Do middle splits make you feel like you want to puke and die? You are not alone! So many people struggle with this very intense, emotional stretch. The problem comes from tight, stressed out inner thighs and hip flexors. They don’t understand why you would do such a scary stretch so they will fight you like crazy and scream bloody murder until you stop. When your muscles are fighting you like this, it makes you feel like your legs might pop off and you want to puke and die!
The only way to make middle splits better is to help those hip flexors/adductors feel safe so they stop screaming. Here are a few tips to help you on your quest:
1. Don’t force it! Nothing will make your muscles scream harder then having someone come and push on them or having you force them open when they are so scared. This will make them fight more and can result in a pulled muscle or damage to your connective tissue that will be difficult to heal.
2. Strengthen the other hip muscles. Whenever a muscle is having a hard time relaxing you can help it feel safer by developing the surrounding muscles. If your hip flexors/adductors are overworked, strengthen your hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings), abductors (outer hip), and external rotators (outer butt). This will reduce muscle imbalances in the hips for more relaxation and range of motion.
3. Strengthen your hip flexors and adductors. It may sound counter-intuitive but often strengthening a stressed-out muscle will help it feel more confident. A confident muscle has an easier time relaxing in a stretch.
4. Do all your other splits first. Working on your front splits and straddle will help to open up and engage your hips so that when you get to your middle splits you are more prepared.
5. Engage your external rotator muscles (outer butt) while you are in your splits: Most people have difficulty accessing their full middle splits with the legs in parallel because of the way that the bones of the hips are formed. Turning out the legs moves the head of the femur (leg bone) out of the way of the pelvic bones so that your leg can go deeper into the stretch without crunching or pinching. It has the added advantage of helping the inner thighs relax (see step 2). If you find yourself so deep into your middle split that you can’t figure out how to engage your external rotators, try not going so deep yet or try step 6.*
6. Work on one leg at a time. If the very notion of attempting a middle split makes you want to break into a cold sweat, try just stretching one leg at a time. Keep one knee bent in a frog stretch to help support your weight as you slide the other leg out. This can be a great way to work on finding your external rotation, checking your alignment, and calming your body before going for the full split. If this still feels like too much, lie on your back with your butt against the wall and let your legs fall open, working on your external rotation from here until you get more confident.
7. Breathe. Seriously, it is so much harder to stay calm and get your muscles to feel safe if you are holding your breath, gasping, moaning, or groaning. Breath is one thing you have control over so force your body to breathe slowly, in and out, to a nice slow count of five. This sends a message to your muscles that you are calm and everything is ok.
Above all, keep saying nice things to your muscles and know that they are not fighting you because they are mean or spiteful but just because they are scared. Your ability to be nice to them, stay calm, support them, and go slow and steady will help them work with you instead of against you!
*A great way to learn how to engage your external rotators it to sit in pike stretch and squeeze your heels together while pulling your big toes as far apart from each other as possible until you feel the work in the outside of your butt muscles. Then use those muscles to slowly slide your legs open to straddle, going as far as you can. Repeat until those outer butt muscles start to sing!