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Stretching for the Splits

I really want to increase my flexibility, and I’ve read all the articles on t-mag about stretching, but I realized that stretching was only one form of flexibility. I was wondering how I would go about stretching (and or training, or more), so that I would be able to do the splits one day. I just watched an old Flex Wheeler video, and was amazed. Can anybody help me in how I would go about working toward eventually doing the splits. (I know this is a gay thread, and people are gonna rip on me, but I really want to get that flexible.) Thanks a lot.

for sidesplitz, strech your hip flexors and hamstrings ALOT before you try to do them, it makes it easier. When actually doing the splitz, split as far as you can and support yourself with your hands on iether side of your body. keep both legs straight even if you cant go all the way down, thats key, expecially for the hip to get more flexible. for middles, i find its best just to sit in them for a while, or possibly stretch your inner thigh musles first. Just make sure you stretch every day and it should come.

First, a personal story:

When I was about 11, I sprained my ankle. Boy was I pissed! I was so mad at my body for failing me like that that for the next year I would stretch for half an hour or more every morning. My goal was to make sure that I had enough range of motion to ensure that I never sprained, strained, or pulled anything again. So I just did basic stretches on the floor every day, loosening up my wrists, ankles, hips, quads and hamstrings. The upshot of this is that today, I can still drop into a split cold any time of the day. Which honestly is not really all that useful, although during the years when I practiced taekwondo it did allow me to do some cool kicks. I have however been successful in avoiding ankle sprains … I’ve also avoided the pulled groins and hamstrings that have sidelined a lot of my friends.

I think the most important thing in developing flexibility is to commit time to it. You have to relax and be willing to spend a year on it. Just be sure to work it diligently every day when you are starting out. Much the same as in weight training, you don’t need fancy movements when you are beginning, just get used to doing the basics on a regular basis. Use stretches you already know or can find explained on the web. I could also try to write up the ones I have used over the years if anyone is really interested. Of course, if you’d like to make things unnecessarily complicated, I hear good things about the books by Pavel Tsatsouline (in regard to stretching, anyway).
http://www.flexibilitysuccess.com/

If you’re interested in classes with others, most gymnastics classes seem to have good stretching programs. Yoga, martial arts, or pilates can also be helpful, although your mileage may vary as a lot is dependent upon individual instructors. For developing flexibility on your own time with minimum cost and public embarrassment, however, morning stretches at home fit the bill just fine. Also, mini-stretches throughout the day should become a part of your routine. I usually perform several quick stretches throughout the day for hamstrings, for example.

Incidentally, much the way fat loss and muscle gain are difficult to achieve simultaneously, you may find that it’s hard to increase strength and flexibility at the same time. For example, I would not even consider pushing the limits of my hamstring stretch in the days after a heavy workout, and conversely static stretching prior to lifting can impede maximal strength. Overall you may wish to structure your periodization to include cycles that emphasize flexibility development while limiting the volume and intensity of other training.

Best of luck!

What’s wrong with wanting to do the splits? PNF is a very effective way to increase your stretch. Which splits do you want to do? What I call martial arts splits where one leg is infront of you and the other behind or dead splits where both legs are to the side? In either case keep both knees locked. The martial arts splits are easier IMHO but if you want to do the dead splits then start by keeping your toes pointing up. This is alot easier on the knees (keep them locked!) also you may want to wear socks if you are stretching on a smooth floor or put some plastic bags under your feet if you are stretching on a carpet. Good luck!

Al

Pavel’s book “Relax Into Stretch” definitely shows how to achieve this. I have done many of the stretches in the book and found them to be very effective.

FridgeRaider is right about devoting time to it.

When I was actively involved in Karate there used to be a guy who went in one hour early every class. He was just about the least felxible man in the Dojo. After almost one year of one extra hour per class of stretching (he may have done more on off days-I do not know), he became the most flexible student in class!

It’s all about how much time you want to commit to the activity.

Thanks a lot guys, I really appreciate it.

Tomas Kurtz book Stretching Scientifically describes reaching the splits stretch also and it should be picked up easy enough for a few bucks …

Just also remember that there are tradeoffs. Being extremely flexible has definite disadvantages, such as joint instability and reduced strength. That may be a high price to pay just for the mental satisfaction of being able to do something “cool.” People also injure themselves all the time by trying to stretch too much too soon. Some things to think about.

Posting this to the forum for Stacked.

Here are the basic stretches I’ve used to develop flexibility for splits (both forward and side):

CALVES

I use something like a pushup position, using only one leg at a time. We’ll start with the left. Cross your right foot over your left ankle, so your weight is supported on your hands and the ball of your left foot. Shift your weight backwards, stretching the left calf, keeping a straight knee. Repeat on the right.

QUADS/PSOAS

Stand on right leg, grab your left ankle with your foot behind your butt. You’ve probably already done something like this as a quad stretch. To stretch the hip flexors, instead of trying to achieve maximum flexion at the knee joint, focus on drawing the knee backwards and upwards so that you feel the stretch at the front of your hip. Repeat on the other side.

HAMSTRINGS

Starting out, I just used a basic sit-and-reach movement. Sit on the floor, with legs straight out in front. Gradually lean forward stretching the hamstrings. The key to this movement is to isolate the stretch to the hamstrings, rather than bending at the waist and rounding the lower back. Focus on rolling your pelvis forwards, while keeping your back straight.

