The splits. Otherwise known as the arch-nemesis of those of us who are quite tall, are not naturally very bendy, or simply find the splits to be very intimidating.
This pose requires pretty intense flexibility pretty much everywhere in your body, particularly in your hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, and lower back. So, in honor of the new year and tackling things that scare us, let’s go through a few of the best poses for working up to the splits.
Warm Up Your Whole Body
As always, start with warm ups. All stretches are going to be more comfortable, more achievable, more effective, and a whole lot safer after your muscles are warm. Start with a Power yoga flow or even some cardio to get lots of blood flowing through your body, especially those big muscles in your legs that can, on occasion, feel like an immovable force.
Work Out Your Hamstrings
Spend some time in forward folds such as Standing Forward Fold, Downward Facing Dog, and Wide-Legged Forward Fold. Try introducing some dynamic movement into the poses by drawing one heel into the ground and then the other—‘walking’ your down dog—or gently moving your hands and chest from one foot to the other in Wide-Legged Forward Fold.
Introducing slow, controlled movement to stretches like these helps keep those muscles warm and can help you get deeper into these poses than you might with a simple, statically held version of these poses.
Work On Those Hips
The two most important stretches for preparing for the splits are Lizard pose and runner’s stretch, also known as Ardha Hanumanasana.
Place both hands to in the instep of your front foot, ensuring that your front knee is directly over your front ankle and not reaching past it. The top of the kneecap of your back leg is resting on the ground, and the weight should not be on any part of the joint itself, but instead just on the hard cap that is the very top of your knee.
If you experience any discomfort in your back knee, you can always rest it on a blanket. You can stay up on your palms, or come down onto your elbows (using your blocks to assist you here if needed—you want to avoid rounding your back in this stretch). You should feel a deep stretch in the hip-flexor of your back leg.
Pay close attention to your hip-bones here—you want both of them facing directly forward so that you’re getting the deepest stretch. It’s easy in this pose to let that back hip splay out to the side, but by keeping your hipbones in line with one another, you target the areas of your hip that need the most work!
Ardha Hanumanasana (a.k.a. Runner’s Stretch / Half Splits Pose)
Transition into Ardha Hanumanasana or Half Splits pose directly from Lizard pose. Pull your tailbone straight back toward your back heel, and hinge from the hips as you straighten the front leg and bring your chest closer to your front knee. Again, we want to aim for a flat back here, so you may find it useful to place your hands on your blocks for support.
Keep the same principles in mind for your hips—you want them evenly aligned with one another, maximizing the stretch in the back of that front leg. Transition from runner’s stretch back into Lizard pose as you inhale, leading with your chest and pulling forward, then exhaling back into runner’s lunge again.
Move through that sequence a few times, with your breath, and see if you can push your flexibility a little further with every iteration.
Starting from a High Lunge, shorten your stance by about a foot and place your back heel into the mat, bringing your back foot to a 45-degree angle with your front heel. Place your hands on your hips and square your hipbones to the front of your mat.
Keeping your hips in line with one another, both horizontally and vertically, engage your core for a strong, straight back. Keeping that long line in the spine, hinge at the hips and start to lower your chest down over that front leg.
As soon as you start to feel your spine curve, that’s where you stop! Place your hands on your blocks, your shin, or the floor—wherever you can maintain a straight front leg and a straight, flat spine. Learn more about this pose here.
To round out your hip flexibility, end with a grounding, centering, outer hip stretch in Pigeon pose. Let your breath take you to a relaxed place in this stretch—this pose is more about mental preparation for the splits than it is about physical preparation.
Often, the block we feel in our body is really a mental one, and if we’re holding onto any anxiety, we’re often holding it in our outer hips and lower back. Pigeon helps us center, calm, and feel more comfortable in a deep stretch, a mindset similar to what we’ll need to find for our splits pose.
As we move toward being able to achieve our full splits, you may be interested in trying an assisted version to monitor your progress. With your hands on your blocks (or large books, like I’m using in this photo!) and maybe a blanket to support your back leg, gently move from your high Lizard pose into assisted splits by walking your front leg forward and your back toes back.
Again, keep your hip bones in the same plane in both directions. Stay here, breathing deeply for at least five breaths. Pull your shoulders back, down, and away from your ears, aim for a straight spine, and lead with your chest.
Try incorporating these build-up moves into your daily exercise routine for about a month, and let us know how much progress you make! Have these stretches helped you work toward the splits, or are there any others that you find particularly helpful? Let us know in the comments, or show us your splits on Instagram and tag us @doyouyoga!
Image credit: Paige Rene