I am 21 years of age. I have been learning taekwondo for a year. However, I am still unable to achieve a complete split. What are exercises that I can do to increase my flexibility to reach a complete split?
I agree with Robin that squats and deadlifts are important. but i disagree that if you can't squat your own body weight you shouldn't be doing martial arts.
Squats are actually great for improving your hip flexibility, most people think they are only for strengthening, but they definitely improve your hip and ankle flexibility. Just make sure your form is good or you'll do more damage then good!
My favourite way to improve flexibility, which I have talked about in a few questions here, is active stretching, or stretching with a partner also known in more science like terms as isometric stretching. Here's a link to an answer to another questions: Is stretching with a partner beneficial, dangerous, or both?
For doing the splits, I would work on the one standing against the wall primarily. Doing the butterfly stretch won't hurt either.
To do the first one:
stand perpendicular to a wall, about a foot or so away
left your leg as high as is comfortable (and that you are able) and then have your partner lift your leg until you can feel the stretch. (for some this will be the same height, for me, with a partner i can get my leg much higher).
Hold for 10 seconds.
have your partner holding steady, push against there resistance. For 10-15 seconds.
relax and allow your leg to be lifted higher for 10-15 seconds..
Make sure you do both sides b/c the stretch is difference depending which leg is in the air!
Also: Make sure you're very warm before doing any flexibility work. working on flexibility cold is not very helpful, and can be quite harmful.
You increase flexibility by stretching. You prevent injury through strength training. The great danger in splits, especially the middle split you need to work on for sidekicks is that if your cross-ligaments in your knee are week, all the strain will go there and you'll hyper-extend or tear them and have knee problems for the rest of your life. You need to warm up sufficiently before you even THINK of doing stretches to improve your flexibility. You can either achieve this by going for a short run and a couple of light stretches, OR you can cheat like I did and take a nice, long, hot bath (30min +-).
When you're good and ready, get into a middle split. Go as far as you can without pain. No one cares about how much pain you can take. This is about improving flexibility. When you start feeling pain, tense your leg muscles, squeeze for 5 seconds, then release and split a little further. Keep doing this until clenching and releasing doesn't make the pain go away anymore. It's also beneficial to LIGHTLY pound your inner thighs and hamstrings with your fists. I don't know why this works, but it does and there is science behind it which you can read on your own time.
With that out of the way, I want to point out two things:
- You don't need to perform a full split. You also don't need to perform a side kick straight up in the air. It has no practical purpose whatsoever. If you can easily kick 10 to 20cm above your head, you will be fine.
- The split you want to work on is the front split. This is very important because you're going to be learning the Axe kick and you need to be super-flexible in the forward direction for this. I accidentally stepped on a skateboard when I was about 9 years old and it stretched out my right hamstring to the point where I could perform a full front split. This is not a good idea though;)
I had been doing stretches just as instructed by many websites online but I never got to increase my flexibility all tht much. I then noticed that everyone who does splits here in Zambia and in all the taekwondo, Kung Fu, and Karate clubs I've seen is by actually forcing! (which I always see being discouraged online) You have people to force you and maintain that very intense and painful stretch for extended periods of time of at least 5 minutes . it's very painful the first time but in just a couple of weeks of doing such stretches you won't be feeling that much pain and in about 3 to about 6 months you'll be flat down on the floor with your splits both front and side splits. this method has helped, me the same way it is helping my martial arts students and everyone here who does martial arts or gymnastics. we actually force!! try it and you'll never go wrong because the stretching methods they tell you on these websites will take you years and years of stretching without achieving full splits
As requested on another thread - commonly used techniques that should be avoided/the methods of old.
DO NOT DO THESE
- tearing the muscles and holding them out to heal "in place" - several ageing instructors I know were subjected to this treatment in the 60s and 70s, tie one leg to a wall bar, someone grabs the other leg, pulls it round into the splits position and ties it to another wall bar. Untie at the end of the session.
- similar to above - push to the floor by being stood on - there are many variations of this - in a standing box split get someone (heavy) to stand on your thighs to push the stretch further - or in ground based stretches standing on the knees or back to "enhance" a stretch.
DO NOT DO THESE
There are relaxed versions of these which may be "okay" - but as flexibility and the long term effects of these practices are better known these days there are much better ways to go (covered in the other answers here).
When performing the flexibility exercise you want to be best at (split), keep in mind the following tips.
This is part of a full article I've written that can be found in my website: FLEXIBILITY IMPROVEMENT – KEY PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE (martial arts)
" (...) HEALTH HABITS The following three health habits are truly essential for the development of flexibility: a) Drink plenty of water (2 L per day, for example). b) Don’t smoke. c) Don’t drink alcohol.
(...) STATIC DRILLS REPETITIONS Major mistake I generally see is repetitions that don’t last longer than 10 seconds! You won’t get improvements from those exercises in the same way you shouldn’t expect cardiovascular improvements from a light 1 minute jog!
Another common mistake is for people to bounce when they’re close to stretch limit, in order to surpass their limit with each impulse… This increases the probability of injury significantly and is therefore not recommended! Instead, do a single continuous push until you reach your limit and hold there.
For each type of exercise, just do 2-3 repetitions, each lasting at least 30 seconds, in only one continuous stretch motion that will reach the limits of what you can do. Discomfort is expected, but don’t take the exercise to where you feel unbearable pain, as that would lead to almost certain injury! Between each repetition, relax for a few seconds in a comfortable position.
(...) HOW OFTEN ARE FLEXIBILITY DRILLS REQUIRED In martial arts -> Every single training session should have a flexibility drills included. (...) "
Deadlifts and squats. Thomas Kurz (who demonstrates some very impressive splits at a moderately old age) says that if you can't deadlift and squat your own bodyweight (minimum), you really shouldn't be training for martial arts or flexibility.