Splits on the floor but not in the air? Here’s how to fix it.
Are you a dancer who has their splits on the floor but doesn’t have a full split leap in the air… yet?
If so, you can stop stretching your hamstrings and start strength training your core and your glutes. Your ability to hit a split in the air is not a flexibility issue. There are two pieces to this puzzle. It’s a strength issue in the core and glutes and staying in the air long enough to hit your split.
When you strength train those two major muscle groups, your body creates a resistance that allows you to explode off the floor. The glutes are the main muscle group to get your back leg up, and the core and hips are how you get your front leg up while you’re in the air.
So again, it’s not a flexibility issue.
It’s having the strength in your glutes to get your back leg fully up, and strength in the core and hips to get your front leg above 90°.
Here are two exercises that you can do to strengthen the glutes, core, and hips.
And if you’re a dance coach, incorporate these in your practices and watch your dancers pop at the top with full split leaps!
Glute and Core Exercises for Leg Height
- Begin with your feet hip-width apart and your hands clasped together in front of your chest.
- Do two squats, squeezing your butt muscles when you return to your starting position.
- Bring your right foot back, into a reverse lunge. Both of your legs should be at 90° angles, your left foot flat on the floor, and your right toes curled under your foot. Then return to your starting position. And repeat once.
- Next, bend both knees into a high squat and jump in the air as high as you can. Land with your knees bent so that you’re in your high squat position. Repeat twice.
- Straighten your legs after the third jump, keeping your feet hip width apart.
- Repeat this combo for 30-40 seconds, alternating sides.
Quick recap so this is more clear — you’re doing 2 Bosu Ball Squats (bosu ball optional), 2 Reverse Lunges, and 3 Squat Jumps.
Coach, combining these three exercises will build up your dancers’ glute and core strength to get both legs up when they are in the air.
- Start by getting on the floor, on your hands and knees. Then lift your knees off of the floor so your toes and hands support your body. Your knees should be “hovering”, about an inch or two off of the ground.
- Bend your right elbow, then your left elbow. So your forearms are flat on the floor. Your forearms and your toes briefly support your body.
- Next, straighten your right arm so it’s parallel to the floor, and use your right hand to push yourself back up. Then straighten your left elbow so it’s also parallel to the floor and you’re back in your hover position.
- Repeat for 30-40 seconds and repeat on the other side.
The trick with this exercise is to keep the core engaged and do your best not to let the hips move all over the place.
Coach, pay attention to your dancers so that they aren’t letting their hips and lower back dip while moving up and down.
Unilateral Exercises for Explosive Power
Now that you have your back leg and your front leg reaching new heights, it’s important that you have the explosive power to stay in the air long enough to see the results of your hard work.
When training your jumps and leaps, you’ll notice that each one of them is unilateral, which means it focuses on one side at a time. Unilateral exercises are so effective because most dancers are unbalanced due to repeating choreography all season long.
I’m sure you have a stronger side. Let’s say it’s your left side. That means you overuse your left side and underuse your right side and vice versa.
But in my experience, most dancers turn to the right, which means they overuse their left side. So dancers and coaches, when you train unilaterally, you give both sides the attention they need.
So here are two exercises to help you explode off the floor.
Coach, I recommend you do these exercises as a warm-up in your next class. Have your dancers do each exercise for 30 to 40 seconds or you can have them do 12 to 15 repetitions of each.
- Stand comfortably and put your right foot in a relaxed B+ position.
- Lift your right foot off of the floor, straighten your right leg, and hop into the air.
- Land on your right foot with the left foot in a relaxed coupe de pied looking position, hovering above the floor, behind your left ankle.
- Straighten your left leg, hop into the air, and land on your left foot. Your right foot should hover above the floor, behind your left ankle.
- Repeat this exercise, alternating sides for 30 – 40 seconds or 12-15 repetitions on each side.
Focus on your dancers going straight up into the air instead of trying to move sideways across the floor. This helps them focus on getting higher and trains the right muscles for higher jumps.
- Start by standing comfortably. Then bring your right foot back into a reverse lunge — left foot flat on the floor, right toes curled under your right foot. Your right arm will naturally bend in front of you and your left arm will naturally fall behind your body, like when you run.
- As you jump up on your left foot, lift your right knee so it’s at a 90° angle, hip height or higher, at the top of your jump. Your left arm should be bent in front of your body while your right arm falls behind your body.
- As you land on your left foot, bring your right leg back into a reverse lunge. Right toes curled under your foot, left foot flat on the floor, right arm bent in front of the body, and left arm relaxed behind your body.
- Repeat your one leg skip for 30-40 seconds or 12-15 repetitions. Then repeat on the other side.
The arms provide momentum for this exercise, but you want your dancers to focus on building their explosive power. In order for your dancers to get higher, remind them to really use their glutes and hamstrings to propel themselves off of the floor so they can reach a split in a jump.
Hit Your Splits In the Air
Now you know, it’s not a lack of flexibility if you — or your dancers — can sit in their splits on the floor. That part is down pat.
It’s actually the glute and core strength that gets dancers’ legs higher in the air. And their explosive power that allows time to actually do a split during a leap.
Unilateral exercises help strengthen every dancer, no matter their strong side.
I’m sure you’ll love these exercises as much as I do and see improvement in your — or your dancers’ — split jumps.
Looking for more exercises to incorporate into your next practice?
I’ve got you covered.
Get total access to the Dancer-Fitness exercise library here.