This is a living document. It has been updated many times and will continually keep being updated. I made it to work in conjunction with the folks over at /r/flexibility since they are down to do this with me. I urge you to use this and any other splits routine such as this or this. I have a love for yoga, gymnastics and bodyweight training. For that reason, you’ll see this Splits Routine is a hodge-podge of stretches compiled from all those influences. Comfortable with Facebook? Join our facebook support group!
Will you be able to hit the splits in 90 days? I don’t know. Every body is different. Only one way to find out, right?
- The key to your success is consistency!
- Stretch every single day. Dedicate as much time as you can.
- Take a rest day or two when you need it.
- If you’re not familiar with a stretch, follow the linked videos. After a week you’ll have memorized it and fly through the routine.
- Don’t have much time? Okay, then do as much as you can. Even 30 seconds of each stretch is better than nothing.
- How badly do you want it? WHY do you want the splits? Your reason must be good enough to motivate you! (I want it because it with the added flexibility, fun moves such as the flying pigeon and the press to handstand will become more easily attainable.)
This is not a competition. You’re doing this for yourself, not for anybody else. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that things happen on their own time. Nature has its own plans for when you are able to do certain things. You can’t force yourself to get there ahead of schedule, unless you want to hurt yourself and that’s the last thing we want. Pay special respect to your body. If you need a rest day or two, take it! But don’t slack off (remind yourself why you’re doing this!). The 90-day “challenge” is for motivating each other more than anything else! Anything that helps get your butt off the seat will help, and I hope this it it.
Safety First! PAIN? PANICKING? HYPERVENTILATING?
- If you are in pain, panicking, or cannot breath properly, YOU ARE TOO DEEP, raise yourself back up a little!
- If you feel you need a day off cause you’re feeling sore, or that your connective tissue needs to recover, then take a day off!
- If your knees are not feeling good from the middle splits, do the butterfly stretch instead and lean forward.
Now.. onto the Splits Routine!
1. Warm Up (5-10 minutes)
To save time, you could do this routine right after your workout cause then you’ll be warm and ready to go. But if you’re not warmed up, then go for a quick jog around the block or jump rope or anything that’ll help you get warm or hot because it helps a lot to be warm (close your windows and let it sizzle a little).
Personally, so far I like following this sun salutations video cause it warms up many of the same things we need to stretch for the splits. It won’t be long before you memorize this sequence anyway.
2. Leg Swings (<4 minutes)
Every swing should be in control. Keep the back straight and the standing leg firm. Increase the swing as you open up more.
- 20 Front Leg Swings on each leg
- 20 Back Leg Swings on each leg (hold arms onto something low)
- 20 Side Leg Swings on each leg
3. Isolated Stretches to focus on the individual muscles (~10-20 minutes)
The splits requires flexible hamstrings, hip flexors and glutes. Here are a few of my favorite stretches that tackle those real well…
- 1 minute Standing Splits Hamstring Floss for each leg (flex quads for 2-5 seconds and relax)
- 1 minute Pigeon Pose for each leg (if pigeon hurts your knee, do it on your back.)
- 1 minute Couch Stretch for each leg
- Variation: Partner version (amazing)
Note: I avoid seated/standing pike stretches because I feel it’s too easy to just stretch the lower back instead of the hamstrings in that position. Standing splits, however, feels great.
4. Splits (20+ minutes)
What’s important is that you put the time in somehow and contract-relax to help push yourself a tiny bit deeper than before (easier said than done).
- Hold Front Splits for 2-4 minutes for the left leg (if you stay in the splits as long as her in the video, that’s a solid 4 minutes)
- Hold Front Splits for 2-4 minutes for the right leg (if you stay in the splits as long as her in the video, that’s a solid 4 minutes)
- Hold Middle Split for 2 minutes total
- Recommended: Before you hold a straight-legged middle split, go through my Frog Pose Series and Horse Stance sets.
- Hold Pancake Split for 2 minutes (Put your hand under the butt cheeks and pull it back so you sit on your seat bones and can pour forward from the hips with a flat back. If the hips stay tucked under, you don’t get as good of a stretch Also, Someone can pull you forward with a flat back or you could tug on a strap/rope in front of you.)
If you don’t have blocks, use chairs by your sides or just be creative with what you got! But if you want to buy a pair of yoga blocks, they’re just like, less than 10 bucks for the comfy foam ones. If you’re very inflexible, then chairs will probably be even more appropriate than blocks until it’s not.
The goal is to be able to be UPRIGHT so that your body can gain the strength to handle your entire bodyweight. Flexibility and strength go hand in hand here to help the body have the confidence that it can handle these extreme ranges. If you could balance yourself with your hands UP and your back upright in the front/middle splits, and you feel it’s not going anywhere anymore, then you could try holding a light weight in your hands to help drive you down. You should also try this skandasana flow for a few minutes to open up your everything even more.
