement, use an elastic band to help support the lifted leg while circling.
“Splits require the total body to work together like an orchestra so do not focus on just the legs. Including some Pilates exercises on the reformer and the caddilac would help to free up and condition the joints for splits, prevent pelvic floor form dumping, and develop strength, length and mobility in the hips. Being a stickler on form will minimize the potential for injury,”- says Lencola Green, Founder at California Pilates
Have you tried the splits so far? Any challenges on your way there? Let’s discuss below!