Effective Flexibility Training [VIDEO]
I've done many different types of flexibility training, but for this article I'm just going to talk about the ones that I observed significant progress with. At the end I go over some specific stretches that helped me big time, and a couple that I didn't really use, but could be helpful.
Stretching whenever you can
Back in my tai chi days, we would do the oldschool prolonged hamstring stretches on a bar before a full body warm-up, dynamic stretching (wushu kick drills), and then exhausting leg work (stances) before getting to the actual forms. I did eventually get to the splits this way, but I also attribute it to the fact that I would try to put my legs in a stretched position whenever I could. And it was never for nearly as long as what I've seen/read about people doing. For example, while doing homework at the dinner table, I would put my feet up on the two adjacent chairs at an angle where I feel a slight stretch. After a while I would either get deeper in the stretch, or forget about it and sit differently. Another example, when I can't sleep, I grab my leg and pull it towards my face, lean it against the wall, or do some other stretch. It helps relax me and put me to sleep. I do not, however, recommend falling asleep while in a stretched position.
It's not entirely necessary to set aside time to stretch, and it's not necessary to feel huge amounts of discomfort while stretching. As long as there is a stretch, you are stretching.
Stretch, rest, stretch
When I was trying hard (not nearly as hard as some people I would say) to get to sidesplits, I would do what other people did, which was sit in the v-stretch position for long periods of time. After about a minute or so I would feel a stinging pain along the inside of my thighs, like the skin was about to tear. When I finally got out of the stretch, my muscles felt like they were tightening up again for fear of ever being stretched like that again. I figured that feeling was a lack of circulation to the muscles being stretched. My solution for this was to accumulate stretching time by stretching for a relatively comfortable amount of time (about 30 seconds, depending how hard you're stretching), get up and move around a bit, and then get back into the stretch. This seemed to have the same effect as isometric/PNF stretching; the second time I got into the stretch, it was much easier and I could go much further into the stretch.
Straighten your back
It's very important that you get the most out of your stretch. Some people can touch their head to their knees, but aren't anywhere near their frontsplits. When they see a picture of someone touching their toe with their chin, they blame it on the fact that they have short legs, or long torsos, or that they are leprechauns of some sort.
What I'm trying to say is, when most people stretch their hamstrings, they bend their backs in an effort to get their head as close to their leg as possible. As a result we have idiots alleging that stretching gives you back problems and that they're genetically unable to do the splits because they have such epic flexibility and yet they just can't seem to do the splits, so they just give up. If you're at a point where you seem to be as flexible as you can be in your hamstring stretches and are simply bashing your skull into your shin, try this: now that you can touch your head to your leg, try and touch your head further down your leg. Straighten out your back, stick your chest out, point your tailbone backwards, and try to bite your toes with your mouth. That is very likely to be the missing link in your front splits progression.
Basically the key thing is to lean forward with your chest out, and try to tilt your pelvis such that the coccyx is pointed behind you. It is unlikely that this will literally happen, but this will give you more of a stretch in hamstring stretches and make sidesplit/roadkill stretches easier. You will see in the video that my back is not technically straightened, but when I go forward and not down, my torso is able to get significantly closer to my leg compared to when I'm simply attempting to touch my head to the closest part of my leg.
I had been doing isometric stretching for my sidesplits inadvertently during most of my 3 years in tai chi. The way I trained for sidesplits was to keep my hands on my hips, widen my stance as far as I can, and just hold it. But remember to relax. Obviously at a certain point, I would feel a stretch. An intense, unbearable stretch with the weight of my whole upper body behind it. With nothing to hold on to for support, all I could do was squeeze my legs against the downward force of my body, and try to relax. Of course I technically wasn't really relaxing at this point--in fact, my hip/abdominal area would be shaking quite violently after a while--but eventually the stretch wouldn't feel as bad, and I would feel comfortable going a little bit lower before clenching again--or my legs would simply become too tired to hold up my weight and I say "fuck it all"--so I'd take a deep breath, and exhale into the stretch, allowing my feet to slide out further until my legs reflexively tense up again to keep me from tearing my groin apart.
Freestanding sidesplits of death!
Stretch your antagonistic muscles
For the longest time I would feel pain between the outside of where my hips and my thighs connected when I tried to get into sidesplits. I didn't even feel a stretch in the adductors, just the pain on the outside of my hips. It didn't feel like a stretch. More like a cramp. I was told all sorts of stupid bullshit explanations, that the adductors are somehow connected to the outside of my hips and I just had to stretch harder and stretch more, that unless one has habitually done sidesplits from a young age, their hip bones would naturally grow downwards after a certain age and would block their femurs from moving past that angle into sidesplits, and the pain I was feeling was my hip bones grinding against my femurs.
