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Front Splits


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I've been working on my front splits. I have been doing Liv's Front splits exercises videos and her slow flow program for hip flexors and piriformis. I haven't tested my splits out in awhile. I have some photos but I don't know where to upload them and I was told we couldn't upload videos or photos in the forum, but uploading a photo on my Vimeo page doesn't work, please let me know where I can share those photos. 

I've still got maybe a foot to go, but what are some techniques of going into your front splits? I will add that I've had some tears in my inner groin area or medial hamstring, that occurred  high up in the groin last year. It only happened on my right side with when extending my left hip flexor and flexing my right hip to stretch the hamstring, and as I slid my right leg forward I felt a little pop. It took a long time to heal 😰 and I haven't had this injury since but I want to be very cautious and make sure my technique is safe and correct when practicing my front splits, especially as I get closer. When you get closer to your splits, is passive stretching even effective anymore? Or is the more effective stretching going to be PNF and loaded stretching?

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Hey Lance,

Uploading pics to the site is no problem. Videos are the only files we ask be hosted elsewhere. That said, if you would like to host your pics off-site to help save storage/bandwidth here, Imgur is a popular and free image hosting site.

Regarding your front splits, if you still have a foot to go and you have fear/anxiety due to the injury, I would focus on partial poses until you get closer to the ground and more confident. Partial poses just means that you stretch for the full pose piece by piece (i.e. muscle group by muscle group) instead of trying to use the full pose directly. You will also want to be using C-R (contract-relax), loaded stretching, ISOs, etc. to strengthen near the end ranges, because this can help with both avoiding injury, building confidence, and opening those final ranges.

23 hours ago, lancetcomstock said:

When you get closer to your splits, is passive stretching even effective anymore? Or is the more effective stretching going to be PNF and loaded stretching?

I dunno, is a screwdriver or hammer more effective? ;) Passive stretching never becomes ineffective. They are simply different tools, and thus are more or less suited for certain purposes, personalities, bodies, etc. As usual, the middle way - a combination - will often be the best choice.

By the way, our friend @Emmet Louis just posted a great front splits video on YouTube recently:

 

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  • 1 month later...

In those photos, I see you are taking your weight on your hands. Inevitably, there will be some apprehension reflex (fear that you will not support yourself adequately) which means you will find it difficult to relax fully into the stretch. I strongly suggest you have something to "sit" on at the right height. It needs to be relatively firm (e.g. a pile of books) rather than too soft (e.g. a cushion). However, ideally, it should be slightly squashy with just the right amount of "give" so that you can be supported fully and safely, and still get a stretch. With my students I use a pile of yoga blocks, plus cut-up thin hard rubber sheets (each 1.5 cm thick) to give the right height, and then on top what I call a squashy block (made of 4 thicknesses of thick soft yoga mat glued together) - so that you sink in and get a stretch, but can only sink a short distance, so you  know you are safe.

Also I see your hands are quite forward of your centre of gravity, which is over your hips - I'm not sure what is going on there (maybe you are trying to force more bend in the hip of the leg going back), but it does suggest that you are not trying to "sit" directly down, which you should be if you are going to fully relax into the stretch.

Once you are sitting on your support and can do it comfortably, I suggest you try to scissor your legs together hard for several seconds, and then try to push your feet away from each other. Be careful - this can be strong. However increasing your extreme range strength helps to increase flexibility (apparently).

Also I suggest you tire your legs to absolute exhaustion before you start, so the muscles wont find it so easy to pull back. Make sure you target each group of muscles involved.

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@Emmet Louis Great video (Front Splits Deep Dive) - and I'm glad you start with talking about the angles, which is an issue often overlooked. Also congratulations on your new look.

I'm working through the video in detail. I'm having a query about your first exercise "strength in the front leg". The exercise works two sets of muscles - the quads and the iliopsoas. However, to raise the leg beyond 90 degrees we need to use the iliopsoas - many people find it difficult to isolate this muscle, and tend to contract the quads instead. But because the quads cant lift the leg beyond 90 degrees, in an exercise like the one you show, the quads will tend to cramp up because they are being maximally activated but unable to complete the action. This tendency is made worse if weight is applied to the foot, because then the quads have to come in to keep the leg straight.

