Training For Splits
#1: I have my splits, but they aren’t straight (my hips aren’t straight). I’m wondering; is it necessary for your hips to be straight in the splits to be able to do good kicks and stuff? Or is it okay to not have straight hips in ballet?
#2: I am a professional ballroom dancer and teacher who primarily competes in West Coast Swing. I have been working for over a year now to be able to do a split. The type of split I’m referring to is either left leg in front with right leg going back or vice versa. I find that I can get down quite far but there is still about two inches between the floor and me. Can you suggest exercises or stretches that will enable me to do a full split? I maintain a daily Pilates and yoga practice so I’m quite flexible.
I’ve been reading your newsletter for quite some time now and really enjoy it. Thank you, Ellany
#3: What are some good stretches for a good or high extension and leaps? My splits are fine but my extensions and leaps (jete) need some work.
Please help! La Precious
These three questions are speaking to the same issue of flexibility versus strength, and so I put them together. For Ellany, she is missing the last few inches of her splits, and for La Precious she has her splits, but needs work on her leaps and extensions. Talya’s question fits right in because of the misconception that you can keep your hips square doing the splits – which you can’t.
Let’s start first talk about square hips. Keeping your pelvis facing forward while going into the splits is a focus. The picture of a flexible gymnast in the splits has the back leg more parallel than what a dancer has in arabesque or a split leap. The dancer is working towards a turned out (and high) back leg which requires good front of the hip flexibility to allow the leg to go behind. The more you can keep the pelvis square – or facing forward – the easier it is to determine the path for the two legs when they open into the splits – certainly important if you are working on a balance beam, but slightly less so in the dance class. So Talya, the short answer to your question is it okay not to have square hips in ballet is yes – and – when you are doing battements or splits leaps focus your efforts on keep the pelvis facing forward – don’t get discouraged if you can’t maintain a perfectly square pelvis – and continue your stretching.
Now let’s talk some about flexibility. Since Ellany does yoga and Pilates on a regular basis I know that she is stretching regularly. The most basic analysis of the splits are that the front let have a strong stretch happening in the hamstrings and buttock muscles, while the back leg is stretching the front of the hip. The front leg should have the knee facing the ceiling and the back leg will either have the knee facing down to the ground, which stretches the hip flexors more or the knee facing to the side, which stretches the inner thigh muscles more.
I would have you first see what the natural inclination of your back leg is as you go down into the splits. Do you want to turn your leg out? Then focus on increasing and deepening your hip flexor stretches. Does your leg stay nicely behind and facing the floor? In which case, focus for a while on increasing the flexibility of your adductor, or inner thigh muscles.
The more pitched forward your pelvis is when you are going down in the splits, the more likely the hip flexors are keeping you off the ground. That may also give you a clue whether it is the hip flexors (usually the iliopsoas) or inner thigh muscles.
The last question I would ask of you is where do you feel the resistance to deepening the splits? If you don’t feel much muscular resistance to the lowering in the splits, then you might look at having some myofascial massage work done to release tightness in other areas along the front or back line that may be getting in your way.
With LaPrecious feeling that she has her flexibility and splits down, but unable to make her leaps more spectacular, that may be a deficiency in strength. More often I see weakness in the hip extensors (hamstrings) over the hip flexors (quads). Try lifting your back leg up more quickly sometimes makes a difference. Dancers are often overly focused on the front leg and lifting it u p high. The back leg is doing a very fast battement as soon as it pushes off (as in a grand jeté).
If your back leg doesn’t get as high as you’d like in your leaps, then focus on strengthening the extensors of the hip, the hamstrings and gluteal muscles.
You can do that by placing a small weight on one leg and doing back tendus or dégagés. You could also use a theraband and do the same thing by looping it around your foot and a support such as a heavy chair or sturdy pole or column.
Increasing your strength or your flexibility doesn’t happen overnight and consistency is key.