For the final week of the Step & Stretch Challenge I wanted to focus on advanced stretching techniques. These techniques are great for anyone who has their splits and wants a bit of hyperextension, for those looking to get deeper into their splits, or looking for more advanced flexibility.
Hyperextended splits – the goal of many dancers, gymnasts, cheerleaders, etc. Hyperextension can give you beautiful lines, awesome kicks and leaps, and makes it easier to get into advanced leg holds.
Before working on hyperextension it’s important to warm up and do a thorough stretch. In the past, deciding to jump ahead to working on my hyperextension was never a good idea. You can easily pull a muscle if you’re not careful.
The basic principle of stretching for hyperextended splits is to get at least one foot higher than your hips so that your hips are forced to go lower to the ground. A good way to achieve this stretch is to place a yoga block or sturdy object under your front leg, and slowly lower into your splits making sure to only go as far as you feel comfortable.
As you get more comfortable you can increase the height of the object you are using. For example, if you’re using a yoga block you can flip the sides of the yoga block to achieve different heights or stack multiple yoga blocks together.
Once you’re in your split hold for 30 seconds. If you want to go deeper then come out of your splits, rest for a bit, and get back into the stretch.
I ended up using my foam roller to help with my stretching. For beginners, you can always start with a few pillows stacked together or a rolled up yoga mat.
Partner stretching is another great way to increase your flexibility. And the best part? Everyone can do partner stretching no matter what your current level of flexibility is.
One of my favorite forms of partner stretching is called propioceptive neuromuscular facilitation or PNF. This form of stretching helps you achieve a greater range of motion than performing the same stretch on your own.
In the contract-relax version of PNF you contract a muscle against your partner. You can use this form to stretch pretty much any muscle. With this form of stretching your partner will provide resistance for about five second. Then you relax after the stretch for a few seconds, and repeat. Try repeating the stretch between three to six times.
If it’s your turn to be the partner start by finding a wide stance so you don’t lose your balance, and use your core and thigh muscles to provide resistance.
There are a variety of stretches you can do with partner stretching including the butterfly stretch, and neck stretches. My favorite partner stretch to further my splits is the thigh stretch.
- Start laying on your back, and have your partner stand in a wide stance with one leg on each side of your body.
- Raise your right leg and allow your partner to firmly grasp your ankle and knee.
- Keep both of your legs straight, and both hips on the ground.
- Your partner will now provide resistance against your right leg pushing your leg closer to your chest and face.
- Contract your hamstring and push your leg back against your partner.
- Hold for five seconds and then relax for five seconds.
- Repeat three to six times.
- Switch legs.
Backbends don’t really help you achieve the splits, but they are awesome for a few reasons:
- Backbends are a great way to stretch your back.
- Backbends feel pretty darn good.
- Backbends can help you achieve more advanced positions that require back flexibility.
- Backbends are believed to relieve anxiety and stress.
Two common forms of backbends are bent leg and straight leg backbends. The big difference between straight leg and bent leg backbends is that straight leg backbends help push you forward, and open up your shoulders more than a bent leg backbend will.
- Warm up before practicing your backbend with a little down dog and cobra.
- Lie on your back.
- Bend your knees in and bring your feet as close to your butt as possible. Toes pointing forward.
- Bend your arms back and plant your hands near your ears. Fingers pointing towards your feet.
- Push into the ground with your hands and feet, and use your glutes and core to lift yourself off the ground.
- Push your navel and hips up as high as the’ll go.
- If you want a deeper stretch try walking your feet towards your hands.
For both backbends I’m working on pushing my shoulders forward so they line up over my wrists. I’m also working on straightening my legs all the way for the straight leg backbend.
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Caitlin's mission, after experiencing a personal struggle with maintaining fitness while traveling, is to help others stay healthy and fit on the road. She uses her experience as a group fitness instructor, love of fitness and nutrition, knowledge of traveling, and resourcefulness to keep travelers around the world feeling great, looking great, and having a fantastic time while traveling.