To Square or Not to Square?
In your splits, should you square your hips or let them open? The answer is a bit nuanced, but definitely one worth having. We’ll break down what you need to know about your front splits and staying square in your hips.
Square hips = your two hip points (ASIS) and your pubic bone are in alignment, with your hips and shoulders pointing forward.
So, let’s jump right in: do you need to square your hips or is it okay to let them open? The short answer is that neither is incorrect, but you should thoughtfully choose when to use each.
During StretchIt classes, you’ll hear the instructor prompting you to square your hips if you’re working on stretches for your splits. For training, squaring your hips is an important technique for several reasons, but what’s right for your body might vary depending on the circumstances.
When training splits (and in your StretchIt classes), the hips should be square. That means your two hip points (ASIS) and your pubic bone are in alignment, with your hips and shoulders pointing forward. This position creates muscular activation, particularly from the inner thighs. Here, the back thigh is neutral (not externally rotated) and the knee and top of the ankle should be pointed directly down towards the floor. The front hip is pulled back so your hips are in a horizontal line, which may require you to drag your front heel in.
"Generally speaking, we tend to have weak inner thighs (i.e. overstretched) and tight outer thighs (hello, IT band!).”
Overall the shape may lift when you’re squaring your hips. Most people dislike this since it can take you farther away from a split touchdown. But for training and deep stretching, the square hip position is best because it ensures you are stretching the hip and hamstring evenly. Generally speaking, we tend to have weak inner thighs (i.e. overstretched) and tight outer thighs (hello, IT band!). By opening or turning out the hips, you can exacerbate that imbalance. Squaring your hips is a better position for the body when adding load/weight/pressure because it’s more balanced and more "correct" from an anatomical standpoint. The stretch is thus more balanced and even.
On the other hand, the open hip position is what we generally use and see in performance (e.g. in dance or gymnastics). With open hips, you’ll have a greater range of motion with the back leg externally rotated because of how the bones in the hip socket fit together. It's not a dangerous position in itself, but it is imbalanced: you’ll get more of a stretch in the groin muscles than in the front of the hip and the hamstring.
At the end of a square-hips StretchIt class, you’ll sometimes be encouraged to try out the open-hips splits, almost as a “reward.” It gives a sense of accomplishment because you can feel an increased range of motion after training in the super square position. But intensive training in an open-hips position is not advised because of the imbalances it might cause.
Our goal is to help you achieve balanced, injury-free flexibility—and for that reason, we encourage you to train with square-hips and treat yourself with open-hips as the occasion calls (being mindful of the imbalances that might occur with open hips)!