In this blog, we want to share with you tips from Bandha Yoga as well as research articles about front split. Many of us long for that flat split so that we can manage several flexibility tricks on the pole.
First, let’s take a look at muscle-tendon unit (MTU) which contributes to muscle contraction and stretching.
What is muscle-tendon unit (MTU)?
A tendon is a fibrous collagen tissue attaching a muscle to a bone. We use muscle-tendon unit to measure stiffness* and the force developed in muscle-tendon during contraction.
How long should you hold your stretch?
The majority of lengthening or release of the MTU takes place in the first twenty seconds of the stretch. Similarly, when repeating a stretch, the lengthening of the MTU appears to diminish with each successive stretch, reaching its maximum at the fourth stretch, after which little additional length is gained by further stretching. Each successive lengthening of the muscle is followed by a brief recovery period in which it is released from the stretch.
Figure from Bandha Yoga
From this research, we can say that one two-minute stretch is not equivalent to four thirty-second stretches. You can thereby stretch your front split by dividing into four consecutive stretches—each focusing on a different muscle group. Below are four steps you can try.
Focus on stretching your hip flexor muscle (psoas) for the extended back hip. This also stretches your front thigh muscle (rectus femoris). You can use two chairs or yoga blocks for support and draw your back knee down towards the front foot which is flexed, using just enough force to gently engage the psoas. Hold this for several breaths and then ease deeper into the stretch by again engaging your bum (gluteus maximus) and limit the stretch to thirty seconds. Then come out of the pose and stand for a brief recovery.
Focus on the main muscles that flex your front hip, starting with engaging your hip flexors (psoas) and your front thigh (quadriceps). One part of the quadriceps, rectus femoris, also synergizes your hip flexion. While flexing your hip, you are stretching muscles on the back of your legs, mainly your gluteus maximus and hamstrings. From there, slightly bend your front knee and gently press your front heel into a towel or blanket to engage the hamstrings and gluteus maximus of the front hip. Hold this action for a few breaths and then lengthen your hamstrings and gluteus maximus out to length further by activating your hip flexors and front thigh. Hold the stretch for a maximum of thirty seconds then stand up for around 20 seconds for a brief recovery.
Then, stretch the muscles that help both flex and extend your hips - they are located more central to your body. For the front hip, focus on the adductor magnus and for the back hip, focus on the adductors longus and brevis, and pectineus (see image below). Slowly engage these muscles by drawing your front heel and back knee towards the midline and holding for a few breaths, then deepening the pose by relaxing and engaging the back leg's buttocks and front leg's hip flexors and quads. After the stretch, stand up for a brief recovery.
Finally, we focus on stretching muscles synergizing hip flexion and extension that are located lon the outside of the hips. Slowly draw your front heel and back knee away from the midline, hold this action for a few breaths and then ease deeper into the pose by engaging the back leg's gluteus maximus and front leg's psoas (and quads)—all for thirty seconds followed by a relaxed stand. This is the fourth and final stretch of the series.
For a balanced stretch, repeat the series on the other side.
You should allow a 48-hour recovery to prevent injury and never force yourself into the pose. Slow the movements as you near the endpoint of the stretch and come out of the pose carefully. Consult with your doctor or physiotherapist if you have any medical issues before practicing. Happy stretching!
Original blog written by Ray and Chris here.
*Beardsley, C. (2018). What is Stiffness? Medium.