Have you been practicing your splits for a while? Are you completely stuck and frustrated in a big old mean plateau? Or on the other hand have you maybe been making some pretty great progress and might even be touching the floor already but just can’t really get anywhere closer to having an amazing oversplit?
What if I told you that you are probably only using half of the potential of your hips and could go almost twice as deep by using this one simple exercise? Yes, you read right. One simple exercise that can make your hips so much more efficient when doing the splits. No this is not magic but 25 years of hard work, dedication and experience.
The exercise we are talking about is the half split. It is not only a great way to stretch your hamstrings but most importantly it is a great way to open up the back of your hip. By focusing your effort when stretching for splits on the back hip your position and technique will drastically improve. Not only will you stop using exclusively the front leg to do your splits but also will this help you to square out your hips and shoulders. You will finally be able to straighten your upper body and not lean on your front leg anymore.
The half split is also an incredible tool to work towards your over splits. Most people struggle going deeper than a regular split because the back side of their hip is simply too tight. As you can see in the picture below, when performing an excellent half split you are basically already in an oversplit and it will become a matter of hamstring flexibility whether you can actually straighten the front leg and sit in an oversplit.
Every training should consist of the warm up exercises for the half split in the order shown below. These are necessary steps to keep quality high and prevent injury. Not only will they allow you to start your half split stretch much lower from the start but also to become aware of what you’re actually doing aka how to find and engage the right muscles in each position. In other words to create a good brain – muscle connection.
The only way to ensure that your body is fully prepared to perform a split with proper technique and excellent alignment is by actively training half splits in every session before doing your splits. More advanced practitioners should not just work up to the regular half split but do the additional, more advanced drills like bending and straightening the back knee in the half split and the active half split stretch with an elastic band.
The most important thing to remember throughout all of the following exercises is to keep your hips and shoulders squared. It is vital to keep your abs engaged and hips rotated upwards(posterior pelvic tilt) in order to keep your lower back straight and to feel the stretch in the back side of your hip. Do not relax in the stretch. You always want to engage and actively work on the muscle that is being stretched. If you are new to this and have a hard time balancing we recommend going next to a wall or a chair to hold on to.
You want to be able to fully focus on the stretch and not the balancing portion of the exercise. The goal is to try and move a bit deeper every time you exhale and stay there while inhaling. Make sure to warm up well before and to stay warm during your flexibility training.
For the first warm up exercise of the half split we will move towards the wall. This exercise is great to open up the front hip part of the back leg.
After that you will move your front foot further away from the wall and move into a deep squat position to perform a half split with your back knee bent against the wall. This exercise is by far the best way to open up the back hip in your split and to stretch your hip flexors.
Go as deep as possible into the stretch while focusing on proper alignment and technique in your hips:
If you feel limited by your current level of flexibility and can not move into a deep squat at all you can move your back knee a bit further away from the wall. Just make sure that you stay squared and your back foot keeps pointing to the ceiling right above you. Don’t forget to grab a chair or anything else to hold on to for balance.
Only after performing both of these preparation stretches every time you train is it now time to move away from the wall and start practicing your actual half split. I can not stress enough how important it is to do these warm up exercises every time you train. They’re vital for injury prevention and absolutely necessary to get one with the muscles you’re trying to stretch.
When doing your first half split it is absolutely recommended to use a chair or wall for balance. You want to be able to focus 100% on technique and alignment.
Again, this position is not meant to relax in but to constantly work and engage the stretched muscles. Focus on what you’re doing and you will have incredible and very fast, visible results.
Only when your free standing half split is becoming easy and controllable you want to move on to the next exercise. First we have the half split with the back knee bent. It is basically exactly the same as you did earlier against the wall just in the open space which gives you the opportunity to dictate yourself as to how deep you want to move into the stretch.
Just like in the regular half split you want to make sure that your:
Squat down low and slowly bend your back knee without(!) moving your hips back up. The goal here is not to bring your hips and heel together but to bend your back leg whilst keeping the hips as low as possible. Do not ever sacrifice your deep squat in order to bend your back knee more. That is the most common mistake when doing bent knee half splits and needs to be avoided at all costs. I would strongly recommend to get something to hold on to for balance here as well as this is a rather difficult exercise.
Additionally to the bent knee half split a great way to improve your flexibility and start working towards your over splits is straightening the back knee in your half split. Again, start from a clean half split where your:
Now flex your back foot, engage your back knee and fully straighten your leg. Make sure that your hips do not go up but stay in the same spot. There should be quite a bit of tension between your back knee and your opposite shoulder. Make sure to engage your core (pull stomach in), and hips are in a posterior pelvic tilt. Remember – lower back stays flat!
Hold this position for a few counts and then slowly bend your knee back down to the floor. Since this is a pretty advanced exercise it is recommended to use a chair or wall for balance. Once you’re comfortable with this exercise you can use a free weight and hold it in your hands straight over your head to increase the stretch and difficulty.
Once you have mastered all of these passive stretches with excellent control and technique it is time to add the final and most advanced step to your half split training. We are talking about active flexibility training where you engage the stretched muscles either against the resistance of your own body weight or against an elastic resistance band. A very good and comfortable, easy to balance half split is absolutely required for these very advanced stretches. Both of the following exercises are great to help build brain muscle connection, improve stability and specific strength. Additionally, the muscle activation in this stretch in a way “tricks” the brain and often allows you to go a little bit deeper than you are usually able. Making this a great way to keep improving and breaking through plateaus you might encounter on your journey.
For the first one you start in your regular half split position. We basically do what we did earlier when we straighten the back knee. Just in this case instead of holding the top position we do multiple repetitions always making sure that the shoulders and hips stay squared, engaged and in the same position throughout the whole exercise. These can even be done holding a free weight over head with fully locked elbows. Make sure to go slow and fully lock your back knee in every repetition. Put special attention on your hips not “jumping” up whenever you extend your back knee and to keep your abs engaged to avoid leaning on your front leg.
The second version of an active half split stretch involves an elastic band that will be tied around your back ankle. Take the elastic over your shoulders with your hands in front of your body and place yourself in your perfectly aligned and easy controllable half split. Pull the elastic away from your face to create tension with a bent back knee. While staying in a deep squat position and nothing but your back knee moving throughout the whole exercise extend the back leg against the tension of the elastic. Focus on what you’re doing. Focus especially on your hip while straightening your knee against the tension of the elastic band. Keep pushing your hips into the deepest squat possible throughout the whole exercise.
And there you have it. The half split with all its warm up and more advanced variations. Now all of this might seem a lot and feel overwhelming at first. Integrating the half split and all of its versions step by step in your daily routine will be extremely benefiting and open your hips up in ways you could never have imagined before. Not only will this approach allow you to do a much cleaner split on the floor with much better alignment and healthier technique but also you will be able to take your first big and realistic steps towards the over split.
Finally you will not simply do your splits on the floor for half an hour praying to who knows who that you will improve but you have a guide to tackle your hip flexibility in many different ways to actively engage and stretch all necessary muscles in all possible directions. Make sure to always take all the suggested steps and not to skip and of the warm up exercises. Always focus on technique and alignment. Not only will bad form not give you full benefit of the stretch but you will also risk injury.
It is now time to warm up well and take your flexibility stretching to the next level. Have fun with it and be responsible!