Stretching more definitely wasn't doing much, and the hip bone thing was just ridiculous. It dawned on me that I had stretched my hamstrings and adductors way more often than my glutes and hip flexors. The fact that I spent so much time in knee-out stances during tai chi also meant my glutes/hips were probably super tight. I believe at this point I was several inches away from sidesplits, and I could do front splits with my head down. So I started doing some hip and glute stretches I found on Juji's flexibility section. While doing homework, I would put one leg up on my knee and lean forward to stretch my glutes. While walking I would lunge a tiny bit further forward and angle my hips to stretch my hip flexors. When I couldn't sleep, I would do some more hip/glute stretches. During training I would do hip/glute stretches alongside the endless hamstring stretches.
Literally within about a week, the pain on the outside of my hips was gone and I could feel the stretch in my adductors again. After about a month I could do front splits comfortably sitting up.
I didn't include this in the video because there are plenty of hip/glute stretches available on Juji's flexibility page.
When I started doing this, it had to be the quickest flexibility progress I had ever made. I remember it because I was stuck on sidesplits for the longest time, but shortly after I started stretching post-workout, I achieved sidesplits with relative ease. It could also have been due to the fact that at this point in my life I would do weight training 3x/week, MMA 2x/week, and trick 1-2x/week, meaning I was stretching almost every day of the week. It was during this time that I managed to achieve the sidesplits. I couldn't believe it when I felt my calves touch the mat.
Basically what I would do every time I trained anything (weights, MMA, tricks) I would stretch afterwards starting with my legs, then core, then upper body. I know conventional dogma says you gotta start from your core and work your way towards your extremities, etc. but fuck'em. I stretch my legs first because that's where I want flexibility progression. Also sometimes I have time constraints and can't get to stretching my whole body, and guess what, splits are the priority, so I just do my ham/quad/hip/glute/frontsplit/sidesplit stretches, and get the fuck out.
I find that I have the most time to stretch after weight training (unless the gym is about to close). I do my weights, grind out the cardio, and by then I'm more than warmed up enough to start stretching for a full 30 seconds per stretch, and maybe even more if I feel up to it. Usually I don't even count. I get into the stretch, wait till it doesn't hurt so much, and get further into the stretch, hold it till it doesn't hurt, maybe repeat a few times, and then move on to the next stretch. Upper body muscles do not require this level of stretching. In fact, I would recommend against it. But that's me, and I've popped my shoulder out a number of times, so I don't stretch my upper body muscles to anywhere near the degree of discomfort I experience with my lower body stretches, or for any more than 15 seconds at a time.
Also I'm not sure why but it was easier to stretch my lower body after an upper body workout.
I'm sure there's another word for this type of stretching, but if you've seen videos of people doing Pavel's Super Joints "cossack" flexibility exercises, you would know what I'm referring to, and this helps a lot to get the muscles geared up for just about anything--a good stretch, weight training, tricking, martial arts, etc. If you're familiar with the "wai kru ram muay", or pre-fight dance of muay thai, it's the same idea. I use it as a quick way to warm up if I don't have a lot of space.
Essentially the idea behind it is to get your muscles used to a slight stretch and also warm up by moving between the stretches, almost like dynamic stretching, except you're not throwing your legs around in any given direction, just easing into the stretch rhythmically (or even not stretching at all, but just going to through the movements) without forcing yourself past a reasonable ROM.
Specific stretches you may or may not know about
This is a stretch I learned back in my tai chi days, though I'm sure there are other disciplines that teach it. Basically what you do is sit on the floor with your stretching leg in front of you, just like any normal hamstring stretch, and with your other leg chambered and pointed out to the side, with your quads facing where your stretching leg is pointing. I find that this better replicates the hip alignment required for front splits when compared to the conventional gym-class hamstring stretch without you having to already be able to do the frontsplits. Once you have pretty good progress in this stretch, all you really have to do is straighten that back leg and you'll be in the front splits!
Essentially a sidesplit stretch with your torso parallel to the ground. Keep your hands on your feet or the outside of your legs for support and slide into it.
This stretch, for me, was a much safer and less exhausting stretch than the freestanding sidesplit stretch because I could use my arms to help stop myself from sliding further than I needed to. But of course, progress was less significant, and after a certain point you'd have no choice but to change the angle of your feet so that you can actually get into the sidesplits. It's a give and take, but this stretch also helped me realize the hip alignment and leg angle I needed to be in to "cheat" the sidesplits.
Once your face gets unbearably close to the ground on this one, you may notice that there isn't enough weight above your hips to drive yourself into the sidesplit stretch. You can either push your torso away from the ground using your arms to put more weight onto your hips, or push your feet outwards with your arms to get a deeper stretch, but eventually you'll pretty much have to suck it up and start doing freestanding sidesplit stretches.
If you can get completely flat on a roadkill stretch, all you have to do is sit up and you'll be in what I call the "cheat" sidesplits.
