Whether you are a dancer or not, there are various reasons for wanting to achieve enough flexibility to do the splits. Maybe it has been a dream you’ve had since you were young and saw a gymnast on television. It could be the one pose in your yoga class you can’t do and are determined to achieve. Doing the splits could be that boost that increases your performance in another sport, or maybe it’s just an impressive move you want to show your friends. Seeing someone in the splits can be intimidating if you’ve never been able to do them yourself, but it is possible with patience and practice.
I was not one of those dancer girls who could do the splits in every direction at the age of five. I was a late teen who couldn’t do the splits when I started taking my dance career more seriously. There were girls next to me in dance class that could split their legs up to their noses while standing upright. Talk about intimidation! Several people even told me that it was too late for me to get my body to do the splits. This only made me work harder at achieving my goal of doing the front splits on both legs. The front splits are easier to achieve than the middle splits at first. With regular stretching of my hamstrings and hips several times a week, I was able to achieve the splits within a couple of months.
Here are 4 stretch combinations I did to achieve the dancer splits. The key is to go slow and steady, holding each stretch longer than usual.
1. Pyramid into Lunge Stretch– Start off in the pyramid pose to stretch the hamstrings and back of the knees. Make sure your hips are totally square to get the most out of this first stretch. Keeping your legs as straight as possible, reach your hands down towards the ground without changing the shape of your hips. If you are not yet flexible enough to touch the ground, you may use props such as yoga blocks to rest your hands higher than ground level. Otherwise, you can place your hands on the front of your leg and work your way down as you get more flexible. Next, lunge onto the front leg with your arms straight and hands on the ground inside of your leg. Sink your weight into hips with the the back leg straight and balancing on the ball of that foot. This gets deep into your straight leg’s hip flexor. If you feel comfortable, you can go deeper and place your forearms on the ground, stretching the hamstring of the front leg even more.
2. Frog Stretch– This is an intense groin, inner thigh and hip stretch. Start seated with your legs bent to the sides and the inside of your knees on the ground. Level 1 is going onto all fours with your arms straight. You must have your thighs turned out so that the pressure on your knees pulls your inner thighs apart. Make sure that your knees are turned out enough so that they are in line with your hips, if not slightly further back. It won’t work if the knees are higher than your hips. Level 2 is going down onto your forearms for a deeper stretch. Level 3 is laying your entire body onto the ground. This is extremely difficult if you do not naturally have turned out hips so take it very slow. If it becomes too much pressure on the knees, ease up. The goal is to go only as far as you can hold the stretch. If you cannot hold the stretch for more than a few seconds because it is too painful, that’s a key that you have to take it back a notch. Discomfort is normal, but pain is not.
3. Tree Stretch– this is a traditional Pilates stretch for the hamstrings. Sitting upright on the floor with the legs stretched out in front, hold one leg up to your chest using your forearm. Link your other arm onto the forearm to really pull that thigh in as close as possible. From there, try to straighten the leg without letting it get away from your body. Resist the urge to round the back. Do this three times before keeping the leg straight up. Walk up to your ankle and flex and point the foot three times. Flex the foot and grab the toe to pull the leg in towards your head. Now you may round the back to get the leg in as close as possible. There are different variations of this exercise after this, but I like to get an extra inner thigh stretch by grabbing the leg from the inside heel and stretching it out to the side. Keep the back straight when doing this and put your free hand on the ground beside you to help stabilize your hips. If you are not yet flexible enough to do the side tree, skip it and go to the glut stretch. Cross the ankle over the thigh of the straight leg and reach forward to stretch the glute.
4. Side Leg Stretch into the Splits– Once you have completed several stretch sessions and achieved more flexibility in your legs and hips, try this combination that ends up in a full front split. Lie on your side with your back lined up with the back edge of the mat and your legs in the front corner. With your legs turned out, bend your top leg, pulling the knee into your side. Like the tree stretch, hold onto your leg with one arm to really pull that leg in towards your body. From there, straighten and bend it three times, using your arm to hold the leg in for a deep stretch. After the third time, bring your hand to your ankle and pull the leg in as close as possible to your head. Keeping it close to your face, place the foot on the mat in front of you and use both arms on the mat to press yourself up into a full front split. This is a very advanced move and should only be done once you have practiced the other stretches regularly for a few weeks.
Breathe throughout each stretch and remember that achieving dancer splits takes patience and persistence. It is possible!
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Video: Crystal Chin