Some tips for your center splitsCoaching tips
There are many challenges when it comes to increasing flexibility. Some people can set their sights on improving their splits and boom! Two months later it’s flat. Unfortunately this is not the norm.
This article will be about center or straddle splits. There are actually two varieties we work with.
One where you sit on your bum with your legs as far apart as possible, sitting up straight.
The other is laying flat on your stomach using the weight of the body to push the legs flat. This is often called pancake.
During all the exercises and leg stretches it is super important to be sitting square, stomach (abs) engaged. Also, try to hold all leg stretches for at least 1 minute. If you are not holding these stretches for an appropriate amount of time you will not see much progress. Your muscle fights against the stretch sometimes up to 30 seconds so holding it is very important.
In our sometimes, repetitive exercises, we get lazy and stop putting thought into them, it’s normal, but you should always be aware of how things feel and what your body is doing. When these exercises become easier we also tend to stop doing them. Just because there is no longer a “discomfort” doesn’t mean they are not beneficial so you should consider returning to exercises that previously worked but you’ve not done in a while.
When we get stuck, sometimes finding and separating individual muscles is necessary and it takes a great deal of concentration to know what to relax and what to squeeze.
Try out this active exercise as part of your warmup or if your legs are feeling uncomfortable during a session
You will need a chair with sturdy legs (and you might want to put a towel or something soft around the two front legs)
- Sit upright with your legs out in front of you and the chairs’ legs inside your own, with your ankles touching the chair
- Squeeze really hard into the chair for 10 seconds relax and repeat three times
- Put your ankles inside of the chair and squeeze outwards into the legs for 10 seconds. Relax and repeat three times
This exercise is a good one to start with before stretching or substitute it in-between other exercises. In some cases active stretching can be very successful as it activates and warms that area up, as well as strengthening. Repeating stretches that you feel are effective for you is a great idea at the beginning and the end of a session.
Often in our splits journey we feel stuck and the split just won't go anywhere. I got to thinking, in center splits we always seem to focus on the inner thigh but what if it is the outer hip that is being resistant? So for the IT-band, lateral quad area the exercise that Paige, a student from Michigan is demonstrating can be effective. Having the wall helps keep the hip stacked over the knee.
This next example is of my student Lily. Her front splits are flat however we have been battling the center. Sometimes progress is slow but who cares as long as there is progress? Try to breathe and be patient. It is not worth pushing so hard you get injured which will slow down your progress further.
Something truly important I have discovered and was never taught (though some may disagree with me) is that in general when we are stretching it is important to just relax. The idea is to lengthen the muscle so how can we lengthen something that is being squeezed? We must always find a balance between strength and flexibility. If your body is properly strong, relaxing in flexible positions keeps you protected. Obviously if it is super uncomfortable you back off.
This stretch is very effective but be sure to keep both bum bones on the floor when stretching over. Do both sides and forward, no arching. After you do both sides return to the regular center split, arms above the head and lower yourself with a flat back as low as you can go without touching the floor 10 times. Hold the 10th one for 10 seconds. Be sure to keep your knees to the ceiling.
Here Gia is demonstrating a great hip opener that works in both directions. (I learned this from Alixa Sutton and want to give credit to her for teaching me so much when she came to my studio. She truly helped revamp my contortion program years ago.)
Focus on each leg individually and again, stomach pulled to your spine, square hips throughout all these exercises.
Some additional exercises to try out
Using props to stay square is helpful if you are struggling.
The stretch below demonstrated by Oliva above is also excellent for center splits as it works on those “stuck” hips. See if you can lightly move your hips side to side in this position without moving your ribs or anything else.
Sit in a chair, round your back and hold on to the chair while in butterfly position, since you're holding on you can relax your inner thighs and hips.
Be persistent and I can almost guarantee you will see results. We are all built differently and you will not always have the same results as your friend. Take pictures and keep track of your own progress.