I want to do the splits.
February 4, 2013 9:53 AM   Subscribe

So let's say that, initially as a joke, you and your husband made a New Year's Resolution to become able to do the splits. You are in your mid-30s, at healthy weights, and you both do moderate exercise almost every day (walking, light jogging, elliptical, what have you), but your flexibility is average. My questions are:

1. Is this an achievable goal?
2. How can we get there?

I have been doing about 20 minutes of pretty strenuous stretching 3-4 times per week for a month, and if I'm making any progress it's slight enough that I'm not sure it's even happening. I think we need to change up the program if we're really going to make this happen. Should I be stretching for longer periods of time, or more often, or both? Is it a better idea to take a more holistic approach (say, yoga), rather than targeting the specific leg areas? Other thoughts?
posted by something something to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
I'm totally dying to know what kind of conversation this was that resulted in a splits resolution. Is this a race type challenge between you two? I like the book Stretching by Bob Anderson but I don't know if following his protocol will result in the ability to do the splits.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:08 AM on February 4, 2013

You may get farther searching for tips on how to eventually achieve this pose by searching on Hanumanasana. (There's all kinds of tips on working into this, modifications, etc. at the bottom of that entry.)

I don't know if it's an achievable goal, but it's one I'm working on, too! Yoga will definitely help, not only by gaining greater flexibility but also in gaining the strength you need to support yourself.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:09 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

this is actually my very weird secret new year's resolution! i have been doing nightly hamstring stretches in this sequence: http://www.fitsugar.com/How-Do-Splits-3551904

here's a quick video with some yoga poses designed to prepare you for practicing the splits: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUqazfbw8QI

i'm also working on center splits, which involves a lot of butterfly stretching (seated, soles of feet pressed together as close to the crotch as you can manage, gently press your knees to the floor).

good luck... keep at it and you'll see progress!
posted by marshmallow peep at 10:23 AM on February 4, 2013

Dynamic stretching is what you want. More specifically, you want Stretching Scientifically.
posted by bfranklin at 10:26 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by purpleclover at 10:26 AM on February 4, 2013

And to address the achievable question: take a chair, and position it with the back facing you. Lift your leg up and sit it on the chair back at 90 degrees from your other leg. If you can do this, you have the hip flexibility to split.
posted by bfranklin at 10:28 AM on February 4, 2013

I know extreme flexibility is all the rage these days, but I have to ask, why?

There is some science out there which suggests that being too flexible results in MORE joint injuries. The reason is kind of intuitive when you think about it, loose flexible muscles allow joints to move to their extremes. While at these extreme positions(such as the full splits) joints are extremely delicate, and the slightest mistake can result in a tear. In addition, joints don't stretch, they accumulate tissue trauma until they tear, so be very careful.

Many fitness experts recommend only being as flexible as your major sporting interests demand, and no more. After all, flexibility is NOT and never has been a measure of fitness.

If you decide this is still something you want to do, buy Pavel's relax into stretch and do a lot of hip / core strengthening work. Leg lifts(and elevated holds) will strengthen your hamstrings / hip flexors, squats and hip-open squats will build quads / hip strength, and above all do not passively let yourself be stretched, but rather make sure you recruit muscles actively as you stretch to ensure proper muscle control.
posted by jalitt at 11:12 AM on February 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

1. Is this an achievable goal?

Yes, I started working on this at the age of 30, and I've been able to get to scissor splits, (but not full side splits, although I stopped working on in to the same degree when some other things changed in my life.) Prior to specifically working on splits, I would usually be about 8" off the ground.

2. How can we get there?

I followed this program of stretches, along with the similar stretches I did in yoga and pole dance classes. This resulted in a mix of dynamic and static stretches. In addition, doing some cardio before you work on flexibility is hugely important to reduce injury. Don't stretch cold muscles.
posted by Kurichina at 11:58 AM on February 4, 2013

Just so you know: some people are built so they can do the splits, and some aren't.