It seems to me, that if you want to strengthen the muscles that raise a straight leg, it is a good idea to strengthen the quads and iliopsoas separately. I target the iliopsoas by raising the leg with the knee bent and the lower leg relaxed. As you know in ballet grand battements the instruction given is to "lift with the hamstrings" which we interpret as "'feel AS THOUGH you are lifting with the hamstrings" which is one cue to target the deeper muscles for dynamic moves with the leg straight.

Any comments (and anyone else)?

All the best,

Jim.

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On 1/19/2020 at 1:42 PM, Jim Pickles said:

@Emmet Louis Great video (Front Splits Deep Dive) - and I'm glad you start with talking about the angles, which is an issue often overlooked. Also congratulations on your new look.

I'm working through the video in detail. I'm having a query about your first exercise "strength in the front leg". The exercise works two sets of muscles - the quads and the iliopsoas. However, to raise the leg beyond 90 degrees we need to use the iliopsoas - many people find it difficult to isolate this muscle, and tend to contract the quads instead. But because the quads cant lift the leg beyond 90 degrees, in an exercise like the one you show, the quads will tend to cramp up because they are being maximally activated but unable to complete the action. This tendency is made worse if weight is applied to the foot, because then the quads have to come in to keep the leg straight.

It seems to me, that if you want to strengthen the muscles that raise a straight leg, it is a good idea to strengthen the quads and iliopsoas separately. I target the iliopsoas by raising the leg with the knee bent and the lower leg relaxed. As you know in ballet grand battements the instruction given is to "lift with the hamstrings" which we interpret as "'feel AS THOUGH you are lifting with the hamstrings" which is one cue to target the deeper muscles for dynamic moves with the leg straight.

Any comments (and anyone else)?

All the best,

Jim.

Thank you!

I get what you're saying and its a case of many ways to skin a cat. The goal in the exercise you've mentioned is to bypass the whole, feel this muscle working etc and achieve the goals of the lifting via the set, irradiation and the intent of the task. With a suitable task or target here then as the leg crosses 90 degrees if you follow the constraints given the activation is forced to switch into illio psoas to lift higher. I want everything on that activation chain to cramp in the manner of true irradiation as a point to point phenomena, initially the cramping will be quad only but then will shift deeper. Struggle through this for couple of months and see how you progress.  

The exercise you describe of lifting the knee would count as an accessory exercise for this goal. Generally I tell people to aim for about 10-15% of their max deadlift for sets of 6-8 with added resistance here.

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@lancetcomstock: your HFs are too tight; this is your main restriction. There is little extension in either rear leg. Seeing as how this is exactly what my FS used to look like, let me share an exercise that is good solo, but is supercharged if done with a partner (heavier is better, once you are strong enough):

Terrible audio, but all the elements are there. Back leg ROM is the secret, but it's painful to acquire! Folding the back leg is an element that can be played with through many angles and the effects change each time. Please note: many people who have tried this have discovered completely new areas of tension that can't be felt in either hip extension or quadriceps exercises and usually mid-quad. You'd think that tension here cannot affect FS, but that is an error—after doing this routine above, immediately try your passive hip extension and it will be noticeably improved, even though we are not concentrating on that joint specifically. Please report back!

As well, picking up on something @Emmet Louis mentioned (and I love his assistance techniques), I like the now very old "gymnastic scales" for front leg activation, too, if you have no equipment:

https://gmb.io/scales/

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Still working on my front splits (which I do pretty much daily) - though I've been flat to the floor for years and can now do them with little or no warmup. I think in me the main restriction is a tightness in the connective tissue (whether fascia, ligaments or other tissue) at the front of the hip of the leg going back - rather than muscles (e.g. iliopsoas). Of course, this is guesswork, and I have no proof, and may be wrong. If I make the iliopsoas very tired first with lots of high kicks, the forward splits dont get any easier, but they do get easier if I do things more clearly directed at stretching the front of the hip.

(By the way, the high kicks are for a dance routine, not martial arts  - I guess for martial arts you need more power at the end of the kick - I'm more concerned with the aesthetics of getting the leg to speed up about 2/3 of the way through its range, also needing (near) extreme range strength, but probably a bit differently. Also by the way, we usually think of extreme range strength as relating to strength when the muscle is fully stretched - here what is needed is more strength when the iiopsoas is fully contracted.)

Not sure whether this is directly related to the original query, but it's what is going through my mind and training at the moment, so I thought I'd share it.

Jim.

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