ANATOMY FOR FRONT SPLITS
One questions I often get asked is “Will I ever be able to do splits?” and the answer is “Maybe
There’s nothing worse then working hard towards something and feeling like you’re getting no where. You’re in class and you teacher says “ok now come into front splits” and and you’re thinking too yourself “this is the day, I’ve been working on my hamstrings and hips so much lately, my bodies feeling great today, I’m going to get those hips to the floor!” You start easing your body into the pose and then….. you get stuck you look down and you’re still about 5inches off the floor and nothing is moving. You’re breathing deeply, trying to relax you hear the telling you “surrender into the pose” to “let go of whatever may be holding you back” “go just a little bit deeper” and you’re trying, you’re really trying, but you’re just not moving.
Then you sneak a look around the room (lets be honest we all do this from time to time) and over in the corner is Rob and he’s been to about 3 classes in his life he’s a guy, aren’t guys hips normally tighter and he just slips effortlessly into full splits he’s not even breaking a sweat and you think to yourself “*&^%” you might feel like giving up asking yourself why bother I’ll never get there.
The reality is that no matter how open our hamstrings may be some of us just aren’t designed to do full splits. You can stretch your muscles as much as you like but the one thing you can’t change is your joint structure. This is where the concept of compression vs tension comes into play. Tension, as in muscular tension we can work with, we can work to lengthen our muscles, what we can’t change is compression. We can sometimes move around compression by changing the way we move into or the adjusting the alignment of the pose but we can’t change the shape of our joints.
Our ability to do the splits, both front splits hanumanasana and side splits depends on the shape of our hip joint, more specifically the acetabulum.
Some of us have shallow hip sockets which are conducive to doing splits and some of us have deep hip sockets, not so helpful in our ability to do splits.
Not only does the shape of the hip socket affect our ability to do splits but we also need to look at the direction the hip socket is facing and the shape and size of our femoral head, the greater trochanter, the femoral neck.
As you can see from the above pictures from Paul Grilley the shape and size of our hips and femurs can vary greatly.
So what does this mean?
For some of us no matter how flexible our muscles are we are going to hit a point where we get bone on bone compression. When looking at front splits that compression usually occurs in the back leg as our femur bone compresses against the acetabulum.
How can I tell if what I’m feeling is compression or tension?
Short of being able to see inside our hips or getting x-rays we don’t really know what our individual hip structure looks like. There’s a couple of things we can assess to see if we structurally have the ability to do front splits.
Don’t worry about bringing your fingers to the floor or arching backwards focus on the position of the legs.
If you can bring your thighs into a straight line then it’s an indication the structurally you can do front splits. What may be limiting you is tension.
Generally when you’re in the pose if you’re feeling the restriction as a muscular stretch in the hamstring or the front of the hip thats normal an indication that there is tension we can work with.
However if you’re feeling restriction in the back the hip of the back leg that could be an indication that you’ve hit compression.
Can I move around compression?
In our front splits pose yes we can move around compression by allowing the back leg to slightly turn out which may allow you to go deeper in the pose. This is only appropriate when you are hitting compression and want to more further, many people will open the hip out to avoid having to stretch the tight and often resistant hip flexor muscles a the front of the back leg.
When we open the hip out we reduce the stretch on the hip flexors of the back leg. So you might need to ask yourself what is my focus in this pose. Do I want to just get my hips to the floor, in which case opening the back leg out is fine, or do I want to focus on lengthening my hip flexors on the back leg, in which case keeping the hips square would be more appropriate, you might not get the hips to the floor and that’s totally fine.
Try out practices designed to target specific muscle groups to assist you with working through any tension that may be limiting your splits.