How NOT to Train to do a Split

The most common mistakes I see when training the splits, and what to do instead for sustainable, effective results.

It’s fun to know how to do a split. Even if you aren’t a performer who wants the skill for the stage it’s a great party trick! Training for splits can also be a good way to develop flexibility fitness in the hips and legs.

There is no shortage of online advice about how to achieve this coveted pose. You can find advice from experts (who are usually already very flexible) about how to quickly get your bits on the floor with a few magical stretches.

Having spent the last 15 years coaching people into the splits I see some glaring problems with much of the splits training advice that is making aspiring splitters’ lives harder than they need to be.

Are you in the LA area and looking for coaching on effective ways to improve splits and backbends? I have a 4-week Intro to Contortion Class series starting this Saturday in DTLA. Details here.

How NOT to Train for the Splits: Timeline

Don’t go for speed: There are a million tutorials promising to get you into a split in record time. Some of them even give a specific timeline! BEWARE! There is no way that any coach of any kind can give you a specific timeline or guarantee any result, even if they know you personally.

It is even more insane if this promise is made on a random YouTube video to you, an unknown stranger.

Everyone responds differently to flexibility training based on our unique physiology, our nervous system, our training schedule, our stress levels, our nutrition and hydration, our other activities, and a plethora of other factors that are different to quantify. No good coach would ever guarantee a flat split, much less promise it in some arbitrary amount of time.

You are much better off taking on splits training as an open-ended project with the overall goal of increasing your flexibility and hip health. How long it will take is how long it will take to do it right.

Rushing flexibility is a great way to get injured, which will slow you down a whole lot more.

How NOT to Train for the Splits: Erratic Training

The least productive (and most dangerous) way to train flexibility is to do zero training all week and, when you finally have some time, spend two hours pushing as hard as you can into your stretches.

The majority of flexibility training that we do, especially initially, involves a re-programming of our nervous system. This can only done with consistency.

I know that we all have crazy lives and busy schedules that may not allow for an hour, or even 30 minutes of stretching every day. But you are better off doing 10 minutes of stretching every day than 60 minutes of stretching once a week. I advise clients to pick the stretches that they need most and just do those at least 3-5 days a week.

If you want to go for longer when you have time just keep in mind that pushing super hard on those days is much more likely to injure you than to increase your flexibility.

How NOT to Train for the Splits: Sitting in Splits

It may seem counter-intuitive but sitting in splits is not a very productive way to train to be able to do the splits.

Sitting in splits is the trick, not the training tool.

There are a few issues with sitting in splits:

  1. Splits are a gravity-assisted passive stretch so it is difficult to scale back the amount of pressure on your joints

  2. Passive stretches don’t build joint stability so if you are prone to hip issues (or have hypermobile joints) sitting in passive stretches for long periods can increase the chance of short- or long-term damage

  3. Splits require flexibility in multiple muscles and joints. When we are sitting in splits we cannot focus on each area individually so we don’t get the most targeted, optimal flexibility in each area

  4. Most people don’t have the strength to do a proper square split when they first start training. If you allow the pelvis to rotate and the back to arch into an open split you may get closer to the ground but you are exacerbating muscle imbalances in the hips that puts you at risk of injury in the long term.

For this reason it is much better to focus on a combination of active, dynamic, and passive flexibility training for the various muscles that are needed in a split. There is nothing terrible about trying out the split, it just isn’t useful as a training tool and should not take up the bulk of your training time.

If you are looking for routines and exercises to help you work towards the splits, please check out my splits playlist on youtube or get even more content in my Flexibility Video Club workout library.

And if you have any questions please feel free to respond to this email. I read everything that comes in!

Happy Bendings…

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