Have you ever wished you could do the splits but thought this move was only reserved for talented gymnasts and yogis? The breakout success of popular Japanese yoga instructor Eiko’s latest book, Even the Stiffest People Can Do the Splits: A Four Week Stretching Plan to Achieve Amazing Health, suggests otherwise. Based in Osaka, Japan, Eiko claims that just a few minutes per day of her stretches for splits will have you mastering the pancake splits in just four weeks.
Eiko’s technique of “bounce stretching” has made hersomewhat of a celebrity in Japan. Referred to as the Queen of Splits, she’s sold over a million copies of her latest book and gotten close to seven million views on her instructional YouTube video. Aside from being able to fulfill perhaps a lost childhood dream of doing the splits, her stretches for splits also assists with weight loss, improved balance, injury prevention and a calmer mind.
The broader goal of Eiko’s stretching program however, is more about gaining self-respect and self-confidence. According to Eiko, “Whether or not you can do the splits is a battle with your own insecurities. Many of the people who buy the book have an inferiority complex because they’ve been inflexible ever since they were children. Many people in Japan have inferiority complexes about not being able to speak English or about being overweight. For people like that, being able to do the splits means changing their ‘no good self’ into something good.”
Eiko’s breakout success has more to do with selling confidence than it does with stretches for splits according to the New York Times. The splits have long been regarded as a move reserved for only the super-flexible and highly trained. Being able to master the splits in as little as four weeks has given millions of people renewed confidence in their abilities to master more difficult tasks.
The version of the splits Eiko gets her students to master is called the pancake split. The pancake splits is when you sit on the floor with your legs spread wide in a straddle. Keeping your back flat, fold at the hips so your entire upper body is flattened on the floor. If you can’t sit on the floor without rounding your lower back that’s an indication that your hamstrings are way too tight. Similarly if your hip flexors cramp up when you sit down, that’s your bodyletting you know your hips aren’t working properly.
The straddle pancake stretch increases flexibility in the adductors and piriformis muscles, which tend to be extremely tight in most adults. Working towards the pancake splits will eventually loosen hip and groin pain and can get you to the point of enjoying pain free hip mobility. Daily stretching has been shown to significantly reduce pain and inflammation in the body. Maintaining flexibility is one of the most important foundations to fitness and aging well.
You’ll have some sore muscles the first week of the program but hang in there! As your flexibility improves the pain will go away and you’ll be in awe of your improved mobility. If you’re someone who suffers from back or joint pain, don’t be intimidated by all the bouncing involved. The gentle bouncing actually helps reduce the likelihood of getting hurt.
Practicing the splits is great for joint health and flexibility, qualities that become more and more important as we get older. Maintaining a wider range of motion means more physical independence and a better quality of life as we age. Stretching exercises have also been shown to help major health issues like cardiovascular disease by increasing circulation and strengthening the muscles.
Ready to put Eiko’s stretches for splits to the test? Start with these five stretches to ease your way into doing pancake splits. Whether you’re in it for the health benefits or need a new party trick, Eiko’s stretches for splits will have you fully folded in as little as four weeks!
1.) Inner Thigh Stretch
Step 1: With one knee bent, stretch out the other leg to the side, bouncing for 30 seconds.
Step 2: Do the same with the other leg.
Tip: Lift the heel of your bent knee if you are inflexible.
2. Sumo Stretch
Step 1: Standing, point your knees out to the side, spread your legs to about twice the width of your shoulders, lower your backside and place your hands on your inner thighs, near your knees.
Step 2: Move up and down about 20 times.
Step 3: Next, stretch the groin and back by shifting each shoulder toward the middle in turn, while pushing harder with your hands.
3. Lifted Leg Towel Stretch
Step 1: Loop a hand towel (or workout strap) over the underside of one foot, extend your leg (keeping your knee straight) and pull the towel toward your head with both hands.
Step 2: Hold for 30 seconds.
Step 3: Repeat with the other leg.
Tip: If this stretch is difficult, use something longer like a bath towel, rope or belt.
4. Chair Stretch
Step 1: Sit on a chair backwards with your legs spread apart.
Step 2: Grab the back of the chair with both your hands and push the stomach out.
Step 3: Lean the upper body backwards about 45 degrees, and pull the back of the seat towards you.
Step 4: Gently bounce your groin up and down on the chair for about 30 seconds.
5. Wall Stretch
Step 1: Lie on your back with your backside against the wall.
Step 2: Place your legs against the wall, spread them as much as you can without bending your knees or pushing too far and stretch for one to two minutes.
Step 3: Adjust the intensity of the stretch by varying how open your legs are and the distance between your backside and the wall.
Tip: If this stretch is difficult, it’s OK to only go as far as you can.
Follow along with her full video sequence for more stretches for splits.
Want even more workouts to help you become more flexible? Check out our Top 5 Must Follow YouTube Yoga Instructors for Beginner Yoga.