To honour the departing Kim Clijsters, here’s how to do the splits like her.
We have all seen the pictures, if not the actual movement: Kim Clijsters sliding out wide to retrieve an impossible forehand (or ‘fearhand’ if you’re Coach Brad Gilbert) and almost in a full ‘splits’ position. Doing the splits is an incredible feat, in and of itself, but Kim still has to control the movement enough to hit the ball. In tennis terms, coaches speak of ‘strength at end-range’ – a critical component of a player’s game, especially when defending. If you want to be able to do the same continue reading.
Do you have the potential to do the splits? While most of us probably don’t believe we are capable of doing this, the reality is that many of us do. Try this: Stand next to a table that is roughly hip height. Lift and rest a leg on the table. Your leg should be out to the side, close to horizontal and your knee should be straight. It should look like a ‘half-split’. Now turn around and repeat with the other leg (for the other ‘half-split’). If you can do two ‘half-splits’ then you have the potential to do the splits.
Not just stretching, but strength, too. Common thinking is that to perform the splits static stretches and flexibility training be added to the program. The reality is stretching and flexibility training is only part of the story. The key is to teach your body to be strong in this position. In other words, get stronger in wider and wider positions. Various forms of lunging exercises, forward and side, and some Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation training (which incorporates both stretching and strength work) are crucial to the process.
The next step. For the tennis player, achieving the splits is not going to help performance on court if they do not have the strength or touch to return the ball from this position. They have to take an additional step, so to speak. Light medicine ball (no more than 2kg) throws, mimicking a forehand or backhand, are a good start. This is to ensure the player will feel comfortable to play from this position. Volleys and shortened tennis shots in this position should be added to the programme, allowing the player to develop ‘touch’ and skill too. Developing strength at end-range is an important element in the modern game. And we have Kim Clijsters to thank for taking the game to this level.
Grant Jenkins is the Physical Performance Coach at the National Academy Queensland in Australia. He oversees the physical development and rehabilitation of all the NAQ athletes. He also manages the Sport Science aspect of the program. Follow him on twitter @Grant_Jenkins or email firstname.lastname@example.org.