My orthopedist told me this the other day (actually what he said, as he examined me, was "you were probably never able to do the splits, hm?" and I was like HOW DID YOU KNOW.) I was both shocked and relieved. All that childhood embarrassment at gymnastics class... envy of the girls who could do it... resolve and practice and hard work and all that... was utterly worthless, and I could have been spared it if anyone had told me what he did: that doing splits is a function of how your joints and muscles are shaped, not of how hard you work at it.

So good luck, and I hope you aren't built unsplittable like me, but if you are, don't take it personally.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:00 PM on February 4, 2013

Just so you know: some people are built so they can do the splits, and some aren't.

Yeah, I danced for years and stretched obsessively and splits just didn't happen, despite my best efforts. Being able to do a side split really depends on your hip flexibility, something that you can't change that much. But who knows - you might discover that you have amazing joint flexibility.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:40 PM on February 4, 2013

I just wanted to pop in to say that I'm not sure stretching is supposed to be "strenuous." I'm no expert, but when I stretch, I bring myself to the point of tension, breath and let the muscle relax and then go deeper into it. I don't think stretching is about force, but more about slow and gentle.
posted by hannahelastic at 2:33 PM on February 4, 2013

I actually tried this a couple years ago. I got better, but not close. The main thing is to not take even a single day off. My burlesque teacher was right - and I basically got bored. Every day gained was nothing compared with one or two days lost if I didn't practice.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 3:16 PM on February 4, 2013

Heat on the area prior to stretching will allow it to stretch further. Heat for ten minutes- too long will actually cause the muscle to tighten.

If you exhaust the muscles you want to stretch (sit, on the floor/ mat, butt on the floor, back straight, clench your inner thighs against resistance- like chair legs- as hard as you can for 7 seconds, the gently use your hands to passively reposition the legs in a more stretched position, hold for 7 seconds, repeat two more times, then hold your final stretched position for 30 seconds or more- you're targeting your adductors for exhaustion) you can get much better range.

I'm not sure what "strenuous" stretching is but stretching should always, always be slow and gentle. It should never hurt. If you feel pain, stop. Only stretch until you feel a stretch, and no further. Hold stretches 30 seconds or more. Come out of your stretch slowly.

If you strengthen the antagonists to the muscles you want stretched you'll get more range too, so strengthen your hip abductors.

A good registered massage therapist can perform GTO and other techniques to help relax the involved muscles and teach you how to do those techniques at home, further increasing your range.

I can't guarantee that you'll be able to do the splits but id say you have a good shot if you're diligent.

IANAD. IANYD. This is not medical advice. Consult a doctor before implementing this advice.

Good luck!
posted by windykites at 3:33 PM on February 4, 2013

I did ballet for ~10 years(was able to do splits on and off, depending on various things) and my instructors used to tell us to do as much of a split as we could on each side for a minute each night. Don't do this in a vacuum, of course, maybe do it after exercising or at some other time when your muscles are warm and you've already stretched a bit.
posted by fromageball at 3:59 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need to stretch every day, and it shouldn't be "strenuous". More like relaxing on the floor and reading or watching TV.
posted by yohko at 4:54 PM on February 4, 2013

Response by poster: By "strenuous" I just mean I'm trying to push it a little bit. I'm not getting all sweaty and pained or anything.

Thank you for all this awesome input!
posted by something something at 6:10 PM on February 4, 2013

Relax into Stretch by Pavel Tsatsouline. Here's a photo from a guy who started doing the Relax into Stretch program when he was almost 50: six months later. From the description on the website:
"Conventional stretching attempts to literally elongate your tissues, which is dangerous and ineffective. Relax into Stretch simply teaches your muscles to relax into a stretch. If you compare traditional training to a messy hardware reorganization, then Relax into Stretch is an efficient software upgrade.

While stretching tissues may take years, changes in the nervous system are immediate! Your muscles will start noticeably elongating from your first Relax into Stretch practice and within months you will have achieved a level of flexibility uncommon to our species." — Pavel Tsatsouline
posted by Lexica at 6:18 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I want to corroborate claims above that some people are just not built to do the splits. I was kicked off my junior high drill team because even after a full summer of stretching daily I just couldn't do it. Good luck :)
posted by town of cats at 11:11 PM on February 4, 2013

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