Finding your Front Splits: (part 1)

The Splits. Everyone wants them, but how do we get them?

Attaining your split doesn’t mean your hamstrings finally opened up and said “ok, I’ll relax and let you go there”. Front splits are more than just increasing your hamstring or hip flexor length. It’s also providing your nervous system the reassurance that you will not be injured if you go deeper in the stretch.

There is also more to it than just sitting and statically stretching. Static stretching alone is not enough, usually we also need to do some of soft-tissue work: self massage i.e. foam rolling, maybe mobility work around the joint and even some strengthening of the muscles.

However, this post is about static stretching, because it is needed, it’s just not the only thing needed. (see here, here, here, here, and here for other ways of increasing flexibility and mobility)

Where to Begin?

No stretching session should begin with your body being cold. What I mean by this is, don’t get on the floor after a long day (of potentially a lot of sitting) and decide to start your stretch training. Take 10-15 minutes to warm your body up before you stretch.

There are several warm-up movements you could do, from range of motion (ROM) movements, to jogging in place or jumping jacks and even foam rolling. If not sure what to do a nice general start is pick some combo of these options and you’ll be fine.

You want your warm up to be enough that you raised your body temperature and that you may even feel a bit sweaty or warm enough that you peeled a layer off. Warm ups also help fire the neurological pathways from your brain to your muscles-this is good since you want to do something active with your muscles. Warm muscles are prepared for the work ahead!

Quick note, stretch only as far as it is slightly uncomfortable. You shouldn’t be in pain. When stretching you want to make sure you can still breath in the stretch and not be super tensing other muscles in response to the uncomfortableness of the stretch you are doing. Plus the exhale can help relax your muscles, thus getting a little deeper in the stretch.

static stretches!

The Back Leg

A kneeling lunge is a good hip flexor stretch.

To ensure proper alignment:

  • Square your hips-meaning if your hip bones are head lights on a car they are pointing straight out in front of you and are not turned to one side or the other.
  • Tuck your pelvis under like a dog does when they bring their tail between their legs and squeeze your butt! This lengthens the hip flexors before even moving forward into the lunge and for some people this might be enough. This also helps keep the femur centered in your hip socket so it doesn’t push on the hip ligaments.
  • Have a nice line from the top of your head through your shoulders, hips and back knee. You may want a cushion under your back knee depending if you are on a surface that is hard.
  • Front knee and ankle should be inline with the front hip and the back knee and foot should be inline with the back hip. This is for good alignment and ease of balance.
  • Your back foot should be in the same line as the back knee and it shouldn’t be sickled.
  • Take care not to create a huge arch in your lower back, this increases the load on your low back, but this also pushes the head of your femur into the front of the joint capsule of your hip socket, potentially loosening your joint capsule and hip ligaments and setting yourself up for possible joint pain.
  • Your front knee is directly over the ankle or just a bit behind the front ankle.

**EXTRAS**

  •  To increase the stretch, contract your hamstring to lift your foot off the ground and pull your heel towards your butt.  Important: Be sure sure to grab the back foot with the same hand as the foot this ensures good alignment in the knee. If you grab with the opposite hand you are more likely pulling your heel towards the opposite hip which creates torque in your knee ligaments and is not good for your ligaments since they are there to stabilize your knee.
  • If, when you contract your hamstring your back foot is far from your reach, prop your foot up on a yoga block, couch cushion or bench. This will help you find the additional stretch.
  • Another option is to place your hands on the floor in front of you, just to the inside of your front foot. **Remember to squeeze your butt!!**
  • To deepen the stretch you can place the forearms on a block or the floor, but be sure that to place your forearms on the floor you do not change the angle of your hips. If your hips lift up and back out of the forward position that they were in in the previous stretch when you go to place your forearms on a block or the floor, then your back is most likely rounding (read: poor posture and smushing your lungs) and you have lost the purpose of the stretch. If you begin to round to try to go lower in the stretch, then try using a block or two or going back up to hands and stay with the stretch there for a bit longer.

The Front Leg

The other half of your split flexibility is the back portion of your front leg. A front split’s mobility and flexibility comes a majority from the front leg.

  • Staying in a kneeling position. Return to an upright position, where your head, shoulders, hips and back knee are in a line on top of one another.
  • Square your hips and straighten the front leg.
    • Alignment tip: make sure the hip, knee and foot of the front leg are all in one line and the leg isn’t off to the side a bit.
    • Also have a slight bend in the front leg to help pull the pelvis out of being rounded under.
  • Hinging from the hips, fold forward over the front leg with a long neutral spine.
    •  SUPER IMPORTANT: Make sure your spine isn’t shaped like a C,  but is neutral, as pictured above. To ensure a neutral spine you may need blocks under your hands to bring your chest more upright to maintain a neutral spine. If blocks are not enough, place a chair or stool near you to help maintain form and balance. This also means your pelvis is neutral and is going to stretch your hamstrings more than if your pelvis is rounded under. This is because the hamstrings connect to the bottom of the pelvis and on to your lower leg bones. Moving the bottom of your pelvis away from the back of the lower leg bones is what is needed to adequately be stretching the hamstrings and a rounded under pelvis doesn’t achieve that positioning. Also why we bend the front knee a little.
      • If you feel like your pelvis is rounding under a lot, hip hinge less. Go back to when you could maintain neutral pelvis and move slower through the hip hinge forward to find the spot just before you lose neutral pelvis.
    • Be aware of where your head/neck is in relation to the rest of your spine. You want it to be a continuation of your spine. Ideally your head will be looking forward of where ever your chest is also facing.

Try Full Splits Stretch

  • While keeping your hips square, slide your front leg a little forward into your front split. This may require blocks under your hands to be able to keep your spine in neutral/torso upright.
  • If you are supporting yourself on blocks, check in to make sure your shoulders are not scrunched up into your ears. If your shoulders are raised, relax them away from your ears.
  • Contract the quad of the front leg and the butt check of the back leg to help stabilize the joints involved in the stretch.
    • These contractions of the opposing muscles also ensure that you are not hyperextending/over stretching your knee and hip joints. This is when you’re stretch the ligaments-this we don’t want to do.
  • Feel free to point and flex the ankle here as well.

Timing is Important

If you are new to a stretching practice/regimen than begin small. Hold each stretch for 30-45 seconds. Muscles length begins to change once you can hold a stretch for 2 minutes, but you don’t want to jump into that, that would be like never working out and going to the gym and squatting double your weight, you wouldn’t do that and expect to 1) be able to walk the next day or 2) not become injured. So go slow and begin a practice you will enjoy. Slowly increase the length of time you hold each stretch.

Remember, the stretch should feel slightly uncomfortable, not excruciating, like your leg is going to pop out of your hip socket. The discomfort should be something you can tolerate and still breath and not tense other muscles.

What Else?

As I mentioned earlier, it’s more than just static stretching. To make changes you’ll need to incorporate, soft tissue work, dynamic stretching, PNF, mobility work, breath work and even strengthening exercises.

Dynamic stretches, PNF and soft tissue work I’ll touch base on in part 2 of this post.

Lastly, research says that being hydrated and eat dark leafy greens can help with flexibility. Seems good to me, I mean our body is mostly water and if we are dehydrated how can we expect to stretch our tissue: muscles, fascia, skin, anywhere if they are dried out. Eating dark leafy greens which are full of antioxidants also seems like a good thing for all parts of our body, so go grab some kale!

Here’s a quick video of the progression

Happy stretching!

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1 thought on “Finding your Front Splits: (part 1)

  1. Pingback: Finding your Front Splits (part 2) – Redefine Strength & Fitness

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