Welcome to the first in a series of blogs that look at normal variations in anatomy and how they influence split training.
To refresh on what is really limiting your progress, read the blog.
Before we start... I want to make it clear that while your anatomical structure may make training splits more challenging, your bones are NEVER what limits your range. Bones never touch. They are connected but spaced by the soft tissues joints. As well as this physical separation, our nervous system ensures an active resting tone that minimally limits joint range. There is no accurate, viable way to know how far into a particular range you will get. From my experience working with hundreds of people who have been concerned that they have reached an anatomical limit that everyone can improve their flexibility. This doesn’t mean that everyone can achieve an externally rotated 180 deg middle split, but it does mean that no one can tell you it’s not possible, other than yourself.
Part 1 Hip inclination
Hip inclination (acetabular inclination) is a radiological measure of the angle from the centre of the femoral shaft to the centre of the femoral head through the neck of the femur. There is a normal variation of this angle (120-135 deg), but a particularly open hip inclination is called a coxa valga, and an especially closed angle is called a coxa vara. The most obvious influence of hip inclination is on knee posture. For example, having an open hip inclination (coxa valga) will result in a wider gap between the knees in a neutral standing posture (‘bowed legs’). In contrast, when a hip inclination angle is more closed (coxa vara), knees will be closer together (‘knock knees”).
Hip inclination and splits
Individuals with hip inclination approaching coxa vara are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to middle splits. Not only do they have a greater range between their neutral position and a flat middle split, because their knees come in from the hip,they will find it harder to load middle split stretches. Commonly, they will complain of both medial knee pain, and anterior hip pain on stretching. In addition, they may feel that they get locked at a particular position and can’t get further.
On the other hand, individuals with hip inclination closer to coxa valga have less trouble achieving middle split. This is because they don’t have to abduct as far from neutral to reach a middle split, so they are less likely to experience anterior femoral impingement symptoms. They are also less likely to have medial knee pain as the load is more easily transferred to their hips.
Hip inclination angle doesn’t affect the range available for a front split, but individuals with a more closed hip inclination angle will tend to prefer front splits as they are easier to achieve and less pain for them than middle splits. Those with more open hip inclination angles will find front splits harder in comparison. They may also fall into the trap of adducting their front keg (bringing it across their body) to adjust for the width of their neutral position.
What to do if you think a closed hip inclination is limiting your middle split training.
If your thighs come in dramatically from your hips and your knees come together when you stand, you will likely find middle split training challenging.
1. Work your turn out. Improving your hip external rotation and strength into this position will allow you to externally rotate more in your middle split. This will minimise anterior hip impingement pains and the feeling of locking (more in later blog posts). It will also allow you to load your knees in a more mechanically advantageous position.
2. Take it slow. It can be easy to overload your medial knee. It take months to condition a knee and even longer to recover if you injury it. It’s also possible to become sensitised in the middle split position by pushing too hard, too soon. While stretching is uncomfortable, it should be tolerable, and you should be getting deeper over time, not just more sore.
3. Unload it. Especially if you feel it more in your knees than your inner thighs or hips. Try putting a yoga block under your knee, taking more weight in your arms or even inverting at a wall. You can still be building tolerance, strength and conditioning when training submaximally.
Remeber all progress is good progress, however long it takes. You will always get further if you persevere than if you stop.
Want more support in your flexibility journey? Book an assessment with a physio now