Middle & front split plateaus, knee pain when squatting & shoulders that won’t open in a handstand……..
Any advice or guidance on the middle and front split? My legs are just not opening enough and I can do the pancake with the elbows touching the floor, as well as the butterfly with the knees touching the floor, but I’m STILL stuck! Help?! I’ve been training with my current routine for 10 months with a 1 month gap due to groin pain getting so bad, it made him drop from EVERY DAY to 4 times per week.
(Edit: the guy also told me he was doing lots of isometrics (PNF) and very little dynamic work.)
If you’ve done the same routine without substantial progress (or even any progress) for 10 months, you need to really have a rethink and an overhaul of what you’re doing.
It sucks because clearly you’ve got the consistent mindset which is sorely lacking in most. But sometimes, annoyingly so, the rewards aren’t directly proportionate to the effort/input. This is especially the case with the beast that is mobility/flexibility development.
The first thing that stands out to me is your frequency is too high. When I made good lower body flexibility progress, I attacked the moves every 5th/6th day. And I did so AFTER lower body general training (pistol squats, leg curls etc etc).
From looking at your front split vids/pics you sent, it’s clear to me you’re lacking mostly in the back leg. This is super common. Hip extension drills will be the answer for you! Many of the active drills did so much more for me than anything static/passive ever did. The beauty of these is they activate & strengthen the glutes in conjunction with opening the hips, unlike passive hip stretches which only achieve the latter.
This will get you in the critical habit of squeezing the hell out of the glute on the back leg anytime you do any split work or hip flexor stretches in general.
I would also limber up daily but not try to go to my max; so basically USE the ranges you have but don’t try to build new range or you risk spinning your wheels. Flexibility work tends to take quite a while to fully recover from – longer than it feels it should.
Lastly, I would avoid going to the pain zone on the isometric side splits. This is counterproductive and is probably teaching your body and brain to tense up more and more, when you probably need to relax more in the position and yield, as opposed to fighting harder.
Summary: Minimum every 5th day frequency, active drills for hip extension for front splits, less intensity with the side split holds (8/10 tops instead of 10/10) and regular (maybe even every day?) ‘limber ups’ just loosening up to the ranges you normally have – but keep in mind if you’ve done other lower body work or are tired, your flexibility will be below its regular threshold.
I keep getting clicky and achey knees from squatting. What gives? What can I do to reduce this?
This is common. Usually this knee stress comes from the knees not staying in the right plane throughout the squat. What I mean by that is the knees will often fall inside the feet or callapse/go valgus in many people. This naturally puts torsion on the knees and isn’t a good long term approach if longevity is your goal.
The first thing to look at is your stance. Are your knees and toes aligned before you even begin the descent? If they’re not, you’ll want to make sure they are otherwise you’re already inviting the knees to have a harder time staying out (hip external rotation). This is why I’m not a fan of a huge turnout of the feet, say 45 degrees or more. 30 degrees is about as far as you’d want to go or you make it very tough for the hips to externally rotate enough to keep the knees aligned.
The other factor here is glute fucntion and general muscle balance in the lower body and the firing patterns of muscles. Basically, if your glutes are underactive you’ll have a hard time keeping the knees out from the bottom of the squat. A typical clue of this is the feet collapsing in to where your arches fall and you end up flat footed.
Before you even descend in a squat, you should be able to squeeze your glutes and feel the weight shift to the outsides of your feet if you squeeze hard enough? Almost to where your arches are exaggerated. I’m not saying you must squat like this, but it’s a good sign your glutes activate and switch on nicely.
If this isn’t the case, glute activation would be the go to before squatting as well as changing the stance slightly to where your toes and knees stay aligned. There are plenty of good pre-squat glute activation/hip openers on YouTube to use. Working on your active hip extension will help a ton, too. The better my front splits got, the less knee pain and trouble activating my glutes I had. I don’t think that’s a mere coincidence.
One last thing to keep in mind is everyone’s stance will vary throughout their training career. Muscles will tighten and flexibility will either increase or decrease. This will always reflect the way you personally need to squat for comfort and ideal mechanics.
I’ve not done handstand work for a while and when I last did it I was able to open up nice and tall through the shoulders. I can’t seem to do it anywhere near as well now! Any advice on how I can go back to being in better alignment again?
Assuming you had decent mobility top begin with, I will further assume this is a activation/mental cueing issue.
You need to be pushing tall through the traps at all times. As a general 4 step cue, I like to use the following:
Lock arms-push the shoulders up to the ears-pull the ribs in- point the toes to the sky.
Obviously there’s more details to correct handbalance but those are nice simple steps to get in your mind. A nice way to get the full shoulder push sensation is with the wall facing ‘flex press’ or ‘handstand trap 3 raises’.
This drill is a great way to feel the difference between a shoulder dominant (inefficient) handstand and a trap dominant (efficient) handstand. The former is a mis-aligned handstand and the latter is a aligned handstand. The difference is massive. Advanced handstand success is super dependent on alignment and stacking of the joints – trap dominant handstands are the only way you will be in full alignment.
Obviously if there’s a mobility deficit then you need to work specifically on that. Common problem areas are a lack of thoracic extension, tight lats, tight pec minor, a lack of in/external rotation or even a lack of active overhead mobility strength.
Often times handstand work itself when done well can take you quite far on the journey to improving overhead mobility, to a certain extent obviously.
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