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How to do the splits

All you need is a tracksuit, some chairs, and a year of practice, says dancer Deborah Bull

Rosanna Greenstreet
Saturday 15 February 1997 00:02 GMT

Kids are more flexible than adults; men less flexible than women. If you can't do the splits by 20, it might not be a good idea to try. But if you really want to, the body can adapt to anything given time - look at the strongest man competition, and marathon running. It'll take a year before you can do the splits - if you do it little by little every day. There are two ways - the best is with one leg in front of you and the other behind. Wear something that covers you, such as a tracksuit, because you are in a pretty exposed position. Do 10 minutes jogging - muscles and ligaments don't stretch unless warm. Go into a position like a starting runner, then slide your front foot forward and extend the back leg behind you so your hips get closer and closer to the floor. Do it with a couple of chairs for support so you lower your weight down gently. If you're not careful, you could tear your hamstrings which run between knee and bum. Keep hips square and pointing forward. If you let the hip that belongs to the back leg twist backwards, you don't get as good a stretch. I've never been able to do the other split position where you slide one foot east, the other west and your pelvis hits the floor. People who can were probably born with lax hip joints - there is no such thing as being double-jointed. The sensible way to try it is to sit upright with your legs pointing forward, then open them as far back as you can. But be warned: you could tear your inner thigh muscles.

Deborah Bull is a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. She opens in `La Bayadere' at the Royal Opera House on 26 March

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