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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Onley

The Truth About Over Splits

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

You know the nursery rhyme “Pop Goes the Weasel”, and instead of saying pop you make the noise by flicking your finger out of your mouth? Now imagine that the tip of your finger is the femoral head (ball), and your mouth is the acetabulum (socket). That’s over splits.

What most people don’t think about when doing over splits is what is happening in the hip socket as the foot gets higher off the floor. Like a seesaw, as one end goes up the other must come down.

As you can see in the video, the femoral head is held in place by many ligaments that create a capsule, which is not elastic, unlike muscles. If these get stretched they will not go back to their normal shape, they remain stretched and unstable. This will allow the two surfaces on the femoral head and acetabulum to move against each other more, creating more friction and gradually wearing the cartilage.

skeleton and muscle anatomy of front splits. Used to describe the danger of over splits.

Here is a picture of front splits, notice that the pelvis is tilted forwards to achieve the position. Now picture what will happen to the femoral head of each leg as it is raised off the floor. The femoral head will rotate further and apply excessive force against the ligament capsule, which is there to stop it form going "pop"! The ligaments will sustain micro tears and due to their lack of blood supply are very slow to repair. This means that training over splits creates constant damage, even though the muscles might be capable of the extreme stretch. Damage that takes an extremely long time to rehabilitate and in some cases leads to surgery or can be irreparable.

Another consideration that is extremely important are the growth plates of young dancers.

These don't fully ossify (harden) until teenage years and the younger the child, the softer the bone. The femur has four growth plates (which are identified in blue on the picture below) and damage to these can be irreparable and lead to deformations and leg length discrepancies. I am seeing more and more young children being trained like adults but their bodies are not the same. Placing these young bodies in over splits puts a huge amount of pressure on the growth plate around the femoral head as this is where the articulation happens.

Illustration of a human femur with the four growth plates and ossification time lines. Used to warm against the danger of over splits.

So in conclusion, the truth about over splits is that they are over glorified. They are not necessary for creating beautiful lines and they are potentially career ending before students careers have even started.

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