The benefits of being able to do a split are endless. But mostly, the splits keep you young.
Practicing the splits is great for your joint health, flexibility, and balance — qualities that become more and more important as we age. All of these things factor into how much range of motion we retain, our physical independence, and overall quality of life.
Balance is especially important, as falls are the leading cause of death from injury in elderly people, even healthy ones. Stretching exercises like the splits have even been proven to help with major health issues like Parkinson's and cardiovascular disease by encouraging muscle strength, motor control, and better circulation.
Given that, I created a plan to help you achieve a split in four weeks. Start by doing the stretches outlined here and in my book, “Even the Stiffest People Can Do the Splits.” My plan focuses on doing a pancake split: If you spread your legs wide while keeping your knees straight, lean your upper body forward, and touch the floor with both your elbows, you've achieved the splits.
First, start with two basic stretches — the towel stretch and the sumo stretch — and then add in a third, the inner thigh stretch. The key is to stretch only so far that it hurts in a good way. Be careful not to overdo it when starting out.
The Towel Stretch
Loop a hand towel over the underside of one foot, extend your leg (keeping your knee straight), and pull the towel toward your head with both hands, bouncing for 30 seconds. Do the same with the other leg.
Do: Draw your leg closer if this stretch is difficult. Just be sure to keep your knee straight. Don't: Bend your knee. You won't get much of a stretch. If this stretch is difficult, use something longer, like a bath towel, rope, or belt.
The Sumo Stretch
1. Point your knees outward, spread your legs about twice the width of your shoulders, lower your backside, and place your hands on your inner thighs near your knees. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor.
2. Bounce up and down in quick, short movements, about 20 times.
3. Next, stretch the groin and back by twisting each shoulder toward the middle in turn while pushing harder with your hands.
If this stretch is difficult, it's OK not to lower your hips all the way.
Inner Thigh Stretch
With one knee bent, stretch out the other leg to the side, bouncing for 30 seconds. Do the same with the other leg.
Do: Lift the heel of your bent knee if you are inflexible.
Don't: Bend your other knee. The stretch won't be effective.
Check Your Progress
To check your progress, sit with your legs spread out as far as they will go without bending your knees and lean your upper body forward. Your ultimate goal is for both elbows to touch the floor. Document your progress with pictures.
This story was adapted from Eiko's book, "Even the Stiffest People Can Do the Splits" and originally appeared on Rodale Wellness.