Original article by Jenny Sugar
If you've always wanted to do a split, you need flexible hips and hamstrings. Practice these nine stretches, and you'll soon be on your way.
This relaxing stretch is a great way to begin stretching both hamstrings at the same time, while also increasing flexibility in your lower back. You'll also get a nice stretch in the chest and shoulders, which won't help with doing splits, but will definitely feel good.
Begin standing with your feet hips distance apart. Bring your arms behind you and interlace your fingers right below your sacrum (back of your pelvis). If you can, press the heels of your palms together in a double fist. Actively pull your hands away from your shoulders to increase the stretch in your chest.
From here, lean your chest forward and lift your hands up overhead as you fold your torso toward your thighs. Keep both legs straight. Make sure you're lengthening through your spine by reaching the top of your head toward the floor.
Stay like this for five breaths, and when you're ready to come out, actively press into your feet, engage your thighs, and slowly lift your torso back up to a standing position.
Head to Knee
Here's a stretch to work one hamstring at a time. You'll feel this in your lower back, too, and it'll also begin to open your hips.
Sit on the floor with both legs extended in front of you. Bend your right knee and pull the sole of your foot against your left inner thigh.
Reach your right hand to the outside edge of your left foot so you can stack your torso directly on top of your left leg. Bring your left hand to the arch of your left foot. If you can't reach your hands to your foot, then reach out as far as you can, resting your chest on your left thigh. Remember, the point here is to stretch your hamstrings, hips, and lower back, not to touch your foot.
Stay here for five breaths, relaxing your shoulders away from your ears. Then do the other side.
Here's another great pose that will stretch both hamstrings and your lower back. Since your legs are separated, it focuses more on the part of the hamstrings closest to your bum.
Sit down with your feet about three to four feet apart (not as wide as you can go). Reach back with your right hand and move the flesh of your right bum cheek away from you, and then do the same with your left. This will help your pelvis ground more firmly so you can stretch your hamstrings more effectively.
Sit tall, reaching your head away from your hips, and draw your belly and ribs in. Keep that length as you begin to fold forward at your waist, sliding your hands down your legs or on the floor in front of your head.
Go down as far as you need to feel a stretch in your hamstrings, but you don't want to feel pain. Hold for five breaths.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch Against a Wall
Flexible hamstrings aren't the only thing you need to do a split. Flexible hips and hip flexors are also a must, so try this stretch using a wall.
Fold up a towel and place it about eight inches away from a wall.
Kneel down and place your left knee on the towel and your toes against the wall.
Now place your right foot on the ground in front of you, and lower your hips until you feel a stretch in the front of your left hip. Make sure your right knee is directly above your ankle.
Place your hands on your front knee to help keep your torso straight. Stay like this for five breaths. Then slowly release and do this stretch on the other side.
This hip flexor stretch will stretch you even deeper.
Begin on your hands and feet in Downward Facing Dog. Step your right foot forward between your palms, as if you're going to come into Warrior 1, but keep your hands on the ground.
Lower your left knee to the floor and release your elbows to the floor if you can. Either rest your hands palms facing down on the mat, or bring your hands together in prayer position.
Continue to squeeze your right knee toward your body and keep your gaze in front of you to encourage your hips to lower toward the floor.
Hold here for five breaths, and then repeat on the left side.
Here's a way you can gently use your upper body strength to help your legs move into split position.
From Downward Facing Dog, step both feet together so your big toes are touching. Move your right hand over to the left six or so inches so it's at the upper centre of your mat.
Step your right foot forward two inches, and plant the sole of your right foot firmly on the mat so your toes are pointing to the left.
Then roll over to your right side and lift your left hand off the mat, coming into a Side Plank. Lift your left leg up bending your left knee and hold on to your big toe with the first two fingers and thumb of your left hand.
Stay here balancing, or work on straightening your left leg completely. Try to keep your shoulders, spine, and hips in one straight line, and gaze toward your right toes. Stay here for five breaths, trying to keep your core strong and the pose steady.
Release hold of your left foot and place your left hand back on the mat. Move your right hand back where it was near the top right corner of your mat. Separate your feet so you are in a top of a push-up position. Take a vinyasa and come back to Downward Facing Dog. Then do this pose on the other side.
This vertical split is great practise before doing a horizontal split. It will target the standing leg's hamstring, while also stretching your hips.
Begin in Standing Forward Bend. Inhale and shift weight into your right foot and your palms. Lift your left leg up as high as you can. Tuck your chin and draw your torso toward your right leg, breathing deeply and relaxing the shoulders away from the ears.
Stay here for five breaths. Then return your left leg to the floor. Stay here for a complete breath and repeat this stretch with the left foot on the floor.
Standing Hand to Big Toe A
Here's a more intense vertical split that allows you to use your upper-body strength to stretch your hamstring even more. Keep your lifted leg straight in order to effectively target the muscles in the back of the leg.
Stand with your big toes touching. Put all your weight into your left foot and lift your right foot up. Bend your knee so you can hold on to your right foot with both hands. Keep your left leg straight.
From here, work on straightening your right leg. Then if it's easy, pull your right thigh in toward your belly so your toes are pointing straight up.
Try to lengthen through your spine, and tuck your tailbone in so your torso is in line with your standing leg. Hold for five breaths, then slowly release your right foot to the ground. Repeat this stretch on the other side.
Before trying out a full split, doing this stretch with a block is a great way to ease into it.
Sit on a mat and come back into Lizard. Sit up and shift your weight back, bending your left knee and straightening your right leg.
Place a block or rolled-up blanket under your right hamstring. Then start to inch your left foot away from you, coming into Split. Allow all your weight to be supported by the block or blanket. If it's too much of a stretch, make your support a little higher.
Hold for five breaths here and then do this stretch on the other side.
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Posted, 1st April 2017