How to Do the Splits in Gymnastics

Oh those beautiful splits! One of the joys of watching gymnasts perform is seeing them perform this feat with ease and grace. Gymnasts perform the splits so effortlessly that you may be fooled into thinking it is simple. But as anyone who has tried the move knows, splits are anything but easy. In fact, they can be downright painful!

Some people are born with natural flexibility while others have to practice to achieve the same level of pliancy. Fortunately, performing the splits is possible for anyone who takes the time to work at the skill and is willing to feel uncomfortable for a while.

Type of Splits

Gymnasts perform three types of splits: The left leg front splits, the right leg front splits and the middle splits.

Here is a short description of each:

Left leg front: Performed with the left leg in front and the right leg behind the body. Both legs are straight and flat on the ground with toes pointed. The body is square to the legs.

Right leg front: Performed exactly like the left leg front split, only with the right leg in front and the left leg behind.

Middle splits: Both the left and right legs are directly to the sides of the body. The legs are tight and touching the ground with knees facing upwards and toes pointed. The body is squared and centered.

Starting Point

When first learning the splits, remember to take your time. Most bodies are not naturally flexible (although there are a lucky few) and getting your body to the ground in the splits will take effort, time, and some discomfort.

Here are three steps that can help:

Step 1: Warm-up

Never start stretching without warming up first: the warmer the muscles and ligaments, the more elastic and flexible they will be. Most elite gymnasts start their warm up with some type of aerobic exercise such as leg kicks across the floor, skips, or leaps. You can also run a few laps around the gym, jump rope, or practice gymnastic skills across the floor.

Step 2: Stretch

Once your body is warm, you can start your stretching regimen. The splits are really an exercise of flexibility—the more flexible you are the easier they will be. To increase your flexibility, you need to stretch daily.

Try adding these exercises to your routine:

Standing stretch: Stand with your feet together and legs straight. Bend over at a 90 degree angle and reach your hands towards your toes, moving down only as far as you can with your legs straight. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.

Pike stretch: Sit down on a mat or gym floor, extend your legs out in front of you, and reach down to your toes. Keep your legs together and straight with your toes pointed. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.

Straddle stretch: While sitting, spread your legs apart into a wide straddle. Keep your knees aimed to the ceiling with your legs straight and toes pointed. Slowly lean forward and reach your arms out in front of you. Try to get your stomach flat on the floor and hold the stretch for 20 seconds.

Step 3: The Splits

Now that you have stretched your body, you are ready to try the splits.

Front leg splits:

  • Start in a standing position and place one leg out in front of the body.
  • Keeping the leg straight, extend the front leg down to the ground.
  • Straighten the back leg directly behind you and extend it to the ground.
  • Go as far down as you can with your legs straight.
  • Hold the stretch for as long as possible with your arms supporting your body.

If you are not able to go all the way to the floor – that’s OK. When you need to rest, slowly ease out of the stretch, relax for a moment and try again.

Again – remember discomfort is normal, pain is not!

Middle splits:

  • Start standing with legs in a straddle position on the ground
  • Slowly inch legs outward from the sides of the body, keeping legs tight and straight with your body square and hips facing forward. Go as far down as you can with your legs straight.
  • Hold the stretch for as long as possible with your hands supporting the body on either side, or if you can, put your elbows on the ground.

Hot Tip: Listen to Your Body

It is important for a gymnast to learn the difference between pain and discomfort. If stretching feels uncomfortable or awkward, that is normal – your body is naturally easing into a position that requires flexibility. If, however it causes sharp, unbearable pain, stop and ease out of the position. Pain signals injury. If you try to push through the pain, you may end up tearing a muscle, ligament or worse.

Importance of Splits in Gymnastics

The splits play an important role in gymnastics. They are an integral part of countless gymnastics skills, including split jumps, cartwheels, round-offs, and front and back walkovers. The more flexible you are, the better you will perform those tricks. Even in events such as bars and vault, the ability to stretch into the splits will increase your overall performance and score.

Even more important, the splits will help prevent injury. Performing them regularly maintains a high level of flexibility, which allows the body to safely enter positions that an otherwise inflexible person could not. The more flexible the body is, the less likely any skills will cause injury.

Attainable Goal

Learning the splits can be one of the most frustrating elements for many aspiring gymnasts. However it is one of those skills that all gymnasts need to have in their skill set. The good news is that given time, patience and diligence the splits are an attainable goal.

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