“The splits are easy,” said no runner ever.
Maybe a few of you did, but the majority of runners suffer from tight muscles in their legs, specifically their hamstrings and hip flexors. Tight hamstrings can contribute to plantar fasciitis, lower back pain and glute pain. Tight hip flexors can lead to back pain and weakened gluteus muscles that can cause serious knee injuries such as patellofemoral stress syndrome (PFSS), iliotibial band friction syndrome (ITBS), patellar tendonitis, and bursitis of the knee.
Not only do tight hamstrings and hip flexor muscles contribute to foot, knee, glute and back pain when they are tight, they may also prevent us from mastering the splits. Maybe you aren’t interested in the splits at all. Or perhaps the idea of even attempting the splits scares you, but the pose can be extremely beneficial.
The splits is an effective pose for runners. Besides the mental barriers it forces us to overcome, it stretches the following muscles:
- Hip flexors (TFL, psoas )
- Adductors (groin muscles)
Many runners struggle to touch their toes in a forward fold, so the thought of working towards splits seems impossible, that the pose is reserved for gymnasts and dancers. It doesn’t matter if you can’t move completely into the pose, since the process towards splits will be helping to prevent injury and develop better mental focus, enhancing your performance.
Below is a sequence of poses that targets each of the muscles stretched in splits. Incorporate the sequence into your next post-run stretch and you might be surprised how quickly you see the benefits. Start each of the poses with your right leg forward and move through each pose before switching to your left.
Lizard Pose – Stretches: hip flexors and hamstrings
Start in table pose, on your hands and knees. You can place a blanket under your knees for extra comfort. Your hands should be shoulder width apart with your wrists inline with your shoulder and your knees hip width apart. Inhale and step your right foot forward to the outside of your right hand so that both hands are on the inside of your right foot. Make sure your right knee does not extend in front of your right ankle. Exhale and slide your left leg back, allowing your pelvis to sink towards the mat. Hold the pose where you feel a stretch in the front of the left hip. Keep the back long and keep the spine from rounding by looking forward. Imagine a straight line from your tailbone to the crown of your head.
To move deeper into the posture, exhale and come down onto your forearms. Try to hold this pose for 15-30 seconds (or 5-10 breaths).
Low lunge with quad variation – Stretches: hip flexors, hamstrings, and quadriceps
If you are on your forearms come back up onto your hands on the inhale. Exhale and bend the left knee reaching back to your left foot with the same hand. If you aren’t able to reach your foot, loop a strap around your ankle and holding it in your left hand, create the desired tension. use a strap and loop it around your left ankle while holding the strap with your left hand. Avoid resting your weight directly on the knee cap by extending your leg back so that it sits on the bottom of your quadricep just above the knee. Try to hold this pose for 15-30 seconds (or 5-10 breaths).
Pigeon – Stretches: hip flexors, adductor, and gluteus muscles
To move into pigeon pose from a low lunge, on your exhale release your left foot and bring you shin back to the mat. As you inhale, slide your right foot behind your left wrist and rotate your right thigh out. To deepen the stretch, slide your right foot away from your buttocks bringing your right shin parallel with the top of your mat. To lessen the intensity, bring your foot closer to your buttocks. Square your pelvis to the front of your mat, and ensure your are not leaning to your right side (both hips should point forward). Inhale while elongating your spine from your pelvis to the top of your head. To move deeper into the pose, on your exhale begin to fold forward. Try to hold this pose for 15-30 seconds. On an inhalation walk your hands back, bringing your torso to an upright position.
Half splits – Stretches: hamstrings, and calves
To move out of pigeon, as you inhale inhale press your hands into the mat and tuck your left toes under. Pull your right foot up, placing it onto your mat coming back into lizard pose. Exhale and gently place your left knee back on the mat. Inhale and lift your body to an upright position and place your hands on your hips or blocks. Draw your right hip back and your left hip forward, squaring off your hips. Your left knee should be inline with your left hip. Exhale, straighten your right leg, keeping a micro-bend in the front knee. Flex your right foot so your toes are pointed towards the sky. Place a blanket under the front heel if you feel any pressure here. Inhale and lengthen through the torso by drawing the navel (or belly button) in towards the spine. Gently draw the shoulder blades together and down your back. Exhale, and begin to fold over the front leg, bending at the hips, reaching your chest forward, while maintaining a long spine. It’s important you don’t round your spine. Try to hold this pose for 15-30 seconds (or 5-10 breaths).
Splits Pose – Stretches: hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors, and calves
Before moving deeper into splits pose, remember that some of your leg muscle will be stretched, while their opposing muscle will be engaged.
From the previous pose, gently slide your left knee back on your exhalation. Engage and contract the left gluteus maximus. Feel the hip flexor and quadriceps of the back leg stretch . Inhale in this position. Exhale and slide your right heel forward engaging the right quadricep. Gently engage the adductors (inner thighs) and turn the leg inward, keeping the knee cap up. You will feel a stretch through the right hamstrings. You can stack cushions or blocks under your pelvis for support if your pelvis does not reach the ground. Try to hold this pose for 15-30 seconds (or 5-10 breaths).
To come out of the pose bring your right hand to the inside of your right leg and swing your right leg back and around.
Ensure you are not forcing your body deeper into the pose, but rather allow your body to adapt to the stretch slowly. Repeat the sequence on the left side.