How to do the splits: improve your flexibility with these expert tips

Learn how to do the splits safely with our step-by-step guide

How to do the splits
(Image credit: Getty)

Knowing how to do the splits literally embodies the notion of stretching your body to the limit.  The splits, for many, is the ultimate test of flexibility. For some people, doing the splits is a part of their stretching practice, for others, it’s a party trick, and for the great many, it’s something we’d like to do but don’t think we will ever be able to do!

The splits can be divided into two main categories, a front split (a.k.a. left split or right split), whereby one leg goes forward and the other goes backward, and a side split (a.k.a. middle split, straddle split, box split), where both legs go out either side of you.

Fit&Well asked expert yoga teacher, Sarah Highfield, everything you need to know about doing the splits. Don’t forget to also take a peek at our round-up of the best yoga mats, which are ideal for practicing your splits stretches on.

What you need to know about doing the splits

The splits require great flexibility in your hamstrings and iliopsoas muscles, along with your hip joint. While a side split requires you to stretch four adductor muscles, one hip flexor, and the medial hamstrings, and in contrast, a front split requires you to stretch six muscles in the front leg and eight muscles in the back leg, it is widely agreed that front splits (where one leg goes forward and the other goes backwards) is the most accessible move.

Learning how to do the splits safely is crucial, so remember to stretch within your limits and listen to your body. Be especially wary of any pain in your hip joints and knees, or any pain which feels unnatural. Please consult your physician if you are unsure whether it’s safe for you to practice the splits.

Can anyone do the splits?

Typically, a healthy person, with lots of practice, should be able to eventually get into the splits, however, it is important to be aware that all of our bodies are unique in their natural abilities, flexibility, and anatomy. These three factors play a large role in the amount of time it will take you to do the splits, if at all. 

Furthermore, while flexibility decreases with age, it does improve with regular practice and lots of patience. For some people, getting into the splits will take a matter of days, for others, it could take months or even years.

How to do the splits: stretches to try

The following four stretches will help you on your journey into front splits: 

1. Triangle

How to do the splits

(Image credit: Cecilia Cristolovean | www.yogaandphoto.com)

Why it helps:

This stretch helps to lengthen the hamstring and groin muscles, as well as stretching the hips and calves. It also activates your core, which is important once you are in the splits.

How to do it:

  1. Place your left foot forward, and your right foot back, checking that your heels are roughly in line.
  2. Lengthen your spine and extend both your arms out on either side of you. Inhale to lengthen your spine, then exhale, reach your left hand forward and down.
  3. Keep both of your legs strong and engaged, open your hips and chest to the right, and lengthen your spine as you twist. Extend out through the top of your head and keep your gaze up towards your top thumb.
  4. Hold for five deep breaths.
  5. Repeat on the second side.

2. Low lunge with twist

Why it helps:

This stretch offers a deep stretch in your hamstring and groin. It also encourages the hips to gently extend and open the hips. By lifting your arm up to the side, you will also stretch your chest muscles.

How to do it:

  1. Start with your right foot forward and your left leg behind you. 
  2. Keep your left hand on the floor. Inhale to twist to your right and reach your right hand up towards the ceiling. 
  3. Let your hips sink down towards the floor and keep your spine long as you twist. Aim for a smooth and even twist throughout your spine. 
  4. Hold for five deep breaths. 
  5. Repeat on the second side. 

3. Bound lizard

Why it helps:

This stretch is similar to the low lunge stretch (above) but has the added benefit of a deeper quadricep and ankle stretch.  This is a challenging stretch in itself, but if you can master it comfortably, it will significantly help towards getting into the front splits.

How to do it:

  1. Start with your right foot forward and your left leg behind you (in a low lunge stance).
  2. Roll onto the outer edge of your right foot, allowing the right knee to drop out to the side.
  3. Place your left hand on the floor to support yourself, and lift up you left foot, holding it in place with your right hand.
  4. Lengthen through your spine, lift your chest up and draw your shoulder blades together.  Allow your hips to feel heavy and sink down towards the floor.
  5. Hold for five deep breaths.
  6. Repeat on the second side.

4. Head-to-knee

How to do the splits

(Image credit: Cecilia Cristolovean | www.yogaandphoto.com)

Why it helps:

This stretch lengthens your hamstring muscles and spine. As it’s done sitting on the floor, you may find you are able to hold it for longer than the five recommended breaths.

How to do it:

  1. Start by sitting with your left leg extended out in front of you and place your right foot on your left inner thigh, allowing the right knee to drop down towards the floor. Rotate your torso so that it’s facing your left thigh. 
  2. Inhale to lengthen your spine, as you exhale, walk your hands forward either side of your left shin or foot. 
  3. Keep your left foot flexed and your left leg strong and engaged. At the same time, maintain a long spine and lift your chest. 
  4. Hold for five deep breaths. 
  5. Repeat on the second side. 

The front splits

How to do the splits

(Image credit: Cecilia Cristolovean | www.yogaandphoto.com)

Once you feel you are finally ready to lower down into a full front split, don’t forget to: 

  1. Lower yourself down gently, using your hands on either side of you for support.
  2. Keep your core engaged so your upper body doesn’t collapse down.
  3. If possible, try to square off your hips in the splits.
  4. Hold for five deep breaths (if possible).
  5. When you are done, come out of the pose slowly.

Born in Hong Kong and based in London, Sarah Highfield is a leading yoga teacher and writer, as well as the founder of Yogagise Yoga. Sarah has been practising yoga since 2003 and teaching yoga since 2015. She has taught at prominent studios including Bodyism & Yogabambam Hong Kong. She also leads yoga teacher trainings, as well as at high profile events including Om Yoga Show London and World Yoga Festival. Additionally, Sarah runs her own yoga retreats, alongside collaborations with Helios Retreats, Lululemon, London Fashion Week, Mortimer House & Catherine’s in Antigua. She has also featured broadly across high profile print and online media. Sarah believes there is a style of yoga for everyone and encourages students to discover what works for them. In her free time, she is a big foodie, loves to travel and spends as much time as possible with family and friends.