Updated: May 20
Closed vs. Open
July 4th, 2020
One of the true pleasures of pole dance is that we are able to start this adventure at any stage of our life, regardless of our age, gender, size or past dance history. Like many beginners before us, new pole dancers often take up this art form with no previous dance or gymnastics background. So, for many it can be a bit daunting when your instructor starts dropping the ‘S’ word in class – “Splits”!
Quite often pole newbies start stretching for front splits completely unaware there is such thing as proper split technique. And before they know it, they find themselves having to stop stretching due to a very upset hamstring/hip or are just struggling to make any progress! So, before you set sail on your splits journey, drop the anchor for a few minutes and become familiar with everything I’m about to say in this blog series to help you make the most out of your splits training.
Split over three blogs, we’ll cover everything from the basics of a front split, the anatomical difference between a closed and open front split, correct positioning of the lower back in a front split and handy tips and exercises to help you finally nail those splits! So, let’s start breaking it down!
Front Splits Class 101 (summary)
A front split (also called Hanumanasana in yoga) is achieved by extending one leg straight forward in front of the body and the other behind. The angle of the split is defined by the lines of the inner thighs with the end goal of a front split being a gorgeous aesthetic angle of 180 degrees or more.
The leg that is positioned forward in the split line is how we name the split as shown in figure 1 (i.e. left front split vs right front split). And any split greater than 180 degrees in motion is known as an oversplit (figure 2). To nail your front splits, you will require excellent flexibility and strength of the hip joint, and the surrounding hip, pelvis and trunk muscles which we will break down later in this blog.
As with everything in our body – “flexibility comes from proximal stability/strength”
When starting out in pole class, instructors will generally teach an open (stage) split or even a fake split with the back knee bent. A bit of practice and we start feeling pretty confident in our new found badass splits. But then reality dawns for many when we realise the inconvenient truth – a true split actually requires square hips and avoids excessive arching of the back!
So, I’ve decided to tackle this problem head on by breaking down the anatomy of the different types of front splits and showing you what’s required from our muscles & joints to finally hit touchdown!
The ‘Open’ Split
Let’s first start with an open split. Also known as a stage split, this is usually the simpler split of the two and is often used for performances. An open split allows for greater range of motion at the hip joint which can provide an illusion of flexibility making a split line look longer than it actually is. Although the open split position does not cause any direct issues, frequent and intensive training of this position is not advised as it can cause muscular imbalances and lead to injuries. The fall out of over training this split will be discussed in greater deal in our next blog (stay tuned!).
To nail an open split we require:
External rotation of our back hip and front hip (to a milder degree), also known as a turn out
Lengthening of the back leg adductors
Lengthening of the front leg medial hamstrings
Shortening of the back leg external rotators & hip flexors
Shortening of the front leg lateral hamstrings, gluteals and external rotators
I know it’s hard to not get overwhelmed sometimes when looking at anatomy pictures like the ones above, so here is an anatomy overview, breaking it down into main muscle groups for a split.
Adductors: adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, gracilis and pectineus
Medial hamstrings: semimembranosus & semitendinosus
Lateral hamstrings: biceps femoris
External rotators: gluteus maximus/medius & minimus, tensor fascia latae, piriformis, gemelli superior & inferior, obturator internus & externus
Hip flexors: iliopsoas, sartorius, & tensor fascia latae
Please note not all of these muscles are pictured due to their depth. These pictures are purely to help you visualise what muscles I am talking about throughout these blogs.
The ‘True’ (closed/square) Split
A square split is just that – square. This means anterior points of your pelvis known as your ASIS (anterior superior iliac spine) are both in line with each other on a side view of the split. The front hip is actively pulled back to ensure a square pelvis which is particularly engaging for the adductors and abdominals.
