Are you stretching past your comfort zone with your fitness dreams? I’m talking about that moment when you are about to go past your bubble of safety. It feels a little scary and alarms start to go off in your brain telling you to “Stop! Go back!”. For some newly minted fitness addicts this could be stepping into a brand new fitness class.
For me it’s my new fitness goal: Do the splits.
Before I brought my new “splits” goal to you dear dreamers, I wanted to make sure you checked in with your own body. That’s why I went into such detail in my post last week, “Fitness Challenge: Check Your Functional Range of Motion”. It provided a bunch of details on how to test your own healthy movement ability. How did that go for you?
I used to be Gumby, but can I be that flexible again?
Here’s a little background on my long gone flexibility. I was a ballet dancer and gymnast 25 years ago. And now I feel really old just doing the math on that.
The ability to do the splits is a big part of both dancing and gymnastics and I now refer to that period of my life as the “Gumby years”. Bend me in any direction and I could pop back with no trouble at all.
The reality is that I never had to work at it. Being flexible was just there through my teens and 20’s. Then life set in, along with 8-12 hour of sitting a day over decades, and what seems like overnight, no more flexibility. It never had to work on it before, so it didn’t occur to me I would have to work on it as I got older.
Ugh. The constant reminders of how my body is changing through the decades are getting annoying. This whole flexibility thing is just the latest that I’ve realized is no longer allowed to be on the back burner.
Stretching and mobility work always gets set aside.
I just spent my time working out sweating. Time to get on with my day!
This is how about 80% of my after workout inner monologues go. Never mind the tightness in my calves that was getting worse after ever bike ride. Or the hip tightness that occasionally affects my ability to get down in those low squats.
I needed a fitness challenge to make this focus on stretching out work for me. A goal that would make me stick with it. Just like when I signed up for my first triathlon. Pick a goal and set a deadline.
That’s when I came up with getting back to being able to do the splits. And the deadline for this goal? My birthday in early June.
Nothing is better for complete humiliation accountability than a video you share with the world.
How you can get started doing the splits
Even if the splits aren’t your ultimate goal, the stretching involved in attempting them are a huge benefit. These stretches add to flexibility in your lower back, hips and legs.
1. Wear the right clothes
Avoid any chance of discomfort by wearing clothes you would wear to a workout. Flexible fabrics or loose fitting that will allow that extreme stretch. Never mind avoiding a crotch rip in the process!
2. Warm up your muscles
Your muscles as stretchy by default. But you wouldn’t want to challenge any extra stretchiness unless you get them a little warmed up. Think of a piece of pasta before cooking – that sucker will break if bent. Now add a little hot water (or warm up) and you can be as relaxed as that noodle.
Jog in place or do a few jumping jacks to get your heart rate up a bit before you start. I ran up and down my stairs four times. That did the trick!
3. Assume the position.
You can try to stretch into either a front split or a side split. Front splits have one leg forward, and the other back while you face forward. Side or middle splits have your legs extending out to the side.
To get into a starting position for a front split, kneel down with a straight back and stretch out one leg in front of you. Most of us have a preferred side, so start with that leg. The front leg will be straight, and bend your back leg with your shin resting on the ground.
Tip: Give yourself some room to roll to the side if you need to.
4. Start the decent
If it wasn’t obvious, GO SLOW. Lower yourself down as far as you can go with no major discomfort or pain. You’ll feel flexing discomfort for sure, so keep your hand on the floor to support yourself. It’s impossible to hold yourself up with your legs, and try to relax them into the splits.
5. How low can you go?
Your first try might be better than mine. If you need a good laugh, watch the video! Lower as low as you can. Of course if your legs are at a 180 degree angle an your pelvis is on the floor, you did it! This I may have to see so you’ll have to share in the comments.
Tip: Don’t try to bounce in this position to push past your current flexibility.
6. Now hold it right there
Once you’ve maxed out whatever flexibility you have, stay there. Hold it for about 30 seconds and relax into the stretch. Repeat a few times and alternate legs for that front split to give each side of your body to flex.
Tip: Don’t push past pain. Ever. Only try the splits when you are comfortable and never push to do one more.
Push past your comfort zone a little at a time.
Getting past your comfort zone always creates a little angst. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be human. All dreamers feel this as we get closer to our dreams. In a few of our cases that may include wanting to be able to rest our forehead on our kneecap.
Get busy fitness dreamers and add a little extra stretch in your day.
Go get your fit on.
Disclaimer: Ready to get fit? My goal is to share my experience with weight loss and fitness. I am not a professional trainer, nutritionist, or dietitian and all opinions are my own. This worked for me, but may not work for you, so please research what is best for your health and fitness goals.
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Heather Montgomery is a fitness writer, triathlete, and blogger who is devoted to sharing what she has learned about becoming a triathlete after age 40. She uses her Metabolic Training Certification to help other women struggling to get fit in mid-life. She lives and trains in Santa Rosa, California, the new home of the Ironman triathlon. You can find her biking the Sonoma County wine trails.