You may not move nearly as far as you could by rounding the back, but you should feel the stretch strongly in the hamstrings. You may also flex the ankles (bending the toes back toward the body) to increase tension in the hamstring. In these movements, you may naturally use your hands to support some of your weight to reduce the tension, or grab your ankles (or calves) and pull yourself forward to increase the tension.

V-STRETCH (adductors and hamstrings)

Sitting on the floor as in the sit-and reach, spread your legs as wide as possible into a V. Keep the toes and knees facing upwards. You should feel the tension in your inner thigh. As the flexibility of your inner thigh increases you’ll be able to push your hips farther and farther forwards, widening the V.

Forward lean:

While in the v-stretch position (at a comfortable level of tension), work on leaning your body forwards, attempting to lay your torso flat on the ground between your legs. As in the sit-and-reach, this lean should come from rolling your pelvis forwards while keeping your back straight. As you lean forwards, try to keep your legs in the same position, with toes and knees pointed towards the ceiling. They will roll inward slightly as you rotate your pelvis, but try to keep them turned upright to feel a stretch at the hip.

Lean to one leg:

Starting from the V position, rotate your torso at the waist so that you are facing in line with your extended left leg. Lean down along your leg, as if trying to touch the center of your chest to the knee. As with the other leaning movements, don’t round your back to get your chest down. Keep the back straight, and feel the stretch in the hip. When doing this movement, try not to let your other leg move. Repeat on the other side.

Side-bend to one leg:

From the V position again, facing forwards, bend sideways down along the left leg. This time you’ll keep your chest facing forwards, and try to touch your left shoulder to your left knee. Try to grab your left foot with your right hand by reaching it over your head (you’ll probably feel a big stretch along the right hand side of your torso as you do this). Repeat by leaning to the right side.

After you’ve been doing this for a while, if your inner thigh flexibility allows you to approach 180 degrees or so in the V (when you can almost get your legs straight out to the side) you can work on rotating into a split where your toes and knees point forwards instead of upwards. You’ll have to roll your pelvis forwards to do this.

= = = = =

There is a helpful illustration of alignment of the pelvis for side splits here:
http://www.stadion.com/column_stretch2.html
Thomas Kurz’s articles at stadion.com have good information about stretching and strength conditioning for martial arts.
http://www.stadion.com/column.html

There’s also a discussion of specific stretches for splits here:
http://www.cmcrossroads.com/bradapp/docs/rec/stretching/stretching_7.html
It’s part of a longer book on stretching and flexibility by Brad Appleton.
http://www.cmcrossroads.com/bradapp/docs/rec/stretching/

I’ve only discussed basic stretches geared towards doing splits. As part of a regular stretching program, you should also work on the range of motion of your shoulders, wrists and back.

Good luck!

Thank you guys. A ton of good info.

Andersons- I see what you are saying, but if my main goal was to get bigger, stronger, and faster, but also more flexible, what would you recommend? I know I said I wanted to do the splits, but after reading what you said, about the joint instablity and the decreased strength, it got me thinking. Thanks.

              Stacked

Stacked,
With that in mind, I’d recommend Ian King’s “Lazy Man’s Guide…”
T-Mag Issue 89 for static stretching. It also provides pretty simple illustrations of the associated stretches. The link below is also a pretty comprehenive guide to stetching techniques.
http://galway.informatik.uni-kl.de/staff/weidmann/pages/stretch/stretching_toc.html

old dogg

Stacked, I like Pavel Tsatsouline’s (sp?) book “Relax Into Stretch,” which contains an effective method for improving flexibility as well as some creative stretches for overlooked bodyparts. The book is overpriced and the jokes sometimes annoy me, but I have to say I’ve had good results with it.

Secondly, I believe in doing a variety of movements to improve flexibility, focusing on the movements where you really need more ROM. Don’t just increase ROM for the heck of it. For example, if your hamstrings are overly tight, your squat form and therefore strength will suffer. But if you pick just ONE static hamstring stretch, such as a seated one-leg stretch, your functional hamstring ROM in the squat may not improve. Stretches are pretty specific; ROM in different hamstring stretches are poorly correlated.

I believe that the most effective stretches, like the most effective lifts, involve more than one joint. For example, the yoga position “downward facing dog” (or something like that) stretches the whole posterior chain. I’ve had much better results with downward facing dog than with separately stretching lats, spinal erectors, glutes, hams, and calves.

Thirdly, you MUST be patient. Don’t try to increase ROM too quickly – even if you can. This is asking for injury because your brain isn’t used to controlling the new ROM. Try to increase your ROM by only a little at each session until it’s optimal for strength.

Lastly, and most importantly, learn to pay attention to your body when you stretch. You may notice that even though you’re following a “hamstring” stretch prescription, you don’t really feel it in your hamstrings, but instead in your lower back or calves. This situation happened to me recently after a back injury; hamstring stretches weren’t stretching my hams because my calves were so tight. You have to pay attention to what your receptors are telling you. If you pay attention to how your body works, there’s no known limit to how much bigger, faster, and stronger you can get.