There are a lot of reasons why you might want to learn how to do a split. It’s a great deep stretch for the hips and legs, it’s a fun challenge to work towards and — let’s be honest — splits look really cool!
A split is a stretch where your legs extend in opposite directions to create one long line, says Gia Calhoun, a Pilates teacher and vice president at Pilates Anytime, an online Pilates platform. And there are quite a few variations. “You can do a front split where one leg is in front and the other is in back, or a middle split where each leg is stretched out to either side,” Calhoun tells Bustle. “Another variation is a standing split, which starts in a forward fold and then one leg lifts up to the ceiling.”
Splits aren’t a necessary part of a stretch routine, but they do provide a whole host of benefits. A front split stretches the hamstring muscles in the front leg and the hip flexors of the back leg, Calhoun says. You might want to stretch these areas if you spend a lot of time sitting, she says, as it helps lengthen the muscles that can get short and tight.
Then there’s the middle split, which targets the inner thighs and opens up the hips. “A person might want to build up to a split to maintain the mobility of their hips and legs,” she adds. “This will help to avoid injury so you can stay active in your life.” While you shouldn’t expect to be able to do a split right away, Calhoun says it is something you can work up to over the course of a few weeks.
How To Build Up To A Split
Splits require a ton of flexibility in a few key areas, says Austin Martinez, MS, ATC, CSCS, the director of education for StretchLab, a customized assisted stretching service. And that’s why you need to take your time getting there, especially if you aren’t naturally flexible.
“Front splits require most flexibility from the hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, hip flexors, and a few adductor muscles that help with hip flexion,” he tells Bustle. “Side [or middle] splits require more flexibility from the adductors and hip flexors.”
To build up to a front split, Martinez recommends practicing the five stretches listed below. “Start with holding each stretch once [for at least 30 seconds],” he says. “If you notice that the intensity is low, increase to two repetitions.” And because consistency is key when it comes to improving your flexibility, remember to come back to these three times a week.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Start in a kneeling position on the floor with your left knee bent up to 90 degrees. Take a deep breath, squeeze your glutes, and push your hips forward. “This should create a stretch in the front of your right hip,” Martinez says. Repeat on the other side to open up your hip flexors.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
Start in a seated position on the floor. Extend your left leg forward. Bend your right leg and place the sole of the foot on the inside of your left thigh to create the shape of the number 4 with your legs.
Take a deep breath, hinge at your hips, and fall forward while trying not to round your back excessively. According to Martinez, you should feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Repeat on the other side.
Kneeling Adductor Stretch
Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart. Drop down to your right knee and fully extend your left leg out to the side and place your hands in front of you for support. Initiate the stretch by "sitting" into the position, Martinez says, as you try to bring your center of gravity lower to the ground.
You should feel a stretch on the inside of your thigh. Repeat on the other side. Note: This stretch will help you work up to a middle split, if that one’s your goal.
Start in a seated position on the ground, legs bent in front of you with knees out the sides. Keep your left leg where it is and extend your right leg back behind you. Make sure your left knee and hip are aligned. Take a deep breath and fall forward over your left leg to deepen the stretch, Martinez says. You should feel it in the posterior side of the hip. Repeat on the other side.
Start in a seated position on the ground. Bring the soles of your feet together in front of you. Maintain an upright posture in your upper body and use your elbows or hands to gently press your knees down towards the floor. If you would like to intensify the stretch you can pull the heels of the feet towards you,” he says. “You should feel the stretch on the inside of your thigh.”
How To Do A Split
Before you do a split, “make sure the hamstrings are warm and stretched with a forward fold and then work on the hip flexors with a lunge,” Calhoun says. “Once you have stretched both individually, you can begin to combine them to stretch in a split position.” From there, follow Calhoun’s step-by-step guide to maneuvering into a forward split.
- Start in a kneeling position.
- Bring one leg forward.
- Keep the leg as straight as possible without locking it.
- Then place your hands on the floor on the outside of your hips so you can use your arms to begin sliding out into the split.
- Go as far as you can, straightening the back leg as you go.
- Try to have both hip bones facing forward so that you can keep your hips square and aligned.
Mistakes To Avoid
It’s important to focus on proper alignment when doing a split. “You want to have your hips as square as you can so that you can get the full benefit of the stretch,” Calhoun says. You’ll also want to ease into the stretch. If it feels like you’re forcing it, back off to avoid injury.
It goes without saying that splits require a lot of flexibility, so if you never quite get there or if you have to modify the move, that’s OK. You can always keep your front leg bent, or your back leg, or both, Calhoun says. Go slow and keep playing around within the stretch until you find the right version for you.