During our yoga practice we’re constantly moving between forward and backward bending poses, as well as into stretches that stretch the hips and groin muscles. Many are very basic, like the seated forward bend and the seated wide-legged bend.
Recently we’ve started doing some of the stretches we usually do on the mat using stability balls, and people have seen even bigger changes in their split flexibility. We’re carefully documenting these stretches, measuring our students’ progress, as we documented in this previous post.
It even helped me, one of Third Law’s yoga teachers, get all the way there. I’ve been a few inches away for months, but doing the ball stretches after my usual stretching routine made a huge difference.
Splits are a great asset for martial artists, but they are also great for anyone – because if you can do a split it means that your level of flexibility in that area is high, which is a good thing. Splits require flexible legs and hips, and the opposite – tight legs and hips – often leads to back problems.
So we have four ball stretches to get you started. It’s a good idea to work out first, do some gentle forward bending stretches and then start doing these. You always want to be warm before trying to stretch your muscles deeply.
Stretch #1: Lunge on the ball
Place your back leg on the ball, with your knee and shin pressing down. Your front leg is in a lunge position with your knee at a 90 degree angle. You’ll feel this stretch mostly in the hip of the leg that’s up on the ball.
Intensify the stretch by pushing down with your knee on the ball and you’ll feel more pull in your hip. Watch your balance!
Stretch #2: Split with back leg on the ball
For the second stretch, move your front foot forward on the mat and work your back leg backward, perhaps higher onto the ball. How far you go into this stretch will depend on your flexibility. Just go to the point where you feel slight discomfort in the stretch, never pain.
In this stretch, you’ll feel the pull in your hip as in the last one, but you’ll also feel it in the hamstring of the front leg. Splits require flexibility in both the hips and the muscles along the backs of the legs, including the hamstrings.
Stretch #3: Lunge with front leg on the ball
First, kneel in front of the ball. Put the leg you’ve had in front for the other stretches on top of the ball and keep your back knee on the mat. Keep the back knee at a 90 degree angle, the front leg straight. Lean forward placing both hands on the ball on either side of your foot, or down on the mat. You’ll feel this stretch mostly in your hamstring.
We’ll add a photo soon, but look below for an image of the split version of this stretch. The leg position for the lunge is the same, you’re just not leaning forward as deeply into the stretch.
Stretch #4: Split with front leg on the ball
Finally, you’ll move into the split with the front leg on the ball. In this one, your front leg balances on the ball and your back leg moves backward into the split. Lean forward if possible.
If you’re tight, your back knee will be bent more closely to 90 degrees, if you’re more flexible, you can lean forward to straighten that back leg like you see in the photo.
So, those are our four split development stretches for the day.
They’re great stretches for you to work on at home — all you need is a little bit of space and a ball, which you can get at stores including Target, Sports Authority and Walmart.
I recommend that you do all four with one leg forward, try your split on the mat with that leg forward, and then switch legs. Do it often after working out and you’ll start to notice big changes!