In Finding your Front Splits (part 1) I wrote about how to improve your split flexibility with various static stretches. In part 2, I am going to write about some other ways you can improve your front split flexibility. My focus for this blog post will be on:
- Dynamic Stretching: moving through the range of motion
- Self Myofascial release: using a foam rolling or tennis ball
- PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation): Contract and relax
- Active Stretching (or active flexibility): using opposing muscle activation
As I stated in Part 1, warming up a bit before you work on your flexibility is a good idea.
Now lets go over some options for different ways of improving your front split flexibility.
This type of stretching can also be done as part of your warm up.
- Leg Swings front to back and Leg Swing side to side: You can use a chair, door frame, wall or ballet barre to do these, and focus on moving your leg through your range of motion. You want to move through where your range of motion is right now. It’s not about showing that you could kick someone 7 feet tall in the face-especially if you really aren’t there yet! 10-15 receptions of these swings is a nice way to test the end range of your flexibility.
- Pilates Leg Circles: These are great to fire up your core musculature, but also work on ROM in your hip. When drawing the circle, keep core braced and hips even on the floor. Move only the leg in a circle, paying special attention to the leg circle as it comes towards your face-this is where you will probably feel the most stretch in your hamstring. Make sure to keep the leg as straight as possible. Do 5 circle in each direction with each leg. This video has some good info on the leg circles.
- Single Straight Leg Stretch: Is also another Pilates move. This will also fire up your core and help stretch your hamstrings. You’ll curl your shoulders up off the floor and grab behind one leg as you lower the other leg away. Only drop the other leg as low as you can while maintaining your low back in contact with the floor. The other leg you are holding you will gently pull towards your chest to stretch the hamstring. Also make sure to keep the leg as straight as possible in this stretch too. Repeat 10 times on each leg. This video has more info on this move.
- Lying Straddle Kicks: Yes, I said Straddle. Inner thigh flexibility also plays a roll in front splits flexibility. All the muscles around our hip sockets are important to be dynamically lengthen for improvement in our front splits. To perform these kicks, lie on your back with your legs straight up in the air: ankles over hips. Then you will open into a straddle and close the legs somewhat quickly. Open your legs only to their ROM at this time and feel free to cross the left ankle over the right at the top and then the right ankle over the left on the next kick up and continue to switch. Repeat 20 times.
- Reclined Leg Circles: Sit down with legs extended out in front of you. Lean back so you are propped up on your elbows. Bring one of your legs up towards your face and circle for 5-10 times in one directions and then the other direction. Then switch legs. Unlike the Pilates Leg Circles the hips can move freely here, but having your abs engaged never hurt anyone 🙂
Active Stretching (AKA Active Flexibility)
Active stretching helps pull the leg into the stretch using the opposing muscle groups
- Leg Lifts. There are several varieties, but we’ll stick with two: from a seated pike and a seated straddle pike.
- Seated Pike: Sit up tall with your legs extended out in front of you. Engage your abs and raise your arms up so they are parallel to the floor. Squeeze the quad muscle on your right leg and point your ankle and toes. Lift the leg for 10 repetitions and then hold it lifted for 5 seconds. Try not to lean back, but do try to feel the leg lift from the abs and the quad. Repeat with your left leg. Do 3 sets of 10 reps with the 5 second hold. (Can prop your butt up on a matt or yoga block for an assist.)
- Seated Straddle Pike: Sit up tall with your legs extend out in a straddle. Turn you chest in the direction of your right leg and place your hands on the floor on either side of your leg. Engage your abs and squeeze the quad of your right leg and of course point your ankle/toes. Pulse the leg up for 10 repetitions and hold it lifted for 5 seconds. Repeat all on this with the left leg. Finish the series by placing your hands on the floor right in front or you and between your legs. Pulse both legs for 10 repositions. Keeps the abs and quads engaged and keep pointing your ankle/toes. That’s 1 set. Do 3 sets. (Can prop your butt up on a matt or yoga block for an assist.)
- Standing Leg Lift Back: Stand up tall and balance your weight into one of your feet. You can keep your hands on your hips, raise them overhead/out to the side or hold onto the wall for support. Using your glute (butt) muscle you’ll lift your leg to the back, make sure the knee stays straight as you lift your leg to the back. Actively lift the leg only as far as comfortable without leaning forward or arching your back. This leg lift is to help open up your hip flexor. Perform 10-20 lifts on each leg.
PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation)
Perform this type of stretching just a few times a week. You can do this type of stretching yourself with the use of a yoga strap or towel or have a partner.
- Lying Hamstring PNF Stretch: Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet on the floor. Straighten your right leg up towards the ceiling. Straighten your left leg to the floor. Use your quad muscles to lift the right leg up towards your face as much as you can. Grab behind your leg with your hands, towel or yoga strap. Make sure your knee remains straight (that’s what the towel or yoga strap is for). Bring your right leg into a gentle stretch and hold for 20 seconds. Then contract the muscles of the hamstring and push against the resistance of your hands, towel or strap that was just gently stretching your hamstrings. You are trying to push your right leg to the floor in this contraction. This is an isometric contraction. The contraction shouldn’t be maximum effort, somewhere sub-maximum is all you need and hold this contraction for 5 seconds. Then relax the hamstring muscles of the right leg and gently pull your right leg a little deeper into the stretch, making sure it’s still a gentle stretch. Hold this second stretch for 10 seconds and then repeat the 5 second isometric contraction. Then repeat the 10 second stretch with the 5 second contractions 2 more times. You should see a little improvement in your hamstring flexibility each time. Repeat on your left leg. Note: feel free to play with pointing and flexing your foot.
