Full disclosure: I can do splits both ways. That is, I can do the splits with one leg in front of me and one leg behind and I can do the version where both of my legs are spread eagle to my right and left. When people see me do splits for the first time, this is usually how our conversation goes:
“Wow. You’re so flexible. Were you born that way?”
“This? No no. The secret is to cut off your balls- you’ve got to really want it.”
“Just kidding. I have all three of my balls. I wasn’t born more flexible than the average person. I’ve just kept it my flexibility longer than most.”
I grew up doing martial arts since I was seven years old and I started this journey with Tae Kwon Do. When I was a teenager teaching Tae Kwon Do to younger kids, I noticed something. I would ask the kids that were seven years old and below to do the splits for me and they could do it with ease. When I asked the kids that were about 10 to do the splits, they struggled. From that, I learned that as we get older, even from a very young age as seven to eight or nine to ten, we start to lose more and more of our flexibility. For most adults I’ve worked with, it’s an effort for them to touch their toes or have their head touch their knees. When I ask how often they stretch, the answer is usually “never.” To stretch is just a preservation of flexibility or a way to reclaim one’s flexibility.
HOW TO STRETCH
No bouncing. We don’t need to put extra pressure on your tendons, ligaments and muscle fibers. Instead, the key to stretching is long holds.
Try to hold any stretch for at least 10 seconds. Those 10 seconds will feel like forever, but as you build up more of your flexibility, you’ll be able to stretch deeper and hold those stretches for much longer. That pain will go away, but you need to go through it first before it leaves your body. What happens is we are stretching your muscle fibers during this time. The key though is you have to be consistent because if you don't stretch for long periods of time, then your muscles go back to being inflexible.
Another tip: exhale on the actual stretch. When you exhale, you can compress your chest a little bit more. This allows you to get deeper and lower in your stretches. Also, by exhaling, you can channel some of that pain out of your body through your breath. For example, when you bench press, you exhale on the actual push because that gives a bit more push and compression for physical exertion.
When to stretch?
Every morning- this is great way to start and win the day. You'll also gain fantastic returns and be more limber for the rest of your day
Before workouts- Nothing crazy, but a light stretch before a workout can help you reduce pulling any muscles or injuring yourself.
After workouts- This is the sweet spot. Your body is warm and so now you can reach significant gains with stretching. A great time to take advantage and really gain that flexibility
HERE ARE SOME OF MY GREAT DAILY STRETCHES
Stand straight up
Hands on hips
Rotate neck clockwise for 10 reps and then counterclockwise for 10 reps
Stand straight up
Rotate one arm forward and straight out for 10 slow reps and then backwards for 10. Make big circular movements to limber up your shoulders
Stand straight up
Left foot forward
Bring your left arm up, bend your elbow and put your left hand on your back. Your right hand grabs your elbow and holds it back to stretch the tricep. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the right side with your right foot now forward
Stand straight up
Hands on your hips
Rotate your hips like you are using a big hula hoop. You are making big rotations to get your hips loose
Do 10 clockwise and 10 counterclockwise
Single-leg hamstring stretch
Sit with your left leg straight in front of you and your right foot tucked in so that the bottom is on the inside of your left thigh
Pull your left toes back
Put your left hand on your left knee, ankle or bottom of your left foot (only go as far as you can without bending your knee and not feeling pain)
Take your right arm and make a big circle over your head with it and place it where your left hand is. You should also feel the stretch on your right torso/obliques
Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the opposite side
Double-leg hamstring stretch:
Sit on the floor with both legs forward
Pull both of your toes back and keep your knees straight
Take a deep breath and go down for the stretch on the exhale
Try to get both hands on your knees, ankles or bottom of your feet
Keep your head down
Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 2 more times
Vertical hamstring stretch
Lay on your back
Raise your left leg straight into the air and keep your right leg straight on the ground
Take your opposite hand (left leg= right hand) and try to grab your left toes
With your left hand, push on your left knee
Hold this for 10 seconds and switch to the other leg
Start with your left heel and right knee on the ground
Also place both of your hands on the ground on each side of you
Slowly push your left heel forward or pull your right knee back
Relax and let go of squeezing the tension in your left thigh
Side splits/ Middle splits
Start by sitting down with your legs open as wide as possible
Move both hands to your left side and hold it for 10 seconds
Move both hands to your right side and hold it for 10 seconds
Then put both hands down the middle and hold for 10 seconds
Move up a little bit and repeat one more time
In the end, you should never feel pain when you stretch. If you do, that means you’re pushing too much and are at risk of injury. Rather, you should feel a stretching feeling. That is the sweet spot you’re looking for. Once you get there, your goal is to hold it for 10 seconds. Gradually, you will surpass that threshold and move onto the next. Remember, just like strength or weight loss, flexibility is also a slow gain.
"My eyes are up here"- John Le