Every once in a while it’s nice to set a goal for yourself. You know, like cooking more than mac and cheese in the house. Or getting the number of shows you’re actively watching under ten. Or, hey, why not go big: Let’s learn to do the splits.
Now maybe the splits were something you had in you when you were a kid, or maybe you’ve always looked at gymnasts like another species. Either way, there’s no reason you can’t start working your way toward this intense hip opener.
Before you test your mettle and end up pulling a muscle, remember that it’s more about consistency with stretching than going big all at once. It doesn’t hurt to get your blood circulating a little before you dive into these stretches either. Warming up before stretches? Yep, we said it.
Work with these five stretches and you’ll start noticing a difference in the depth of your splits.
1. Standing forward bend
Standing straight up, feet together, arms by your side, reach your hands up and overhead into a prayer position and then swan-dive your arms and chest down toward the ground. Let your fingertips or palms fall to either side of your feet and slowly start to bring your chest in towards your knees. If you have a hard time reaching your toes, put a little more bend in your knees until your hands are on the floor. Keep pressing your chin and chest in towards your knees and thighs for the maximum stretch. Remember to never lock your knees and always keep a slight bend in them to avoid injury.
Stretches hamstrings and back, alleviates anxiety, relieves headaches, improves digestion and quiets the mind.
2. Pyramid pose
Starting in Tadasana, or mountain pose (standing straight up, feet together, arms by your side), gently step one foot about 3 to 4 feet behind the other, allowing the toes to turn out slightly to the side and aligning your back heel with your front heel. Note: It’s important that your feet should not be directly in line with one another. Instead, your back foot should be a few inches to the side to balance more effectively. Once your legs are in place, bring your hands to either side of your front foot and lower your chest and chin in towards the top of your thigh. Continue reaching your fingers and hands behind the front leg for more of a stretch.
Stretches the spine, shoulders, wrists, hips, hamstrings and strengthens the legs. Improves posture and balance and calms the brain.
Next Up: Lizard pose
A version of this article was originally published in October 2013.