When was the last time you did the splits? If your answer is “never,” don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone.
Asking your body to perform this impressive looking, but often painful task may seem like a good idea at first.
But in reality, what looks like a fairly straightforward exercise — especially when you watch an 8-year-old do it — can actually end up being one of the most challenging and physically demanding moves you ever do.
Before you attempt this feat of flexibility, check out these expert training tips and step-by-step instructions on how to do the splits.
The splits are one of the most demanding exercises to learn. There are several advanced versions of the splits, but most people start with one of two types: the front splits and side splits (also known as straddle splits).
In general, focusing on stretching and strengthening the hip flexors, adductors, glutes, hamstring, and groin muscles will help you prep for doing the splits.
Here are three stretches that can help prepare your body for doing the splits.
Runner’s stretch or half-seated splits
The runner’s stretch, also known as half-seated splits in yoga, makes an appearance on most warmup and cooldown routines.
Corey Brueckner, yoga boutique manager at Life Time Bridgewater, explains that this move both opens the hip flexors and increases hamstring flexibility.
- Start in a low lunge position with your right foot forward and your hands on the outside of the foot to provide support.
- Bring your left knee down to the ground.
- While walking your hands back, reach your hips back toward your left heel and lengthen the right leg.
- Hold this pose for 20 to 30 seconds, or longer if comfortable. Don’t forget to breathe.
- Switch legs and repeat.
Standing forward pose
This stretch is an excellent way to increase hamstring flexibility.
- Stand up straight with your feet together and arms by your sides. In yoga, this is called Mountain Pose.
- Reach your arms up over your head while looking up.
- With arms reaching high, exhale, engage your core, and swan dive over your legs with a flat back.
- Depending on flexibility, try to place your hands on the floor slightly in front of you or beside your feet. Make sure all parts of your feet are touching the ground.
- Stay here and breathe.
- Hold this pose for 20 to 30 seconds, or longer if comfortable.
Half Pigeon Pose
One of Brueckner’s favorite stretches to prep for the splits is a yoga move called Half Pigeon Pose that helps open the hips and increase mobility.
- Start in Downward-Facing Dog. From here, bring your right foot toward your right wrist, and bring your knee and shin to the mat.
- Straighten the left leg back.
- Check that the right knee is in line with your right hip. Flex this foot.
- Walk your hands forward.
- Lower your forehead to the mat while squaring your hips toward the mat.
- Hold this pose for 20 to 30 seconds, or longer if comfortable.
Be sure to warm up your body first
Now that you’re ready to give the splits a try, it’s time to go over the steps. But before you drop down to the ground, make sure and do a proper warmup to build some heat and mobility.
Whether it’s 10 minutes of yoga or a brisk walk, Brueckner says increasing overall body temperature will help with mobility.
Sami Ahmed, DPT, physical therapist for The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, shares his steps for doing the side splits.
- Sit in a pike position with your back against the wall and the torso as elongated as possible, ensuring there’s no rotation in your pelvis or hips.
- Check to make sure your lower and mid-back are also flat against the wall.
- Slowly open your legs as wide as you can while using your hands to maintain support directly in front of you.
With time, the goal is to be able to stretch to each leg while maintaining an elongated torso. If you choose to lean forward for a deeper stretch, Ahmed says to make sure you maintain an upright torso and avoid bending over by arching your mid-back.
Brueckner shares her steps for doing the front splits.
- Start in a low lunge position with the back knee down.
- Place hands on either side of the hips with the front foot flat to start.
- Back toes should be pointed. The top of your foot should rest on the ground.
- Begin to glide the front foot forward while pointing the toes, and draw the right foot back while easing the hips toward the mat.
- For stability and tension relief, feel free to use your arms.
- Once you feel a deep stretch in the front leg hamstring and hip flexors, stop and hold this position.
Remember, the goal is sensation not pain. Bouncing causes unnecessary muscle and joint stress, so stay away from bouncing.
Once you learn how to safely execute the splits, the benefits are endless. According to Ahmed, the splits can increase hip mobility and flexibility, leading to improved functional mobility.
“Anyone from an athlete who wants to improve their performance to an older adult looking to maintain their range of motion can find value in performing these movements,” he said.
Ahmed adds that practicing the straddle split can directly correlate to the maximum depth of a front squat, as well as other daily movements, such as getting in and out of a car or squatting down to pick up a child.
The front split can increase strength when executing a lunge, which Ahmed says can help runners elongate their stride length and help dancers improve their overall technique.
Since both the front splits and side splits require adequate flexibility and mobility in the lower body, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or a physical therapist if you have any concerns, pain, or injuries related to your hips, hamstrings, glutes, or lower back.
When doing front or side splits, make sure to engage your core muscles throughout the entire movement.
Your core muscles, which include the muscles surrounding the trunk and lumbar spine, can help stabilize your upper body and reduce the risk of injury to your lower back, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Avoid bouncing, overstretching, or having a partner push you further into the splits. This exercise is meant to be performed slow and in control. You should only stretch until you feel a good stretch, never pain.
The amount of time it typically takes to work up to doing the splits varies since everyone is vastly different. However, “Nearly anyone can perform some sort of seated straddle ‘split’ stretch,” explained Brueckner.
As to how long it will take, Ahmed says it depends on previous movement history. For example, he says athletes such as dancers, gymnasts, or martial artists who have conditioned their bodies to be accustomed to the extreme range of motion can master the splits in 4 to 6 weeks.
Even if you’re not very flexible, you can still learn to do the splits.
“I feel strongly that most people can eventually achieve these movements, or at the very minimum, increase their hip flexibility and range of motion as long as they consistently practice,” said Ahmed.
However, on the high end, he does point out that it may take years of active stretching in order to do so.
Doing the splits isn’t out of reach as long as you’re willing to be patient and work on your flexibility before trying the full move.
By incorporating split-style stretches into your overall workout routine, you not only prepare your body for attempting this move, but you also benefit from the added flexibility and range of motion exercises.