Back in my gymnastics days, at the young age of eight, I could probably lay in a full straddle for an hour and be completely comfortable. But those days are gone, and my body structure has changed in many ways. I feel less limber and flexible as I get older compared to when I was a child. This is because as children, we are not yet fully developed in our musculature and skeletal system, therefore, our bodies tend to move more freely and easily. It is important for a dancer of any age to do stretches outside of class in order to maintin or improve flexibility, but this is imparative for an older dancer who has finished developing.
Front/Regular Split Straddle/Side Split
I believe that the regular split is so easy for me and the straddle is so hard because since the legs are in different positions, it stretches different parts of the body. When one leg is in the front and one leg is in the back, the front hamstring is being stretched and the back qaud is being stretched. These parts are pretty loose, but my hips, not so much. When the legs are out to the side, the hip joint and muscles around the hip socket are being stretched. My hips have always been pretty tight and straddles also have to do with the amount of turnout in the legs, which I would also like to work on.
Tips For Improvement:
- Start small- When I began working on my straddle again this summer, I could barely hold it for a minute because it was so painful. So once a minute became comfortable, then I held it for two, and eventually I'll move up to three. It's the simple idea of progression. The longer you hold your straddle, the closer you will get to the ground. Start small and work your way up.
- Loosen up the muscles beforehand- It is more efficient to stretch once the body is already warm, so a good way to warm up your muscles before an intense stretch is to massage them. No, you don't need a certification in massage therapy. You just need a tennis ball, golf ball, or foam roller. A golf ball would work better for your feet, but if you need to massage your legs and hips, I would suggest something softer. Place the ball or foam roller underneath the desired area and simply roll your body over top of it. This puts pressure on the muscle and the rolling action releases any tension. Here is an instructional video on foam rollers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoHBDim_fzk
- Accomodations- A trick I have discovered that is amazing for a straddle stretch is placing a pillow underneath your hips if you have not yet reached the floor. This seems like it would inhibit your stretch, but it actually helps you get closer to the floor. Since pillows are soft and have a good cushion, your body weight pushes it down and you stretch your straddle without putting all that pressure on your arms to hold you up. Once you stretch on the cushion for a minute or two and then take it out from under you while still staying in the straddle, the result is miraculous. Releasing the pillow releases your split and this technique got me the closest to the floor. You can adjust the height and the size of the pillows based on your flexibility level.
If your split is becoming too comfortable...take it to the next level!