GOOD JOB! YOU’RE DONE FOR TODAY!
ProTip: Contract & relax instead of passively staying in the stretch
Switch between contracting and relaxing to make the best use of your time. This is known as PNF.
- Flex for 5 seconds, relax for 5 seconds, go a little deeper and repeat.
- When you feel the contract-relax isn’t helping you go deeper, just hold it for 30-60sec to go deeper.
- So when you’re in the middle splits, flex your butt cheeks together for 5 seconds and then relax.
- When you’re in the front splits, flex the quads of your front leg for 5 seconds and the glutes of the back leg and then relax.
- However, on some days, you will be too tired to do anything, so passively just remain in it.
Vary the intensity throughout the week
It is a good habit to stretch everyday but, just like any other training (like strength training), it is totally possible to go overboard. Instead of pushing yourself very hard each day, think of light days and rest days. Kit Laughlin suggests that you save the really intense Contract / Relax sessions to just a couple days a week. If you want militaristic-like structure, Tim Hall shared his routine on how he varies the contractions, but honestly, listening to your body is the best way to go here.
For the front and middle splits, try not to lean forward and put your arms and body on the ground.
You need to be able to build strength in that position so stay upright! If you cannot do as wide of a split with your upper body upright, then narrow your stance and/or use a chair in front of you to help you balance. You need to be able to hold yourself in that position and build strength there before going deeper. When you lean forward, you’ll eventually hit a road block because there’s not enough pressure (bodyweight) pressing you down and you’re going to have to be a little more upright and if the strength isn’t there, it’s going to be really tough!
Printer Friendly version of this splits protocol so you could just have it with you
More… supplemental info (and my own progress pics)
Loaded Progressive Stretching
When you’ve become very comfortable with your entire bodyweight pressing you down, hold a weight in your hands to help drive you deeper into the stretch and do the 5sec contract/relax. This is what Ido Portal’s Loaded Progressive Stretching is basically.
Developing the STRENGTH necessary to get out of the splits
We want to maintain integrity in the joint. The following is a great exercise for your adductors (inner thigh muscles) that can be used in conjunction for your splits. The more power your adductors have, the more they will actually be able to relax.
- Wear socks OR get two little towels OR some newspaper to stand on.
- Go on slippery surface like wood or tile.
- Spread your legs apart.
- Bring your feet together with straight legs until you are standing normally.
In the first week start with your legs just 2 feet apart… It’s possible you won’t have power to do the exercise in a ROM greater than that. Increase the split/straddle distance as the weeks go on and you build strength.
Updated: Cossack squats (you don’t need a barbell for this) will help strengthen your inner thighs and open up the groin, too. Horse stance is also pretty hard. Put a stick on your thighs and stay low enough so the stick won’t roll down. I also recommend pistol squats because it emphasizes strength (in the quads and hammies), flexibility (in the ankles and hips) and balance… all things that will only help your splits.
Why do we need to build adductor strength?
If we strive to passively attain the splits while neglecting to add strength and control in that range of motion, then we lose integrity in the joint and set ourselves up for injury. This is one of the reasons why people who are hyper-mobile can injure themselves more readily than tight people. If you just work on flexibility and stretching the connective tissue (ligaments/tendons) without strengthening, then the joint loses integrity and can easily go to that end range of motion and not have the power or ability to contract and protect itself.
So, just because someone has the flexibility to do the splits, doesn’t mean they can pull themselves out of the splits. To do that you need to be training the adductor (inner thigh) muscles so that you could have POWER in that full range of motion.
For inspiration, here is Cai Young (cued to start at 4:00 automatically) demonstrating bringing the legs together FROM THE SPLITS! He has power in his entire range of motion. This is what we mean by active flexibility.
Are you close to the full splits? Warm up and simply follow this 13 minute video
Optional but highly recommended: Foam roll all the things
- front thigh
- lateral thigh
- inner thigh
- upper back
Not familiar with foam rolling? Watch my video here:
Not sure which one to buy? This one is my favorite one because I feel it’s the most effective all around.
Want more? Open your shoulders up while in the middle splits
I made a blog post about my new goal for opening up my shoulders in every possible way not too long ago. So why not kill two birds with one stone and open up your shoulders while you’re at it?
Some things you could do while hanging out in the middle splits would be…
- Reverse Prayer
- Backward hand clasp
- Eagle Arms
Related: An older blog post about tight hamstrings from back when I was trying to touch my toes.
Antranik’s Current Flexibility?
I documented the first and second round of my results here: http://antranik.org/90-days-splits-challenge-results/
Sooo.. go ahead.. take photos of your middle, pancake and left/right front splits. Also, a photo of your seated pike stretch for good measure. (You know, the one where you’re sitting with your legs straight and together and trying to touch your toes? Yea that one.)