Some people are just naturally flexible. They can slide into the splits like it's nothing and then hang out there, perfectly at ease. If that's not you, don't give up. For most people, gaining the flexibility to get into the splits takes time -- often a long time -- and regular practice. Flexibility is not something you want to rush -- doing so could result in injury. Following a daily targeted stretching routine will get you to your goal in a matter of weeks or months.
Muscles Involved in the Splits
Almost all the muscles in the lower body are involved in getting into the splits. On the forward leg, the glutes and hamstrings need to be open; on the back leg, it's the hip flexors and quadriceps. The groin muscles, including the adductors on the insides of the thighs, are also involved. You also need to have good range of motion in your hip joints, which will develop as you train.
The hip flexors and hamstrings tend to be problem areas for many people. Because people spend so much time sitting these days, those muscles become overly tight and, in some cases, atrophied. Aside from stretching, staying active in your daily life will help keep the muscles healthy and limber and enable you to achieve the splits faster.
You might think that just by practicing getting into the splits each day that you could eventually work up to full splits. You probably could, but it's not the fastest or safest way to get there. Physical therapist Lisa Howell recommends gradually working through all the muscles in the lower legs and pelvis, in addition to testing your splits every so often.
Start each flexibility session with a good warm up. Stretching when you're not warmed up can lead to muscle strains, sprains and tears. Take a brisk walk or a light jog for five to 10 minutes. Then, do some dynamic stretches for the legs. As opposed to the static stretches that you're working toward, dynamic stretches involve movement that primes your muscles for activity, or for longer held stretches. Leg swings -- both front to back and side to side -- are a great choice.
Kneeling lunge: Come into a lunge position with the back knee on the floor and both knees at 90 degrees. Make sure your front foot is aligned under your front knee. Contract your core muscles and tuck your pelvis slightly to take any arch out of your lower back. Keeping both hips facing forward, gently lean forward into your front foot, feeling a stretch along the front of your back leg. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then switch sides. Repeat two more times.
Hamstring stretch. From your lunge position, shift your body weight back and straighten your front leg so your toes lift off the floor. Stand up on your back knee so it's aligned under your hips and shoulders. Keeping your front leg straight or slightly bent, fold forward at the hips with a flat spine. Only go as far as you can without your spine rounding. You should feel the stretch in the hamstring of your front leg. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then switch sides. Repeat two more times.
Butterfly stretch: Sit on the floor with your spine erect. Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall out to either side. Your legs should form a diamond shape. Take hold of the tops of your feet with both hands. Keeping your spine straight, begin to bring your forehead toward your feet. Press your knees down toward the ground. Only come forward as far as you can without your spine rounding. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. Repeat two more times.
Side splits: Sit on the floor and open your legs as wide as you can. Sit up tall and slowly bring your torso forward as far as you can without rounding your back. Hold onto your shins or reach your fingertips out in front of you on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. Repeat two more times.
Assisted front splits: Grab a yoga block or two and put them nearby. From a kneeling lunge position, begin to walk your front foot forward and your slide your back knee back. Keep your hip and thigh muscles engaged. Go as far as you can into the splits without pain and stop. Place a block under the middle belly of your hamstring muscle. If you need more height, stack another block on top. Let the blocks support some of your weight. See if you can get a little more length in your back leg. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then switch sides. Repeat two more times.