A closed front split requires:
Neutral/straight position of the hip, knee & ankle of the front & back leg (no rotation)
Lengthening of the lateral hamstrings of the front leg
Lengthening of the external rotators and hip flexors of the back leg
A shortening of the back leg adductors and front leg medial hamstrings
Helpful cues to square the hips:
Ensure the back leg knee and ankle are facing directly down towards the floor and not rotated/turned out
Place your hands on either side of the pelvis to feel the hip level and ensure they are pointing forwards
Actively focus on pulling the front heel back in towards the hip to engage the hamstrings and square the pelvis
Stick bright dots on your pelvis and observe your splits in a mirror face on to see if the dots are facing straight ahead
I also encourage my patients to constantly ‘check in’ with themselves to ensure the hips are square throughout the whole split process and constantly correct any technique issues that arise. You might feel like you spend the whole session correcting technique and that is totally fine! The focus shouldn’t be on how low you can go to start with, but more so on whether you can maintain correct pelvis alignment the whole time
For those of you who will attempt a square split after reading this - do not despair! You may go from being close to the floor in your open split to suddenly feeling like you are a good distance further away when first attempting a closed split. Whilst frustrating to lose depth, it’s important to keep persisting with a square split because it will ensure you are strengthening your leg muscles evenly. Instead of focusing on the depth, focus on feeling comfortable in a square split. Become familiar with your body and aware of your placement during these movements.
What about my back position?
Finally the last thing of importance to note is the lower back. A true front split should be performed in mild degree of anterior pelvic tilt/lumbar extension and both legs should feel an equal stretch. If we are incorrectly positioned with our lower back during a front split, this will incorrectly load up different muscles:
Excessive Anterior tilt – increases strain on front leg hamstring and may irritate the lumbar spine (blue line, figure 13)
Neutral or Posterior tilt – increases strain on hip flexors (red line, figure 14)
So, if you’re currently working on a square split – amazing! Keep up the good work! If you haven’t been yet, then it’s time to start. You will find further motivation and in depth information in this blog series to guide you to touchdown!
Make sure you tune in for our next blog that covers all the in-depth reasons why we need to focus on training our square front splits compared to our open splits – spoiler alert, it’s to do with injuries & getting that touchdown!
Want to speed up your touchdown progress?
Online telehealth appointments can be booked with the Pole Physio via our ‘Book Online’ page that can be found here. Assessment and tailored rehabilitation are provided in accordance with best practice and evidence-based treatment to help you unleash your 'poletential'.
Until next time, train safe.
The Pole Physio
This information is general advice only and we are not liable for any injuries that may occur during training.
This page has been created to provide wonderful knowledge with the pole community and sharing of this page to pole friends and pole related facebook groups is actively encouraged.
All of this blog’s splits are demonstrated by the gorgeous Eley May from Flexersize. Flexersize is a movement syllabus that combines the use of a variety of stretching, strengthening and stabilising techniques to in turn increase Flexibility. With 25 plus years of movement experience as well as over 15 years of flexibility coaching, Eley May (Flexersize founder) Is most passionate about empowering her members to learn how their bodies moves from both an intellectual and Intuitive level. With a background in competitive Rhythmic gymnastics and coaching, Professional dancing and womens Figure competitions, Eley has explored many different styles of movement for almost her entire life. Because of her knowledge from both an experienced and intellectual level as well as a passion for helping people to break through their movement barriers, Eley’s clients and members experience incredible results via both her personalised and structured online flexibility programs. If you’re ready to take your flexibility training to the next level with a more structured approach, be inspired by our community of beautiful movers from around the globe, be invited to our FREE Members only FLEXERSIZE FRIDAYS live stretch sessions (6pm AEST) and have a whole lot of fun along the way, then head over to www.flexersize.com.au, we can’t wait to help you kick all of your bendy goals!
If you are ready to level up with your flexibility training, check out her current programs including Beginner Front Splits, Advanced Front Splits, Middle Splits, Back bending For all and Intro to Active Flexibility Programs.
If you are after more personalised training in person or online, email her at email@example.com to join her private coaching waitlist.