Will I ever learn to do the splits?
March 17, 2008 2:29 PM   Subscribe

I want to be able to do the splits. Please tell me if this is realistic, and if so, the best way to go about doing it.

I would like to be able to do the splits both frontways and sideways, and I set a goal for myself of the end of summer. Can this be done?

Relevant facts:
- 25 y/o female, pretty good shape generally
- very inflexible hips. Right now I can only get to about a 125 degree angle, and even that kind of hurts.
- old hip injury, healed now but I can still feel it sometimes, especially when I run uphill.

I planned to start getting as far down as possible every day and holding it for 30 or 60 seconds. Is that enough? Too much? Will I hurt myself? I've been doing this for a couple of days and my groin and hips are definitely sore. Will this go away?

posted by ohio to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Take ballet classes. I used to take one that was "stretch and pirouette". Maybe some exist that are simply stretch. That's how I got flexible. Granted I was 8 and I am Chinese and I think we have some crazy carney gene that makes us double jointed and flexible if they get to us young.

Pilates can help too.
posted by spec80 at 2:40 PM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

What kind of hip injury?
posted by decathecting at 2:40 PM on March 17, 2008

i am not a gymnast. or a doctor for that matter. i did train capoeira for a while, tho.

i think this is possible, but i think it will take you longer than a few months to get the extreme flexibility you desire. i don't think you will hurt yourself stretching unless you start to experience pain while doing it - that should be a pretty good sign to ease up.
posted by gnutron at 2:43 PM on March 17, 2008

Yoga has the splits too. I think it's mostly a hamstring thing, not so much a hip thing.

I'm a dude. I could never get even close. I have super flexible hips but terrible hamstrings.

I think this would take a while. Like, maybe a couple of years. But it's definitely doable.

You might try traditional mysore ashtanga yoga. But they aren't going to let you just do the hips. They are going beat the crap out of you in every direction.
posted by sully75 at 2:50 PM on March 17, 2008

I don't know anything about the hip injury, but barring that, this is doable and SO AWESOME once you've got it.
posted by sweetkid at 2:53 PM on March 17, 2008

Best answer: Also check out the working towards the splits section of the stretching FAQ.

And read the whole thing first.
posted by Arthur Dent at 3:10 PM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Is there a particular reason you want to do the splits?

I'm sure it is doable, it just takes time. But it's worth thinking about whether this is a good goal. The splits are great if you're interested in gymnastics or cheerleading, or some other sport that requires extreme flexibility. But in terms of general health, being flexible enough to do the splits is really not necessary, and may even be damaging. When I was in physical therapy my therapist related a story of a woman who kept coming in for therapy because she insisted on being able to do the splits. She'd had multiple hip problems, but kept at it. The way he explained it, there's a happy medium to flexibility--you want to be flexible enough to be mobile and able to adjust to stressors, but if you become very, very flexible you lose stability around your joints and risk injury. So if you've already had hip issues, this might not be the greatest idea.
posted by schroedinger at 3:13 PM on March 17, 2008

I first did the spilts due to Taek-Won-Do in my teens. I realised later the reason it wasn't as difficult as others seemed to have it is that I have soft connective tissue, (not good in the long run, believe me!).

I can still do the splits but only when I have warmed up adequately and only when some pretty bizarre positions are warranted (don't ask!)
posted by Wilder at 3:24 PM on March 17, 2008

To clarify about ballet: You really want to find a class that focuses more on barre work then the open studio stuff, if that helps in your search.
posted by spec80 at 3:43 PM on March 17, 2008

You probably don't want to hear this, but I'm chiming on in the side of those who suggest re-evaluating this goal. As someone now in my 3o's who used to be able to do splits and other feats, I think it is more important to for instance to be able to do 10 pushups and 5 pullups than the splits. Those numbers seem laughably low compared to what I could do in my teens and early twenties, but at some point I guess I got other priorities and fitness fell by the wayside. I'm not saying flexibility isn't important--it is, but I would not go for extreme flexibility at the expense of neglecting basic strengths.
posted by markhu at 5:12 PM on March 17, 2008

I would be very surprised if splits were harmful. I think you have to keep the anecdotes in the perspective - anything can harm you if you do it improperly. Splits are very good, they can be done and they are beneficial, but not to the exclusion of other exercise. For reference, in some schools of Yoga (if not all), the most important exercise is the headstand. Second most important is shoulder stand; third is the one where you sit down and lean ahead over your legs. Splits are among 50 or so exercises that come along after these three. So, from the point of view of Yoga practice, your question is similar to someone wishing to learn to make splits on one leg only, while doing absolutely nothing with the second leg. Splits are just one exercise of a large set. However, I think you're approaching them wrong: it's better to move slightly in and out of splits rather then settle in and hold for 30-60 seconds. Naturally, your legs will be sore, that goes without saying, until you're completely done with them, but perhaps you overdid it at first and they're TOO sore. My friend can do splits, he's male, and he exercised for a few years, but not very regularly. But he can only do forward splits. I used to be able to do them when I was about 10yo. (or at least I was really really close). I'm working on them now, I started not too long ago.
posted by rainy at 8:50 PM on March 17, 2008

I can do a split with my left leg forward. I'm 46, have been doing them for years. I could never do the sideways (second position ballet) split.

Some stretches that will help. Stand with your legs together and straight, bend over from the waist keeping your back flat (not hunched up). Hang on to a chair or something to help stabilize yourself, your ultimate goal is to put your head on your knees. Take it slow, bend over to a point of being uncomfortable, hold this position for a count of 5, do not bounce your upper body to get closer to the knees. Rep of 5 maybe 5 times a day, you'll have your split in no time.
posted by JujuB at 9:33 PM on March 17, 2008

Rainy, how are splits beneficial in a way that having good flexibility (without being able to do the splits) isn't?
posted by schroedinger at 10:56 AM on March 18, 2008

Best answer: I am a gymnastics coach, and I'm 24. Trust me, it's possible.

I have my splits down, but I stretch with my students every day. I lost all my flexibility before I started coaching, but managed to get my splits back after a few months after stretching every day.

Arthur Dent's link above is decent - the butterfly stretch is a great one. I have a few other recommendations, though. Before you start out, sit on the floor with your legs in a wide V (seated straddle). Reach both arms towards one foot and hold it there for 20-30 seconds. Work towards touching your nose to your leg. Repeat for the other leg, then stretch your arms out in front of you and work towards laying down on the floor between your legs. Even with stretching every day, I cannot do a full split without this stretch.

If that isn't enough, try stretching in a low lunge(like in this photo). Make sure your front foot is in front of your knee (and your knee isn't popping out in front of your foot). I tell my students to try to form a triangle with their legs by pushing their middle towards the floor as far as they can. After that, a hamstring stretch is always a good idea. To get the most out of that stretch, lean forward and try to touch your nose to your knee.

As for the split itself, I'll explain it the same way I explain it to the kids at my gym. For starters, your belly button should face your front foot (and not be pointed out to the side). This is an easy way to remember to keep your hips squared. The toes on your front foot should not be touching the floor on either side, but should be off the floor. Your back knee needs to be rolled under and completely touching the floor (a yoga mat or blanket helps with that - mine always hurts if the floor is too hard). Lastly, if you put your hands on the floor on each side of your ankle, you'll get your split down faster (increases the stretch).

Man, I'm starting to think I spend too much time at the gym...
posted by denimflavored at 7:29 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

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