Fitness Face-Off: Splits (session 10)

This afternoon I worked with Laura, a former dancer, a Texan and one of Brooke Siler's protgs (she's part of a cast of excellent apprentices who train out of Re:AB. Hint: Sessions with them are cheaper). She can do the splits.

We worked almost exclusively on the floor, which, as anyone who has ever taken a mat Pilates class at a gym should know, is extremely painful. There are no Reformer springs to help you along or push up against, and so you spend most of the session in a sit-up position, raising and lowering your legs and upper body. Ouchie.
We climbed the tree for a while, which is one of my favorite stretches to do in bed, while watching TV. I did it at the pool this weekend for 30 minutes or so until my friends asked me to stop. Because it's kind of a weird thing to do in public, in a bikini. Essentially, you extend one leg in front of you as you're flat on your back, and stick the other straight up, rolling up your back until you're holding on behind the ankle (disclaimer: It took me about a week to get to the point where I could straighten both legs). You widen your elbows, pull your leg in toward your face, and then slowly walk your hands down your leg until you're flat on your back. Your head should be the last thing to hit the mat, and the first thing to curl on the roll-up. It's a good one, because it keeps your alignment pretty straight.
We practiced front splits over a half leather barrel (you can use pillows at home) as Laura knelt behind me and maneuvered my hips until they were square. This hurts. A huge component of all of this stretching is just breathing through the pain—and bouncing around a bit to keep your muscles guessing (meaning bending and then straightening your legs). Brooke argues that the more time your brain has to cogitate on the fact that the muscle hurts, the more the muscle will tighten in response. So essentially, keep your brain distracted and your muscles surprised.

Eventually we moved to the Cadillac (above), which is an elevated bed with a metal frame overhead, on which various pulleys, springs and straps are fitted. It looks like a torture device. We did my favorite stretch, at which I am quite proficient—because I'm tall. You put your back leg into a furry strap and hold on to the bars underhand before dropping to your knee and stretching back to sit (one leg is still suspended). Then you work your hands over to the top bar closest to the leg and drop to the floor. It looks quite accomplished, almost like a full split, and feels amazingly good, but again, I have the advantage of being 5'10" so it's not that far to the ground.