The best time to get your splits is always yesterday (unfortunately) but once you do – everything improves in your dancing when you have the flexibility to fill out those jumps and kicks. Building flexibility is an investment that requires time, technique, dedication, and overcoming fears to achieve. It’s something that seems easy unless you are one of those with a split still a foot off the ground and facing the long haul of holding stretches. I’ve put together a tips sheet from my experiences as a dancer and coach. Note: I am not a doctor or trainer and this advice should not take the place of the advice of a professional about your personal flexibility. If you are unsure, always seek advice in person from a professional!
Time: I encourage dancers to give themselves plenty of time to work on splits as there is a point when you need to stop for the day or even the week to give muscles time to repair and build new tissue. Waiting until winter is a risky idea as your muscles are weakened and subject to tearing while you are building flexibility. A hamstring injury can last a few weeks or even the rest of your season, not a pretty picture. Coaches also don’t like to see that they need to spend extra practice time on splits; it’s a prerequisite on some teams so you can’t come in without them. So how long do you hold them? I suggest 1:30-2 minutes on each hold to build flexibility. :30-1:00 gains your normal range of motion and you need to go past that point to be increasing. I’d do one hold, change to another, and then come back to your first one for 2-3 cycles to really jump start the improvement. Don’t just do it once and expect gains. Check out this guide from the International Fitness Association on building splits.
Technique: make sure you’re doing holds with correct technique – this includes pointed toes, sitting up over the split and not to the side, holding your posture, or incorporating any team standards you have for that stretch so your body learns to do it correctly every time. Technique protects you and builds muscle memory of correct positioning so don’t neglect it. If you’re unsure, ask your coach for guidance.
Dedication: This won’t happen overnight. It might not happen even in a few weeks if you have a long way to go – but I’d recommend doing it as often as your muscles can take it, allowing for rebuilding time. Don’t forget you’ll need vitamins and good nutrition to promote healthy muscle growth. Bananas, dairy, lean protein like nuts and chicken will be essential. Don’t reach for a bag of chips after a long session of splits.
Fear: You might feel a little afraid that you will hurt yourself. Your legs and arms will likely shake. This is a normal reaction and something you will need to control and try to listen to your body’s real responses vs. fear. I suggest focusing on breathing, relaxing, and not clenching the supporting muscles like your quadriceps to “hold yourself up”. If you need assistance, a partner is a great help, as well as hanging on to the back of a chair, couch, or using a stair for an oversplit. Fight to stay still and calm during a split rather than wiggling out over and over again. Don’t ‘bounce’. If you fall out of a split, jump right back in during your timer.
Tips: Be healthy and able first. Discuss a plan with your coaches or trainers. If you have a hard time watching a timer without boredom, play the commercials game where you are holding splits during the commercials of a show you are watching, and then get out during the program. ½ hour of that is amazing! Reading during the holds is also helpful to relax and not clench muscles. Think about what you are trying to achieve and see yourself achieving it for maximum motivation. You CAN do it!