Let’s get bendy: flexibility exercises for the splits

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Flexibility in climbing cannot be ignored – just watch a professional competition. Holds can span wide both horizontally and vertically, leaving you to find some very creative beta if your body just can’t bend the way you want it to.

I will say now that I am not a flexible person, nor have I ever been. Never in my life could I do the splits; it was always something all my friends could do, but I just couldn’t. Since I’ve been getting into more training lately to prepare for this season, I asked my very flexible friend if she could teach me some stretches I could do to get my legs ready for those reachy moves.

Turns out, her exercises were pretty awesome. A month and a half in, and I’m already seeing a difference. Because she is so great, she has agreed to let me share them with you! And to help me showcase these exercises she has also agreed to model for me as she is much more photogenic and flexible than myself. Check her out on instagram for some cool yoga and acroyoga shots @fe_viana_ Enjoy!:)

12 Steps for the Splits

Frequency: at least twice a week. Because these are static stretches, make sure they follow some form of physical activity (climbing, running, biking, etc.)

Hold each stretch for approx. 45 seconds. Maintain steady breathing, reaching further into the stretch during each exhale.

1. Begin by standing with legs spread out, facing the width of your mat. Slowly rotate your hips around like you were balancing an invisible hula hoop.

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Beginning stance (mat not necessary but helpful)

2. Reach down to the ground with your hands, opening legs to the ground as far as possible. Stop when you feel a deep stretch in your inner thighs. Rest on your forearms if possible (support yourself with your hands if you cannot spread your legs far enough to rest on forearms). Maintain a straight, flat back.

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Open legs to the ground, keeping straight back

3. From this split position, slowly push yourself back and sit onto your butt while maintaining open legs. Reach over to one leg, and grab your foot (with both hands if possible). Rest your chest as close to your leg as possible, feeling a stretch throughout the opposite side of your torso.

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Sitting on butt, reach over and grab foot with both hands

4. If you can reach your foot with both hands, grab your left leg with your right arm, keeping your chest facing forward. Bring your right arm in front and rest on the ground. Feel the burn in your side! Repeat #3 and #4 with opposite leg. (FYI: I cannot do this yet, so I’m skipping it for now as the above exercise is a build up to this one).

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Deep side stretch for those who are able!

5. From the open leg seated position, reach chest forward. Bend at your waist, not with your back (pretend like you’re trying to pull your ribs over a bar). Do NOT arch your back. If you have someone nearby, have them sit behind you, slowly pushing your entire back forward with their body.

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Open legs to the ground, reaching forward bending at the waist

Now onto the front split! This type of split has several stretches warming up to the real deal. 

6. Stand facing the end of your mat. Walk one leg out in front, until you’re in a lunge position. Push forward, lowering your hips until you feel a stretch in between your legs (and the hip flexors).

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Lunge position, stretching the hip flexors

7. From this lunge position, push back with front leg so both legs are straight and forming an upside down ‘v’. Reach forward planting both hands flat to the ground with your foot in between, maintaining straight back.

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Lunge position turns into straight legs with hands flat to the ground in front of you

8. Bend front leg to place back knee to the ground. Grab foot from your back leg, and twist your body to place chest near front thigh. Use your other hand for support. You should feel this in your back thigh.

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Legs form a zig zag pattern to stretch back thigh and hip flexor

9. Sit back on your back leg, stretching your front leg flat to the ground in front. Pull your chest to the ground while maintaining a flat back. Reach out in front.

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Sitting on folded back leg, feel the stretch of straight front leg

10. You’re ready to try the front split! With one foot in front, reach your back leg as far back as possible while keeping it flat to the ground. When back leg is fully extended, you may try to reach your front leg as far ahead as possible. There are many ways to get into this position, but I like this one the best. Repeat #6 through #10 with opposite side.

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Attempt front split! Remember to repeat above stretches with opposite side

11. Sit with both legs together in front of you. Keeping chest high, reach forward bending at your waist.

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Fold at the waist with chest reaching out, grab feet with both hands

12. Take one leg and fold it into your body. Chest up, reach forward and grab front foot with both hands. Repeat with opposite side.

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One leg stretch

There you go! Now repeat until you’ve got it mastered. You can do it, I know you can:) I’ll keep you updated on my progress – keep me updated with yours! Good luck!

Climb on xx

(Special thanks to Fernanda for her expertise)