Splits Stretches

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Target Stretches for Splits

Tracy Wicklund

Splits seem to be one of the first things new dancers want to accomplish. Once you have your splits, new doors seem to open...obviously a flexible body gives a dancer a real edge. But if you study a picture of someone sitting in a perfect split, it almost looks impossible. How can the human body bend in such extreme ways?

Flexibility is determined by several factors: joint structure, ligaments, tendons, muscles, skin, tissue injury, fat tissue, body temperature, age, and gender. You can quickly improve your flexibility by stretching. Before you start any stretching exercises, make sure your muscles are warm and your body temperature is raised. You can accomplish this by jogging in place, performing a few deep knee bends, rotating your body at the waist, and doing a few giant arm swings.

How long should you hold these stretches? Lots of people seem to disagree about how long is most beneficial. Should you hold a stretch position for only a few seconds, or would it be more helpful to hold it closer to a minute?

Many dance instructors suggest holding each stretch for about 20 seconds, which seems to be a good common ground...long enough to improve flexibility, but not too long to do damage. Some dancers like to count out loud during stretches to make sure they hold them long enough. Counting aloud also helps ward away boredom.

As you perform the stretches, remember that you should not stretch to the point of pain. Obviously, if you are performing the stretches correctly, you will feel some degree of discomfort, but never true pain. You should feel tension in your muscles, but if the tension becomes intense or uncomfortable, ease up before then you overdo it and end up overstretching or tearing a muscle. Stretch safely to avoid suffering an injury.

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Gluteal Stretch

Rotate hips
Tracy Wicklund

This is a great stretch for the gluteal muscles, or the muscles of the buttocks, as well as the thigh muscles.

Lie flat on your back. Hold your right foot in your left hand (fingers on the outside edge) with your knee bent. Slowly pull your foot to the side and up toward your head. Use your other hand to push up on your knee. Hold the stretch for about 20 seconds. You should feel a good stretch through the buttocks.

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Forward Lunge

Deep lunge
Tracy Wicklund

Step forward with one foot, lowering your body toward the floor. (Be careful not to allow your knee to extend over the toe of your front foot.) Hold for about 20 seconds, lunging far enough to really feel a good stretch through the groin and thighs. Try to push backward with your back leg, creating a longer space between your feet.

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Hamstrings Stretch

Stretch hamstrings
Tracy Wicklund

From the standing lunge position, rock back and kneel on your back knee, allowing your front leg to straighten. Slowly exhale and try to bring your chest to the knee of your outstretched leg. You should feel the stretch in your hamstring as well as in your calf. Hold this stretch for about 20 seconds.

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Try the Frog

Frog stretch
Tracy Wicklund

The frog stretch is a great tool for assessing the amount of flexibility you have in your hips. Lie on your stomach with both legs straight behind you. Try to keep your knees against the floor as you join your feet together. From this position, move your feet up together while pushing your knees out to the sides. If your knees can remain on the floor along with your feet, your hips are extremely loose. (Never try to force this stretch, or have a partner push down on your knees. Doing so may cause extreme pain and injury.)