- Lying Hip and Quad Stretch: Lie on your belly, contract your butt to help open up the hips. Bend your right knee and draw your heel towards your right glute until you feel a stretch, this may mean you need to grab your foot with your right hand and draw it close to your right glute for a stretch. If you need more of a stretch, but can’t reach your foot, loop a towel or a yoga strap around your ankle and pull the right heel towards your right glute. Make sure that as you bend your knee you don’t lose your butt squeeze! Hold the quad stretch for 10 seconds. Next prop your right knee or thigh on a pillow or yoga block-keep butt squeezing. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds. Then you want to try to straighten your right leg and pull right knee towards your chest simultaneously-against the resistances of your hand or strap. This is done by contracting the quads/hip flexor muscles in an isometric contraction. Hold this sub-maximum isometric contraction for 5 seconds. Then relax the muscles of the right leg and gently pull your right heel a little deeper into the stretch and lift the knee a little higher up off the ground-gently is the key and also make sure to maintain both hips facing the floor. Hold this second stretch for 10 seconds and then repeat the 5 second isometric contraction. Then repeat the 10 second stretch with the 5 second contractions 2 more times. Repeat on other side.
Self Myofascial Release
When rolling, roll at a pace that is not too quick and not too slow. You want to roll and feel like you are massaging the muscle some and loosening the tightness or any ‘knots’, but not creating pain. Pain will only make the muscles tense up more. Rolling should feel a bit uncomfortable, but not painful.
- Tennis Ball Rolling
- Feet: Roll the ball front to back and side to side for about a minute under each foot, focusing on the arch and the heel. Apply pressure so the ball doesn’t slip. This may be a bit uncomfortable, remember not painful, if it become too unpleasant before the minute is over than switch to the other foot and do the same amount of time on the other foot. This can be done standing or sitting.
- Calves: Sit with your legs extended out in front of you and hands just behind your hips. Support your weight as you roll up and down the length of your calf muscle. Do the center of the muscle, but also to the sides as well, giving some extra attention to the tighter places.
- Glutes and Hamstring attachments: Place one side of your glutes on the ball. Support some of your weight in your hands and your other foot. The leg of the glute about to be massaged can be straight or bent as shown in photo. I would try both and see what works best for you. Roll the ball around on your right glute, focusing on any areas that feel tight. These will probably feel sensitive, but again, go for feeling a bit uncomfortable, not in pain. You can roll in circles or follow the muscle along the sensitive line. Roll for 30-40 seconds then switch to your left glute. After, move the ball to your thut (your thigh/butt spot on your leg), this is where your hamstrings attach at your sits bones. Roll back and forth at these connection points. You may find this easier if you sit in a chair. Remember to hold some of your weight off the ball. Be careful not to slip into the center into sensitive areas. Roll for 30-40 seconds then switch to your other thut.
- Foam Rolling
- Calves: Just like with the ball, but with a roller. Support weight and roll up and down the muscles of your calves. You can focus on one leg at a time or do both legs simultaneously. If you need extra weight for a good massage your can stack your other leg on top as shown in the photo. Roll up and down 5-10 times each leg.
- Hamstrings: Sit on the foam roller with it under your thut. Place hands behind you and roll the foam roller from your thut towards your knees. Roll up and down the back of each thigh 5-10 times. Can do both legs at the same time or focus on one leg than the other.
- Glutes: Sit on the roller with your pelvis tipped under a bit and choose one butt cheek first. Roll up and down from top to bottom, focusing on any tightness you feel. Also as you move up and down tilt your hips side to side to work all edges of your glute. Additionally try this with the leg straight (the glute you’re rolling) and in a figure 4 shape. They will both lend to different sensations and potentially different places of tightness. Roll up and down 5-10 times each leg. As a personal note, I like to focus on my glutes up near my hips/sacrum area, this is where I have some more tightness and I wanted to offer it as a place to explore on yourself too.
- Inner Thigh: Lie on your belly propped up on your forearms. Place foam roller on your right and parallel with your body. Bring your right leg up and out to the side and place it on the foam roller just above the knee. Roll from your knee to your inner thigh 5-10 times. Try it with your leg straight or bent and see what works best for you that day. Repeat with other leg.
- Quads and Hip Flexors: Lie face down with hips on the foam roller and propped up on your forearms. Begin by focusing just on your hip crease (where your seat belt sits) and roll up in down in the hip crease. This is only about 2-3 inches from top to bottom. Tilt the hips from facing down to a 45 degree angle and see where any of the sensitive spots are and give them some extra time. Do this 5-10 times on one side of the hips and then focus on the other legs hip flexors for the same amount of rolling. After the special attention on the hips, crawl forward on your forearms to begin rolling the quads from the hips crease all the way to just above the knees. Pass up and down on the quads 5-10 times, playing with legs in neutral position, legs internally rotated (think pigeon toed, but from the hip socket) and legs externally rotate (think duck foot from the hip socket). You can do this with both legs at a time or one leg at a time.
Here’s a video on foam rolling. It covers the full body, but you can follow along with the ones listed above.
As you explore these methods of stretching, know that flexibility is a practice and you will need to give yourself some time to spend on your flexibility and some time to see some changes. It’s a form of self care and in the end you will fell better and hopefully find your Splits! Good luck!