There are two things I know to be true. One, I love a challenge. (Perhaps you remember my daily plank practice?) And two, I hate failing. When the opportunity to partake in a flexibility challenge came my way, I jumped (or more appropriately, lunged) at the idea.
I’m neither flexible nor inflexible. I can touch my toes, I can sit in a squat, but I can’t do the splits. In fact, the only time I’ve ever been able to do them was briefly in college when the dance team I was on required it for a dance. It took me all semester and I was finally able to do the side splits after a lot of hard work. However, my flexibility feat was short-lived.
Fast forward to today—I love fitness and do minimal stretching into my routines, but it’s not something I do every day. I don't make it a priority, and I usually try to get through it as quickly as possible. Have I always wanted to do the splits? Sure. Have I ever wanted to do them enough to actually do something about it? Clearly not...until now. I suddenly got inspired.
I religiously followed the splits stretching routine below, programmed for WH US, for three weeks, with the goal of being able to do the splits at the end. I was excited to see what I was capable of.
Directions: Hold each stretch for 20 seconds, then repeat three times. Switch sides and repeat the entire circuit.
Monday: Lunge | Low lunge | Hip flexor stretch
Tuesday: Lunge | Lizard lunge | Half split stretch | Full split stretch
Wednesday: Pigeon pose | Pigeon pose forward stretch | Up facing pigeon pose
Thursday: Lunge | Lizard lunge | Half split stretch | Full split stretch
Friday: Single leg extension | Seated pike | Frog stretch
Saturday: Standing straddle stretch | Seated straddle stretch | Side stretch
Sunday: Double quad stretch | Single quad stretch | Up-facing quad stretch
Check out the gallery below for examples of all the stretches from personal trainer Simone Sobers, creator of the Boss Chick Dance Workout.
I really liked that the stretches varied day to day, so the routine never felt stale. When I had time, I completed my daily stretches after workouts. Many days, I really enjoyed doing my stretches at night before bed.
Even though some of the more difficult stretches made me break a sweat, it was a relaxing way to wind down my day. I noticed it really calmed me down. I’d set the timer on my phone and distract myself during the harder stretches with some Love Island in the background. Nothing like some dating drama to encourage you to crack on with your journey, which I did.
My first stretches were a humbling experience.
First, I attempted the splits while my friend snapped some photos. Not going to lie, it was tough to stay in position long enough so that she could get the shots. I’ve never been extremely flexible, but I definitely used to be more flexible than I am currently.
After woefully attempting the splits, I started my first day of stretches. They were all basic stretches I have done before, but I definitely noticed how tight I felt. I was really looking forward to limbering up in the coming weeks.
By about day four, the stretches started to feel good, albeit still challenging. They were also starting to feel really good. From there, I began to settle nicely into my new routine. After I took my week one progress photos I wasn’t sure I saw much of a difference, which was a bit disheartening, but I didn't let it get me down. Onward I went!
I really saw and felt my flexibility improve by week two.
After two weeks of the stretches, I was actually making real progress. I could see it in the photos of my splits attempts clearly. It can be challenging and a little discouraging to feel like you aren’t making significant progress, and the changes came right when I needed them.
The full splits still felt far away, I had definitely improved my flexibility from the start of the challenge. I also noticed how limber my joints were during certain other exercises or stretches before and after workouts. It gave me a little boost in my confidence and encouragement to continue on.
In week three, my flexibility stalled, and I hit a progress plateau.
Unfortunately, in the final stretch I didn't see significant improvement. I felt pretty similar to the prior week. I was proud of the progress I made and maintained from the earlier weeks.
No doubt about it, I am way more flexible than at the beginning of the challenge. I'm closer to being able to do the splits than I've been in many years, but I still couldn’t quite get there.
My Biggest Takeaways
I was proud of myself for creating a new healthy habit and sticking to it.
First and foremost, I was proud of myself for accepting a challenge and sticking to it. Doing something every day for three weeks is difficult. There's a lot of life to distract you, but I squeezed in my stretches no matter what.
Throughout the course of my journey, I really limbered up, but not enough to fully do the splits. This was really disappointing for me, because once I set a goal, I plan to accomplish it. But just like life, things don’t always go your way and that’s a valuable lesson for me as well.
My improved flexibility also helped my strength training form.
Throughout the duration of my stretching routine, I noticed improvements along the way beyond the specific stretching positions. I saw little boosts during my workouts as well. My hamstrings weren’t as tight doing RDLs and I could squat lower, for example.
These seemingly little things made a big difference. I wasn’t as sore as usual after my workouts, either. That's actually more useful than being able to slide into the splits.
I learned recovery is just as important as the workout.
There were definitely ups and downs during my three weeks of stretching. Overall, I enjoyed it. Stretching was calming and so good for my body. It showed me how important recovery really is.
Stretching is a good addition to my routine, no matter what the physical result. Depending on your starting point, it might take you more than just a few weeks to go from zero to splits, like me. It's a hard pill to swallow, but I know I tried. From now on, I'm going to prioritise stretching more in my life. Maybe the splits are still in my future.
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