If you’re struggling with getting all the way down in those elusive front-splits, there are two areas of flexibility that you’ll want to pay special attention to: the hamstrings and the hip flexors.
Spending some time working to increase your range of motion in each of these areas individually will help you achieve your ultimate goal when put to use in the split.
The most common way to stretch those hip flexors is the lunge. However, there are a few other ways to get at this muscle group. The standing lunge and two other possibilities are detailed in the video by Deborah Vogel (The Body Series) below. I’ve also found that several Yoga poses, when done correctly, are wonderful for stretching the hip flexors, particularly the Warrior, Triangle, and Pigeon poses. As in dance, a knowledgeable Yoga instructor will guide your form and help you get the most out of these positions.
How To Stretch The Hamstrings
You’ll often see dancers stretching their hamstrings in one of two ways, standing with their leg on the barre or lying down on their back and holding onto one leg. If you already have a good amount of hamstring flexibility, these are great. However, for beginners or those with tight hamstrings it’s often too easy to “cheat” in this position, tilting (or tucking) the pelvis and making use of flexibility in the lower back to make up for what’s lacking in the hamstrings.
If you can sit up straight and tall on your “sitz” bones (ischial tuberosities) with your legs straight out in front of you, you’re doing well in the hamstring department. If you are leaning back into the pelvis, then the hamstrings need some work and those other stretches may not be as effective yet.
Instead of using the barre, try putting one heel on a stool or chair in front of you. If you can stand up straight and tall in this position without tilting the pelvis, then try to lean forward slightly. Not with the shoulders. Instead, think of deepening the crease in your hip by tilting the entire spine (head to tailbone) forward as if on an axis with a flat back. Imagine your sits bones as flashlights and think of pointing the beams at a point behind you on the floor rather than directly under your bottom.
Gradually you might work up to a higher surface. For a little extra height try adding encyclopedias (wow, if you have these in your house) or those unused phone books before they go in the recycling bin.
There are some additional stretching techniques available in the Effective Stretching DVD (right). These are great for dancers and non-dancers alike and systematically cover the whole body, not just the hips.
And check out these other Dance Advantage articles for more on splits and stretching:
Other things may influence and hinder your flexibility and your ability to achieve front-splits. However, work on these daily. Be gentle to avoid injury. Don’t push or force the positions. Give yourself time – it won’t happen overnight and maybe not even over weeks or months. But keep it up and you’ll likely see improvement in your splits.
What are some other stretches you’ve found to be helpful as you work to achieve your front splits?