Side splits (aka. middle splits) is a skill I have been dreaming of doing for years. In its simplicity, it is insanely beautiful to watch and always tells a kind of story about its author. Every time I see a beautiful active side splits, I get goosebumps out of sheer respect.
For myself this movement is especially close to my heart, because as a child my middle splits were awesome. This is evidenced by the image below. Ah, those times. At some point, that skill just didn’t get maintained anymore and now it’s pretty hard to get it back. Hard, but by no means impossible.
Although I have been dreaming about doing side splits for a long time, I have not worked very hard on it. This is largely because I didn’t quite know how to approach it at an older age. Sure, there have been experiments lasting a month or two but the uncertainty about was I doing the right thing made the projects stall. Because increasing mobility is always a long process – with little visible results in a couple of months – it is frustrating if you can’t know you’re doing the right things.
Things changed significantly when I took outside help . With the help of a skilled coach, the progressions are honed and the pieces start to fall into place. I’ve gained lots of strength in the end range and more depth as well. In my opinion, the most important thing in increasing mobility is to get it by increasing strength at the same time. It has a little bit of the same mystical beauty as the straight-arm strength.
Training middle splits is really hard work. Active holds of 30 to 60 seconds demands quite a bit ”between the ears” and thus also helps to develop the psychic side. In practicing this, the concept of “love-hate relationship” gets the right frame of reference. Almost every time before practicing middle splits, my mind says this sucks big time. After the training, I feel almost immortal and my love for splits flourishes again.
In the practice of splits, I used to find it difficult to measure my progress. Because the training has progressed gradually, now several different metrics are obvious. The most important of these are the “holding times”, the slipperiness of the surface and the distance from the ground. While there is no big difference between the two and five months of progress on the aesthetic side, the “hold time” gauge has progressed quite nicely. Previously 10 seconds in the down position was a struggle. Now the same pain is felt at half a minute mark and I’ve gained a bit more ROM too. Heavy but damn rewarding. Test yourself – get the deepest possible side split, on the most slippery surface possible, and hold the position for half a minute. It is not easy. The big difference you don’t see so much in the below picture is also that that now the legs remain perfectly straight and the knee locked. Previously the knee had a mild flexion because I was lot stronger like that. Pictures below show a bit of the development over the six-month time span.
At the starting point, the situation was not very good (first picture). There is a soft mat under the feet with a good grip and therefore it didn’t ask for strength because the position was so upright and the platform was not slippery. In the following picture – after two months of training – I had already reached a much lower. At that point 3 x 10sec holds/repetitions were maximum. Slipperiness of the surface had gone way up, thanks to the double wool socks and laminate floor. The third picture shows the current situation. I can go with 4x30sec holds on a really slippery surface and the distance from the floor has been reduced by about 5cm. There are really slippery “sliders” under the feet and a laminate floor.
This should also give perspective to the question I often hear: “How long does it take to master a side split?”. The answer is that it can take a hell of a long time, as in my case, or it can take a little less time. Still, I don’t think many will get there in the “touchdown” in less than a year.
The optimistic goal for this year would be to get the calves to touch the ground. Even if this does not happen, I already know that there will be lots of gained strength in December. And that is, after all, the most important thing in a long run. Increasing mobility has become a thing for me to really pursue. I recommend you to explore this world too – that and bodyweight training is a super good couple. And no, those social media influencers who promise results with only 15min of training a day know nothing about this world. 🙂 It takes a whole lot of work, but it’s really nice to be in a smoothly moving body!
I challenge you to go for side splits too! Will you accept the challenge? 🙂