Milestones for the Side Split

One topic that is think is severely lacking when in comes to flexibility is that of objetive milestones. When it comes to strength, there seems to be more information on a process with clear steps, but with stretching the general advise is usually “just stretch”.

To remedy this, we believe it’s important to start thinking about milestones and prerequisites, specially for difficult movements, to make their pursuit much less frustrating. So here is the application of this concept to a movement that many find difficult to achieve, and specially confusing in what should be the focus to keep progressing at it: the side split.

First things first: The Squat

I differentiate prerequisites from milestones in that the first ones are done before the process is even started, and the second ones are done during it. In the case of the Side split, the greatest prerequisite is the squat. If you think about it, the Side split is a really wide squat with straight legs, just like the Front split is a very wide lunge. The consequence? Without a proper squat, there is no way to ensure that you have the basic mobility, strength and joint integrity for training the side split. So start at the beginning and first master your squat position.

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Milestone #1: Knees to floor Tailor pose

Once you are already training the Side split itself, with movements like isometric holds in your current range of motion limit, you want to focus on auxiliary exercises that matter. These will help (but never replace) your main stretching goals.

The first milestone we want to achieve is a knees to floor Tailor pose. This will ensure that we have the enough external rotation necessary for a clean and upright Side split.

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Me trying to get those knees to the floor, all while keeping an upright posture and the soles as close to my butt as possible.

Milestone #2: Calf to floor Cossack squat

The second milestone would be a Calf to the floor Cossack squat. What this will do is to create the enough adductor strength for it to withstand a Side split. In the words of Kit Laughlin, this exercise is “the best and fastest way to rehabilitate gracilis and the inner hamstring. And for a stretching session there is simply no better warmup”. The objetive here is for our calf to touch the floor, all while keeping the other leg with the knee tracking over the second toe and without collapsing inwards.

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Milestone #3: Stick on thigh 7 step Horse stance

Thirdly, we want to have the ability to hold a 7 step Horse stance (the more time or weight, the better) with a stick on our tights. This will force us to keep our butt low and our torso upright, stretching all of the inner hamstring muscles, the adductors, and strengthening the supportive muscles and connective tissue that protect the knee in these legs apart movements.

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Now you know your part: see how you measure up to this standards and focus and what you haven’t reached yet. I will always agree that we need more subjectivity in our flexibility training but, just as we need one side, we need the other side of objectivity to let us know what is the work that matters.

If you’d like to know more about these topics, I recommend the work of Emmet Louis and Thomas Kurz


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