The Method of Testing Your Potential to Do a Front Split
Kurtz, author of Stretching Scientifically and Secrets
This is the third installment of my column on training that appeared
in July 1999 issue of TaeKwonDo Times.
Read the previous installment
In the first article of this column (in TaeKwonDo Times
March 1999) you learned how to determine if you have the potential to
do a side split, even before you start your stretching program. In this
article you will learn if the joints and muscles of your thighs and hips
will permit you to do a front split.
Here is the front split test: Stand in a deep lunge. If your thighs are
nearly in one line, as they would be in a front split, it means that your
hip joints and their ligaments do not prevent you from doing the front
split. Only tightness of your hamstring and calf muscles, and in some
cases of the iliopsoas muscles, may keep you from sitting in a flat front
split with both legs straight. With the right stretching method you will
relax, or even elongate, these muscles and be able to do the front split
with no warm-up.
Deep lunge. The knee of the front leg is flexed
and the thighs are nearly in one line.
In both the front split test and side split test, relieving the tension
of the muscles around the joint increases the joint's range of motion,
proving that only muscular tension prevents you from doing splits. Muscular
tension has two components: the tension generated by the contractile elements
(muscle fibers) and the tension present even in an inactive, denervated
muscle, exerted by the connective tissues associated with the muscle.
Some authors (M. J. Alter, B. Anderson, H. A. deVries, S. A. Sölveborn)
claim the connective tissue tension to be the main factor restricting
flexibility. They advocate slow static stretching, even in a warm-up,
as if muscles were pieces of fabric to be elongated to a desired size.
Ramsey and Street (1940), however, prove and state clearly that if the
range of extension does not exceed 130% of resting length (30% more than
resting length), the resting tension in a noncontracting muscle is very
small. (The resting length of a muscle is the length of an uncontracted
and unstretched muscle in the body.)
Also, Shottelius and Senay (1956) show that, in a muscle stretched to
well over 100% of its resting length, the passive tension generated by
its connective tissue is a small fraction of the tension due to active
contraction. They show that eventually, at approximately 120% of a muscle's
resting length, the two components of muscle tension contribute equally
to total tension. At greater lengths, the passive tension increases while
the active tension, generated by contracting muscle fibers, decreases.
For practical purposes, as long as you feel your muscles contract in
response to a stretch, it means that relaxing them can improve your stretch
and that you should concern yourself more with nervous regulation of the
muscles' tension and less with the muscles' connective tissue. This concept
is most strikingly demonstrated in the side split test shown in the March
1999 issue of TaeKwonDo Times.
In the next column you will learn about kinds of flexibility and about
the role of splits in taekwondo, karate, and kickboxing. (If you think
splits are necessary for kicking high, you are wrong.)
Read the next installment of this column
Alter, M. J. 1988. Science of Stretching. Champaign,
IL: Human Kinetics
Anderson, B. 1980. Stretching. Bolinas, CA: Shelter
deVries, H. A. 1980. Physiology of Exercise for Physical Education
and Athletics. Dubuque: Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers
Ramsey, R. W., Street, S. F. 1940. Isometric length tension diagram
of isolated skeletal muscle fibers of the frog. Journal of
Cellular and Comparative Physiology 15:11
Schottelius, B. A., Senay, L. C. 1956. Effect of stimulation-length
sequence on shape of length-tension diagram. American Journal
of Physiology 186:127-130
Sölveborn, S. A. 1989. Stretching. Warszawa: Sport i