Quickly browse Serena Williams’ Instagram page. A couple of photos will immediately grab your attention. No, not the one of Williams sitting down for a cup of tea with Kim Kardashian—although that has enough star power to hold your gaze for awhile. We are referring to the pictures of Serena suspended in mid-air doing the splits..
The move is called a Suspended Split, and, man, it looks difficult! Williams’ feet rest inside two rings that hang from the ceiling. The rings are attached to straps, which Serena grips with both hands while performing the splits. It’s a move that not only strengthens her leg and hips—two parts of her body that allow her to generate immense force on her serve and groundstrokes—but it also increases her flexibility and body control.
In a sport where stopping and starting on a dime are critical, and twisting and turning your body to get are set before hitting a shot are top priorities, the Suspended Split plays a big part in Serena’s success in competition. On some occasions, it even shows up on the court.
Against Bethanie Mattek-Sands at the U.S. Open last week, Williams chased a ball into the right corner, smashed a down-the-line winner and slid directly into the splits. She stayed like that for a moment, pumping her fists in the heat of the moment, before getting up off the ground. But without the confidence in her body and the lack of fear of stretching into a shot like that, she may have never hit that winner. She may have lost the match. But she didn’t. So praise be to the Suspended Split.
Just don’t try it at home—or put pillows beneath you so that if you fall, it won’t be the last exercise you ever do.