Tag Archives: strength training

From 6 Inches to Split, 10 Minutes

I can’t believe the progress I had with one 14 year old gymnast yesterday.



Gymnasts must be able to do complete splits, 180 degrees. That’s a straight line from ankle to ankle. This photo is one of my gymnasts performing a split leap. It is better than the required 180 degrees a gymnast needs.

 A gymnast came to me for help with flexibility and other injuries. I asked her “stretch” on her own before we started. She spent about ten minutes stretching. I then asked her to show me her split on her less flexible side. She was about six inches from the floor. Her hamstrings had decent flexibility, but her hip flexors were very tight. To me it was obvious because her front leg was nearly all the way down, but the gap was between her upper thigh on her back leg and the floor. She was tilted forward.  

We then spent ten to fifteen minutes doing many variations of a hip flexor stretch seen here. I had her do the stretch with varying foot positions, leaning forward as seen here and upright. She said her coaches never allow them to do the stretch with their back leg up, but she said she always felt it more this way.

After that I asked her to try her split again. Her expression was priceless because she was able to go all the way down, 180 degrees for the first time in her life!!!  Why did it only take fifteen minutes to reach this success when it usually takes gymnasts several months to accomplish the same thing? The answer is simple. Many gymnasts are not actually stretching properly or they are not stretching the muscles they really need to stretch. They think doing a split will help the split, when in fact, it often will not. Wait, what? She said her coaches make her do “over-splits” for two minutes and it’s been that way for a really long time. Guess what, over splits do not really work.

You read that correctly. First, you must identify which muscles are tight. In her case it was the hip flexors, mainly the psoas muscle. Then, you must stretch that muscle individually. Stretch it slowly, in various positions, and in small increments.

The athlete and their muscles must be completely relaxed in order for any progress. This gymnast was happy the entire time that we were stretching. She felt the stretches, but no pain. After about ten minutes in the gym, her dad said “your voice sounds so soothing.” I just smiled and said there is no reason to yell or be angry.

Stressing an athlete out and making them hold one position for two minutes will not really do much for flexibility. And manually pressing on them while they are stressed can also cause problems such as locking muscles, reduced flexibility, and emotional trauma. Stretching an athlete to the point of tears is not necessary and it’s really abusive.

Once an athlete’s muscles lock up you not only prevent progress, you could be reducing flexibility, and causing injury. A gymnast’s skill performance may also decline as a result. Coaches want results and they want them fast, but why aren’t they listening to sports science? Unfortunately, many are just repeating what they did as gymnasts instead of doing their homework, going to clinics, and consulting with CSCS’s and physical therapists.

Let me know how I can help your team… Or check out www.GymnasticsDrills.com

Karen Goeller, CSCS
Gymnastics Coach 40+ years and CSCS
www.BestSportsConditioning.com
www.KarenGoeller.com

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