This is essentially a sidesplit with your legs at an angle just less than parallel with your shoulders. I found it much easier to get into this variation of the sidesplit and I honestly don't know why, but once you can do this, it's just a matter of getting your hips right over top of your legs and continuing the stretch downwards. Remember to keep your coccyx pointed back/down. You may experiment with a forward pointing coccyx at your own discretion, but you'll likely find that it's almost as bad as having your knees pointing a different direction than your toes when doing squats. Except the torque will be in your hips.
It was way too hard to make a video clip of this. Basically your feet are a little bit forward in relation to your hips, and I believe true sidesplits have the feet in line with the hips.
-Wushu frontsplits--frontsplits that you could land a 720 btwist out of without hurting yourself.
During my time in China (the Beijing Gathering of 2006, if you remember) I noticed that when the little kids (ages 8-11) we trained with landed their 720 btwists into frontsplits, they would essentially land on their forward hamstring. This is probably the most comfortable variation of the front splits I've done, but it's pretty much a cheat.
-"Dancer" left/right splits--gymnast frontsplits, but with your hips deliberately not squared because dancers think that looks better. Oh, and point your toes.
In 2008, I lived in a suite with two girls, a rugby player turned stoner, and a gay dancer who would give me shit about my higher flexibility and not pointing my toes. Either way, these splits may or may not help you progress towards the square-hipped, knee down, toes pointed gymnast splits. Honestly, you're just pointing your friggin toes. And unsquaring your hips. I never really had a problem with pointing my toes, but if you can't seem to point your toes while your hips are square, this can help you transition into gymnast front splits.
-"Dancer" center splits--sidesplits, but with your toes pointed, and your knees/instep facing up.
I'm only addressing this variation of the splits because it's there.
This is essentially a v-stretch taken to sidesplit angles. Once you're able to do this, it is easier to be sitting up while doing the sidesplits, but IMO when you are still progressing to sidesplits, this stretch is pretty much useless because it provides no pressure to your adductors and often times is a bit of a cheat. It does have its benefits such as providing a stable platform for you to do oblique/hamstring stretches to either side, but in terms of sidesplit progression specifically, useless.
And finally, the video:
is HOT shit!
dude thanks for this so much! i can't watch the video cause i'm at school but i will when at home man i use to just stretch for as long as i could but i'll do this now, stretch rest then stretch with my chin to toe thanks for this man
is HOT shit!
thanks man I'm going to implement these tips tonight
Kicks = Tricks
as you're stupidly flexible, i'll give this a good read later
If these forums had rep I would rep you, thought-provoking tips bro.
About your comments regarding toe-pointing, it seems like pure aesthetics to me. I don't see the point of it at all.
I am impressed by ballerinas who can walk on the tops of their feet, that's pretty cool. But does it make a stretch harder?
Is there an anterior triaxial muscle that runs from the hip to the toe or something? If not, how does it maker the back leg stretch better? It's more impressive to bend the rear knee to demonstrate superior rectus femoris length.
As for the front leg, a pointed toe just means you aren't stretching the gastrocnemius muscle as much as you could be. It means you probably have tight fascia around where the gastroc and hamstrings cross the knee and cooperate as the flexors.
Last edited by tyciol; 03-12-2010 at 04:38 AM.
is HOT shit!
I loved the song in the video. What was it?
Pointed toes in the front split stretch can give you a pretty weird feeling stretch in your shin if you push the toes downward; very different from when you pull the toes closer to your bum during a quad stretch.
Originally Posted by tyciol
Also I feel that because of the angle of the foot and where your heel is positioned when your toes are pointed, the whole leg is raised up higher and increases the ROM required to reach a full split, kinda like doing frontsplits with your foot on a block.
Pointing the toes on your back leg simply makes it easier to have your knees facing down and directly stretch your hip flexors, as opposed to what I'm pretty sure is the sartorius muscle, which is what gets stretched during a martial arts split.
The rectus femoris is included in most quad stretches and doesn't really get stretched in any of the stretches I showed. But if you can already do a front split with the knee down pretty comfortably, a fun thing to do is to lift your back foot up and grab it with your hands for a ridiculous quad stretch while in the splits. I tried to include this in the article/video but I got a cramp in my hamstring the day before I recorded it (squatting after tricking is not for me, apparently lol) so when I tried it during the recording of the footage it started to cramp up again, and I wasn't that comfy in the gymnast splits anyway.
As for pointed toes not stretching the whatever the hell you're talking about, yeah that's easily fixed by un-pointing your toes, and pulling them back towards you to get a solid calf stretch (the flexibility from which I gained has saved my ankle many times from short landings while learning aerials, 540 variations, and slant gainers).
The Blood of Cuchulainn, performed by Mychael & Jeff Danna; featured in the first Boondock Saints movie.
Originally Posted by Kirkor
You better not take this info to report my video for copyright infringement, I have a disclaimer for that in my video description!
is HOT shit!
Y'know I just realized the irony of the music choice. After making that video, doing all those stretches in succession, the last thing I wanted to do was river dance.