Tight hamstrings and hip flexors are the main reasons you can’t do the splits.
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Doing the splits is so much more than a cool trick in the salon. In fact, the ability to slide seamlessly into a split is a fantastic feat of flexibility and mobility, which is why it is so difficult to make the masterful switch.
So, if you’re wondering, “Why can’t I do the splits?”, Joanie Johnson, CPT, former professional dancer and founder of the Strong Mom Society, shares top five reasons and strategies to help you make things better.
If you: Can’t fully straighten your legs
You could: Have tight hips
Stiff hips can hamper your splits. When your hips and hip flexors can’t achieve their full range of motion, your balancing act will only go so far, Johnson says.
Many people keep the muscles around their hips tense because they’re sitting up, she says. Muscular imbalances, weakness, overuse and injuries are also common causes of inflexible hip flexors.
Johnson suggests doing targeted stretches such as: B. the pigeon pose and a squat stretch to improve hip flexibility.
Also, remember: “Flexibility comes with mobility,” says Johnson. To be flexible, you need to move your muscles often – and over their entire range of motion – otherwise they will become cramped or weak, she explains. In addition to stretching exercises, incorporate hip strengthening exercises to improve mobility.
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- Sit on the floor with one leg bent forward and the other leg extended backward.
- Try to point both hips down toward the floor.
- Put your hands on your thighs, hips, or in front of you, then switch legs.
Kneeling hip flexion stretch
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- Start in a kneeling position with your left knee on the floor just below your left hip and your right foot on the floor. Your right leg should form a 90-degree angle.
- Without arching your lower back, contract your core and tuck in your tailbone by pushing your butt forward.
- Squeeze the glutes on your left side for added stretch and support.
- Then switch legs and repeat the process on the opposite side.
If you: cannot stabilize your pelvis
You could: have tight hamstrings
Strained hamstrings are another reason you can’t do the splits. “Tight hamstrings pull your pelvis out of its neutral position, which often causes back pain and reduced range of motion,” says Johnson. And this will affect your ability to hit your splits. Incorrect positioning of your pelvis will tighten your lower back, knees, and pelvic bones, she explains.
Try doing the following simple stretches daily to relieve tension in your hamstrings. Remember to give priority to mobility as well.
“Trying to stretch without focusing on mobility can result in injury because the muscles aren’t used to moving that way,” says Johnson.
To loosen up tight hamstrings, it’s a good idea to do mobility exercises like leg swings, kicks, and squats (or even a bit of light cardio) to get the muscles moving and the blood flowing, she says.
Sitting forward bend
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- Sit up straight with your legs together. Tense your quadriceps (thighs) to elongate your hamstrings. The knees can be slightly bent.
- Bend forward from the waist and grasp your shins, ankles, or toes while maintaining a long spine and straight legs.
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- From a kneeling position, step one foot forward between your hands and extend your leg in front of you.
- Keep your hips straight and stacked above your knee as you flex your forefoot and begin folding your front leg.
- Switch legs and repeat on opposite side.
If you: have tightness in the groin
You could: Lack of flexibility in your inner thighs
“If people feel like they’ve pulled a groin doing the splits, it’s usually because of the tension in the inner thighs,” says Johnson. “Your inner thighs, or adductors, run along the inside of your thigh and are responsible for pulling your legs together and helping with hip flexion and extension.”
So if your adductors aren’t flexible, your splits will suffer.
When it comes to flexibility: if you don’t use it, you lose it. “Most of us tend to sit or stand in one position for too long during the day, which causes everything to contract,” says Johnson. Your muscles – including your adductors – become a very tight elastic band that doesn’t give in much.
To combat this, Johnson recommends doing the butterfly stretch. This three-in-one movement relieves tension in the inner thighs, hips and lower back.
And again, focus on mobility exercises. “As you increase your mobility and range of motion, you can increase your stretch more easily,” says Johnson.
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- Sit upright with the soles of your feet together with your knees bent to one side.
- Hold your feet in place with your hands while pulling your heels towards you.
- Bend forward without hopping while keeping your back straight.
If you: cannot sit comfortably on the floor
You could: Have tension in the pelvic floor
“The pelvic floor muscles line the entire pelvic shell and are made up of five layers of connective tissue,” says Johnson. Tension in this area can seriously affect your flexibility and mobility, especially since all of the muscles in your pelvic floor, trunk, and lower body are interconnected.
Tension in the pelvic floor often affects the muscles around the hips and adductors, which we already know play a role in your ability to do proper splits, Johnson says.
“Make sure your pelvic floor is relaxed while you do your splits to release excessive tension in these areas,” says Johnson.
Relaxation exercise for the pelvic floor
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- Lie on your back with the soles of your feet together and your knees bent to the side.
- Put both hands behind your head and practice expanding your lower abdomen completely.
If you: Have tight hip flexors
You might: Have a stiff lower back
Insidious reason why you can’t do the splits? Sedentary lifestyle in the lower back.
But an inflexible lower back is usually a symptom of another problem, like compensating for tightness or weakness in a surrounding muscle, Johnson says. An unbending back can also be a sign that you’re breathing incorrectly, she adds.
“There are exercises you can do to stretch your lower back, but it’s more important to get to the root of the problem,” says Johnson.
For example, tight iliopsoas (hip flexors) are a common culprit for a stiff back. If your hip flexors are too tight, they can cause lordosis – an excessive curvature of your lower back, Johnson says. To relieve a stiff back, you may need to struggle with your hip flexors first. (Try the kneeling hip flexion stretch above.)
Similarly, a lot of back pain can be caused by the diaphragm not breathing. “When you have chest breathing, you breathe shallower, which tones and tightens your back muscles,” says Johnson. Therefore, practicing deep breathing during the day can help loosen up your back muscles.
“Once you feel the difference between chest and abdominal (diaphragm) breathing, slowly work your way up to standing and see if you can maintain the same abdominal breath,” says Johnson.
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- Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach.
- Focus on how your stomach rises with each inhale and descends with each exhale.