CAN EVERYONE DO THE SPLITS?
Flexibility is determined mainly by your age, gender and training. Generally speaking, a young person is more flexible than an older one. Maybe you remember your own childhood when you used to be able to touch the floor with fully stretched legs or you observe your toddler reaching for a toy while doing a sideways split right now. Unfortunately most of us lose this flexibility when growing older. Again generally speaking, women usually display more flexibility than men. The good news is that the more active a person is, the more likely he or she will be more flexible.
In his book “Relax into Stretch” fitness coach Pavel Tsatsouline actually states that most healthy adults can learn to do splits, even if they think they are not flexible or are out of shape. Some chronic medical conditions can make splits impossible or dangerous and you should definitely never force your body into a split since you can end up with injuries like sprains and strains. But your current limit of motion is a self-imposed point. It is the fear of getting injured which prevents most of us from dropping down into a split. So we need to think that we can do it without feeling any pain and our mind and body will work together to make it happen.
These are the exercises I consider most effective for someone who wants to do a split. Make sure you warm up with 10 minutes of cardio such as jogging, using a stationary bike or shadow boxing before you begin your flexibility training. Listen to some relaxing music, wear comfortable clothes and make sure you are not feeling cold when practicing. Stop stretching immediately if you feel any kind of pain. Try to repeat every move 5 to 10 times a day.
1) SINGLE LEG HAMSTRING STRETCH: Lie on the floor by an open doorway with your back flat and the leg you don’t want to stretch straight out in line with your body. Slide the foot of the leg you want to stretch up the wall until it’s straight. If this is just too tight and painful, rather than keeping your knee bent (which targets the glutes more than the hamstrings), shuffle your body away from the wall so there is less of a bend at the hip joint. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
2) BUTTERFLY STRETCH: Sit on the floor and bend your knees to the sides, pressing the soles of your feet together. Pull your abdominals gently inward and lean forward from your hips. Grasp your feet with your hands and carefully pull yourself a small way farther forward. You should feel the stretch spread throughout your inner thighs, hips and lower back. Increase the stretch by carefully pressing your thighs toward the floor as you hold the position for 30 seconds.
3) LUNGE STRETCH: Get into lunge position, one foot forward, knee bent, the foot behind you and your shin on the ground. Slowly shift your weight forward and keep your arms at your sides and your back straight. You should feel your thighs, hips and glutes muscles tightening. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
4) LIZARD STRETCH: Come into a low lunge position with your right knee bent, knee aligned with ankle, and your left leg extended behind you. Keep your back knee off the ground or lowered to the ground, allowing it to gently rest on the floor. Then bring both hands to the inner side of your front foot. If you feel comfortable, lower down onto both forearms. Keep the chin lifted and the chest open. Actively lift the inner left thigh and press the left heel back while reaching the chest forward. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
5) PIGEON STRETCH: Start on all fours in a squared table pose. Slide the right knee forward toward your right hand and your left leg back as far as your hips will allow. Your body will move into a one-legged plank pose. Next, bring your right knee toward your right wrist and your ankle toward your left wrist, trying to get your shin as parallel to the front of your mat as possible. Once you feel comfortable, walk your fingertips out in front of your leg and lower your chest to the floor. Hold again for 30 seconds.
6) SPLIT STRETCH: Finally, you should also practice dropping into the actual split. Slide your front foot forward, the back foot backwards and slowly lower yourself to the ground, using your hands for balance as you get lower. Do it gradually to avoid injury. If you feel pain, stop and try the split another time. Keep your hips squared and your toes straight.