How to Stretch Your Splits for Synchronized Swimming
“Wow, you have great splits! These are words every synchronized swimmer longs to hear. Flexibility is one of the most admired and important skills a synchro swimmer can have. The best swimmers make it look so effortless that you might be fooled into thinking getting flat splits is simple. However, anyone who has tried the move knows: Splits are anything but easy. In fact, they can be downright painful!
Some people are born with natural elasticity (so lucky!). Others have to include extra hours of stretching into their training to achieve the same flexibility. Fortunately, performing the splits is possible for anyone who takes the time and is willing to endure some discomfort. Luckily, enduring is what athletes do best, right?
Type of Splits
Synchro swimmers perform three types of splits while upside-down in the water: Left splits, right splits, and middle splits. Here is a short description of each:
- Left splits: Performed with the left leg in front of the body, and the right leg behind it. Both legs should be straight and on the surface. Your shoulders and head should be directly under your hips. Keep your body as square as possible, facing the same wall that your left leg is pointing towards.
- Right splits: Performed exactly like the left leg front split, only with the right leg in front and the left leg behind.
- Middle splits: Both the left and right leg should be directly to the sides of your body. Your head should point down to the bottom. The middle splits look as if you were making an uppercase T-shape with your legs as the horizontal line. Remember to extend your legs, and keep your knees facing towards the bottom of the pool.
When first learning the splits, remember to take your time. Most bodies are not naturally flexible, and getting your body to the ground in the splits will take effort and dedication. It's a gradual process. Here are three major components of a flexibility routine that will help you attain your goal of flat splits:
Never start stretching without warming up first. The warmer your muscles and ligaments are, the more elastic and flexible they will be. Since most stretching is done out of the water, warm up by jogging for a few minutes until you feel your body temperature rise. Right after practice is a convenient time too, since your muscles will already be warm. An added benefit of this is that stretching will also help reduce muscle soreness from your workout.
Now you can start your stretching regimen. The more flexible you are, the easier the splits will be. To increase your flexibility, you need to stretch daily.
It is important to learn the difference between pain and discomfort. It's normal for stretching to feel uncomfortable or awkward. Your body is naturally easing into a position that requires flexibility. However, if it causes sharp, unbearable pain, you should stop and ease out of the position. Pain signals injury. If you try to push through the pain, you may end up tearing a muscle or ligament.
Try these basic stretches:
- Standing stretch:: Stand with your feet together and legs straight. Bend over at a 90 degree angle and reach your hands towards your toes. Move down only as far as you can with your legs straight. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.
- Pike stretch:: Sit down on a mat or gym floor, extend your legs out in front of you, and reach down to your toes. Keep your legs together and straight with your toes pointed. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.
- Straddle stretch:: While sitting, spread your legs apart into a wide straddle. Keep your knees pointing to the ceiling with your legs straight and toes pointed. Slowly lean forward and reach your arms out in front of you. Try to get your stomach flat on the floor and hold the stretch for 20 seconds.
- Kneeling lunge:: Kneel down onto one knee with the other leg bent to a 90 degree angle in front of you with your foot flat on the ground. Move your hips forward and down so you feel a stretch in the front of your rear leg's hip. Hold for 20 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.
3. Do the Splits
Now that you have stretched your body, you are ready to attempt the splits.
Front leg splits:
- Start in a standing position and place one leg out in front of the body.
- Keeping the leg straight, slide it forward and down to the ground.
- Straighten the back leg directly behind you and extend it to the ground.
- Go as far down as you can with your legs straight.
- Hold the stretch for as long as possible with your arms supporting your body. With practice, you may get up to a minute or longer!
If you are not able to go all the way to the floor, that's okay. When you need to rest, slowly ease out of the stretch, relax for a bit, and try again.
Remember that discomfort is normal, but pain is not!
- Start standing with your legs wide apart.
- Slowly inch your legs outward from the sides of your body. Keep your legs straight, with your body square and your hips facing forward. Go as far down as you can while keeping your legs straight.
- Hold the stretch for as long as possible with your hands supporting your body on either side. Or, if you can, put your elbows on the ground.
Importance of Splits in Synchro
The splits play an important role in synchro. They are an integral part of countless skills, including all kinds of walkover, split rockets, and many different hybrids. The more flexible you are, the better you will perform those moves… and the higher scores you will receive for them!
Even more importantly, the splits will help prevent injuries. Performing them regularly maintains a high level of flexibility, which allows you to safely attain positions that an inflexible person could not. The more flexible your body is, the less likely any skills will injure you.
Learning the splits can be one of the most frustrating elements for many aspiring synchro swimmers. However, it is one of those skills that everyone needs to have in order to reach higher goals in the sport. The good news is that the splits are attainable for anyone willing to put in the given time.