I am trying to find out the most up to date information on the safety of splits and moves like tilts in young children and growing bodies. I don’t mean over stretching and I don’t mean how stretches happen but specifically should we be putting children with soft bones into a splits position before a certain age of development or milestone? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Thank you!
Great question! I searched to see if I could find any research on children and flexibility training and could not find anything that specifically addressed your concern.
So here are my thoughts on the subject of young children and flexibility training. There is a range of flexibility in children just as there is in teenagers and adults. I’ve always believed that the first focus for training the young dancer should be to develop movement coordination and proper skeletal alignment which in turn creates strong and flexible muscles.
When children begin stretching, they need to learn how to do it safely. They need to learn what is an okay physical sensation for them. Children have multiple growth spurts where bones grow faster than muscles and they need to learn how to stretch without undue strain.
It is during these growth spurts where the malleable bones of the young child are most vulnerable. Bone responds to pulls on it by growing outward. That is how bone spurs are created as well as Osgood Schlatter disease. The challenge is to train muscular flexibility and strength in our young children without creating undue strain on the bones. That requires teacher guidance to learn what are appropriate muscular sensations for stretching and strengthening. No pain no gain has no place in the training of young bodies.
For the majority of dancers, having tight hip flexors and hamstring muscles is what keeps them from easily going into the splits (Alignment is important as well as indicated in the photo below.
Breaking down the splits and conditioning the hamstring muscles and hip flexor muscles separately is a good idea. This will decrease potential muscle strains and joint injuries. The majority of children working towards splits don’t need to be concerned with negatively influencing their bone growth if they learn how to stretch properly.
If you have a young child that is naturally flexible and can easily do the splits – it’s possible they could put undue pressure into the joint capsule so those children need to work more on their muscle strength and movement stability over flexibility.
There are my best thoughts for training splits for the young dancer. First focus on movement coordination and patterning. And then let’s teach all our dancers (both young and old) what safe stretching and strengthening might feel and look like.
To your success!