How to Safely Learn the Splits

by Athletico4 Comments

Coaches, parents and athletes often ask me, “What is the best way to learn or improve upon doing the splits?”  Gymnasts, cheerleaders and dancers are often the population that is interested, but lately this has become a great topic for baseball players, hurdlers and hockey players.  Below are three great stretches to assist in gaining flexibility to improve your splits with some good reminders on how to stay safe while stretching.

Three Stretches for the Splits

  1. Place one foot in front into a lunge, keeping your toes pointed forward and your knee above your ankle.  The other leg will be straight behind you, with your kneecap and top of your foot pointed downward.  Place your hands, or if you can your elbows, on the inside of your front ankle.  Hold for 20-30 seconds.
  2. Sit back on your back heel.  Now your front leg should be straight in front of you.  Bend forward at the waist, not the low back, to maximize the stretch.  Hold for 20-30 seconds.
  3. Come back up to your starting lunge.  Now with your hand, reach back, grab your back foot or ankle, and pull it up towards your buttocks.  You may want to perform this stretch with a mat or a kneepad under your back knee.  Hold for 20-30 seconds.

Repeat the above three steps on each leg two to three times.  Then slide into your splits and hold 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times on each side.

Things to Always Remember When Trying to Improve Your Flexibility

  1. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat each stretch two to three times.
  2. Perform stretches on both sides to maintain a balanced flexibility.
  3. Focus on good mechanics.  For instance, keep your hips square, not turning to one side or the other.  Keep your back leg turned under.  Keep your knee above your ankle and your toes pointed forward.
  4. Allow yourself a quick warm up before static stretching.

Things to Avoid When Learning the Splits

  1. Avoid performing over-splits, placing your front foot onto an elevated surface, until you have your regular splits all the way on the ground.
  2. Avoid pushing your athletes further into the splits.
  3. Avoid bouncing in any stretching position.

Many reasons exist as to why these three avoidances are important.  The main reason is to prevent injury.  Any of the strategies above may cause an athlete to brace, meaning the muscles guard against moving further.  The muscles will refuse to move further because they are trying to protect the joints.  Pushing too fast, far and hard when the muscles are not ready leads to injury.  Stretch only until you feel a good stretch, not pain.

In the instance you are injured and do need to regain your splits, you may wish to use the “pillow technique.”  Stack pillows on top of each other and do the splits over the pillows.  Only allow yourself to go as low as possible without pain.  Once this pillow height becomes easy and painless, remove a pillow.  Repeat this over the course of a few weeks until you can safely and painlessly perform your splits again.

If you have a current injury, however, be sure to talk with your physician or physical therapist. Athletico has many clinicians that specialize in gymnastics, cheer, dance, baseball, hockey, etc. Find a therapist who meets your specific needs and can help you rehab safely back to your desired sport.

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Watch the video below to safely learn the splits.

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4 Comments

  1. Jesse Cromwell

    Good for all people, not just athletes, especially older people. Yoga, Pilates and massage are also good.

  2. Michael Lopez

    Hi, I got in an argument today with a teacher as I often do while playing the devils advocate on things. We landed on the topic of hypermobility in joints. In massage school, we are learning that in the case of the coxal joint, there should be about 45 degrees of abduction and at this point (as shown to me on the class skeleton) the femur begins to rub up against the acetabular labrum. My argument then was that if done progressively and cautiously, in time the hyaline cartilage around the bones rubbing together might gain some resilience and be able to withstand the friction. He then proceeded to mention the avascular nature of the hyaline cartilage which in his understanding renders the tissue incapable of adaptation. Aside from just potential hyaline cartilage damage and a concurrent bone on bone situation (osteoarthritis?) he stated ligament damage as another potential effect as again they are avascular and in his mind have little ability to adapt. Would you please shed some light on this issue for me?

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