Stretching Tips to Help You Do the Splits
Have you ever seen a gymnast doing a split and thought, “How in the world did she do that?” The tendons in your upper legs may have even screamed in agony simply watching someone perform that movement.
A split is achieved when both of your legs are lying flat on the floor, extended in opposite directions. Supreme flexibility is needed for such a maneuver.
Here are a few stretching tips that can help you do the splits yourself, leading to improved flexibility, balance and mobility.
Perform The Standing Forward Bend
This movement is exactly what it sounds like. This is a yoga pose which begins with you standing straight up, with your feet together and arms by your side. Reach your hands high, and then slowly begin to “swan dive” your hands, arms and chest down towards your feet in front of you.
Bring your chest in towards your knees, keeping your knees straight. Keep your back straight and move your hands to either side of your feet or lower legs.
This is a great yoga pose for relieving headaches and alleviating anxiety, which also improves digestion, quiets the mind and stretches your hamstrings and your back.
Do a Lunge Stretch
The lunge stretch starts with you standing with your feet approximately 8 to 10 inches apart. Move one foot forward with your knee bent, far enough so that your rear foot is behind you with your shin touching the ground.
From your knee to your toes on your back feet, the entire front of your lower leg should be flat on the ground.
Keep your arms by your sides and slowly move your weight forward, keeping your back straight. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg, performing multiple repetitions.
Fake It Before You Can Make It
Sometimes, learning to do something means learning to do a watered-down version first. Accordingly, one of the best ways to learn how to do a split on the ground is to perform a “fake split” first.
Stand in front of a table or chair. Lift one leg forward, placing it on the chair or table top. Keep your knees straight and bend forward, feeling the stretch in the back of your thigh on the forward leg. Alternate sides, and perform several repetitions.
Simple Leg Stretch
Lay down on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Lift one leg is straight and high as you can, reaching your fingers on that side of your body toward your toes. Perform until you feel your quads tighten, and hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg, and perform several reps.
The Benefits of Being More Flexible
We know stretching increases flexibility, but do the benefits of being more flexible make it worthwhile to put forth the effort and time it takes to stretch? To gain the benefits, stretching must be done at least twice weekly; daily is better and recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine.
As we age, we lose flexibility in our muscles, which puts us at more risk of an injury. Injury prevention is the major benefit of being more flexible, but it can also help by:
Reducing back pain
Tight muscles can pull the back and lower body in ways that create pain. For example, tight hamstrings can pull the pelvis down thus creating unnatural pressure on the lower back.
Increasing range of motion
Having full range of motion makes everyday tasks much easier. Now you can reach for that dish on a high shelf in your cupboard and not feel the wince of pain because you are stretching the muscles farther than they usually stretch. Or bend over to tie your shoes without pain. A stretching program increases flexibility of those muscles.
Increased flexibility allows you to have a better, more erect posture if you don’t have tight muscles pulling you in ways that prevent an erect upright position. Being able to stand up puts your head and spine in line with each other in what is known as neutral alignment. This alone can reduce neck and shoulder pain by centering your head directly over your spine.
Likewise, the act of stretching relaxes not only tight muscles, but also reduces stress. That is one reason why yoga is a good stretching program not only for the body, but also the mind. Having less stress has its own health benefits, including weight loss and improved mood, just to name two.
When muscles are tight, it is hard for the blood to get deep inside them to bring oxygen and nutrients in and take out waste generated by muscle use. Increased flexibility loosens up muscles thus allowing blood to circulate better.
And it doesn’t stop there; in a 2009 study, participants with less flexibility had significant more arterial stiffness thus increasing their risk of a stroke, heart attack or heart disease.
The health benefits derived from flexibility (both physical and mental) are worth the cost of time and energy put into stretching or other exercise programs that increases flexibility, like yoga or Pilates. And even if there were no health benefits, being flexible and having a full range of motion just feels good.