Friday, 23 October 2015

Spine, hips, and hamstrings: Splits Variations

Standing variation of splits
Before you attempt any of these variations you should first review my blogpost about active movement and in particular about the tummy activation (

In particular review the first video on supine activation (shown again below) that gives you an idea about what your tummy is doing in these postures.

Ok, so now you have reviewed (and practiced and understood) the importance of tummy activation we can have a think about some other thoughts on helping hamstrings, hips, and spine.

In these sequences I highlight the idea of bringing chest to knees.  This is an active movement that we do by initially using tummy activation first and then using hip flexion.

With these postures I am using an active tummy movement then trying to lengthen my spine along the front of the thigh.  A more apt description would be that I am not so much trying to bring chest to thigh but trying to bring belly button to thigh and then take my belly button to the knee along the front of the thigh.

If you are thinking of bringing chest to thigh this can create a tendency to droop or drop the chest when I actually want spinal length.  In this practice if your spine will not lengthen then you are too deep in the posture.

This might require a radical rethink of your postures and movement.

While it may not immediately seem apparent, these are all fairly intense forward bends.  There is a danger of over stretching.  Do not attempt intense forward bends without supervision or a good understanding of your own lower spine.  Best to practice with a teacher.  As with all postures, you must be careful and go slowly.


The video shows how I have lengthened my spine along the front of my thigh in the various incarnations of this posture.  You should only straighten your leg if you can keep your spine long and do not feel strain. This will be beyond the capacity of most people.

Step 1: Toe and hips forward

Lengthen lower back (sitting bones to heels, top of pelvis back.

Toe forward, hips forward.  This should help create postural firmness in your tummy.

Step 2: Knee raise

Lift knee forward and up.  Make sure you keep hips forward.

Step 3: Spinal forward flexion
I bend forward from my spine to activate tummy muscles more (like I am doing a sit up in my tummy).  I am trying to bring my chest towards the thigh without drooping the chest (keep it long).

Step 4: Push and press

Hold shin.  With bent elbows pull with your hands but press with your shin.

There will be a tendency for the tummy to switch off here as the arms take over.  But keep it on!

I try to wriggle my belly button up along the thigh.  This is lengthening the spine and you will see that my back body is long throughout.

Step 5: Lean back

I lean back to come towards an upright position.  Some people will not be able to keep their chest and thigh together and come fully upright.  So, stay forward and that is where you remain for the rest of the postures (do not go on).

Step 6: Open knee angle
 Keeping all previous activations, take an arm behind the thigh to keep chest and thigh connected.

Slowly start to open the knee angle.  Do this actively.  I am not pulling it open with my hands here.  I use my hand on my heel so I can push my heel into my hand and pull back with my hand.

You might not be able to open the knee angle and keep chest and thigh together so only open so far that they stay together.  This is where you stay.

Step 7: Open
 If the leg will continue to open comfortably then you can take both hands and continue to straighten the leg.

In this position my hand is helping to open my leg.  I am not strong enough to take my leg up this straight against gravity.

But I make active efforts to straighten the leg with my front thigh muscles, and also keep a pushing action of heel into hand and hand into heel.

Tummy stays firm.  Spine stays long.

Step 1: Lunge
I transitioned to this from the previous posture, keeping chest to thighs and belly button working towards knee.  I kept an active tummy.  Most people will not keep active tummy as this is an easy posture to just collapse into.  This means collapsing tummy and collapsing into the hip joints.

It is important to remember how I came into this posture, which is first through active spinal flexion with tummy activation and then hip flexion keeping tummy firm. Finally, I do some spinal extension but trying to wriggle my belly button up towards my knee.  You can see tieback of my body is long. In fact, it is pretty straight.

In this position I keep my back leg active.

Step 2: Lengthen

I go to a split here.  It is a matter of slowly straightening my legs and keeping everything else the same.  that makes it sound easy.  But it is not!

Step 1: Short lunge
 Tummy firm, I come to a short lunge.  Keep standing leg active so I don't collapse into my hip.  I keep sitting bones down and top of pelvis back to lengthen lower back and keep front of groin unsquashed.

Step 2: Both knees to chest
 Bring the back knee to chest.  Both knees are working to chest.  Keep front of groins unsquashed.

Step 3: Straight standing leg
Take the raised leg out behind you.  I am rolling that thigh in.  Pelvis level.  Got to be mindful you do not sink into the standing hip and squash the front of groin.

Step 4: Take it up
The raised leg stays rolling in, straight, and I see if I can just take the leg up.  Watch that you are not rolling the pelvis out.

There you go.  A few more variations

These are tricky ones because they are very easy to collapse into.  It is easy to sink and be passive if you are not mindful.

You might see if you can bring knee close to chest while you are lying on your back and without the hands.  That would be a good indicator of whether or not these variations are going to be possible for you.

 If the knee will not come to close to the chest while lying on your back you are going to find these postures impossible or difficult or else you will probably be doing the by compensating with some other movement.  It might be worth thinking about trying the supine variations for a while longer first.

have fun.  Happy and safe practicing!

Much metta,

1 comment:

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