Bullet-Proofing Your Splits
Exercise options to strengthen the splits
So you saw Jujimufu's(Jon Call) impressive loaded chair split, and thought hey, that would be a cool thing to do. What you need to do first is recognize and honor the steps needed in between to get there. With the advent of social media, incessant eye-popping photos, and "People are awesome" videos that come with it, we see people accomplishing astounding physical feats. But what you're not witnessing is the the long hours, and years of time it takes to attain that final skill.
In the case of Jujimufu he sat around "stretching his legs, hips, and hamstrings every night for 2 hours. He gave himself 3 months to nail a full split, and reached his target in 2." I believe his ability to accomplish this in a relatively short time of 2 months was, his age of 15, fitness level, and a genetic predisposition for said skill. Understand that those components are incredibly important factors to take into consideration when either you, or a client have certain goals in mind.
With any goal always be realistic about what it's going to take. The time and effort is based on the individual, it might take your buddy 2 months, while a year later you might still be cursing the gods still chipping away at it. This is where I liked another quote by Call "Fitness is a luxury. It’s a privilege. You’re supposed to have fun!” Keep reminding yourself of that when you are working towards your tougher fitness goals.
Basic tenets along the way
So you have considered all of the above and now are ready to attain the goal of a super strong split. Most importantly it is a good idea to get checked out by a professional to see if you have the prerequisite bony morphology to be doing splits, or any extreme range of motion tricks. For now we don't have the ability to jam through bone without breaking it, so there's that. For example you might have good bone structure to do front splits(1 leg in front 1 leg behind) but you might jam into bone with a straddle split(legs out to the side). Know your body's limitations.
Another quote by our above freak of nature was "get into the position and keep working on it.” Succinct but true. Some simple rules of thumb, if you do not have a split yet, you obviously need to work on just gaining the flexibility. If you do not have a genetic propensity for laxity it's going to take some time. For the flexibility challenged folks it takes everyday practice to increase their tolerance to stretch. The tissue needs to be stimulated every day to decrease the neurological tension as well as eventually change the tissue.
Once you've got your split down, now you need to bullet proof it. You may be able to stand, grab your leg using your hand, and bring it up to your head. But now can you release your hand and have your leg defy gravity. If your leg shoots down like a slingshot you do NOT have control of that new found range of motion. You need to have strength to control your limbs in all the ranges of motion that they passively go. Mastery comes when you can do the skill with a smile. There are tons of exercises out there how to achieve strength in splits. Here's some other I wanted to share to give you some options along the way.
Isometric holds(video below)
The first video below shows some isometric holds while going through flexion at the hip. Ideally do each contraction at 20 degree increments, and hold for anywhere from 5-20 seconds. Start with 5 seconds if that's all you can handle, and build up from there. It is shown with a longer lever with a straight leg, and but also you can shorten up the lever and do from the knee. The second exercise in the video is working the opposite side(Abductors) and attempting to raise the leg laterally with multiple ranges of hip position. This movement can also be done with straight or bent leg. Obviously you will want to concentrate a bit more time at the sticky or weak ranges.
Deloaded eccentric split
This second video shows a bit more of an advanced movement but you can regress it quite easily by using a heavier weight to assist more, and work in a smaller range of motion. Hope you have fun with some of these ideas and happy trails on your adventures with splits!