Strictly splits: Angela Rippon’s inspiring moves

Angela Rippon is hitting the headlines for her ability to do the splits at 79. So can you – and should you – try it?

Doing the splits is all in a day’s work for much-loved Strictly Come Dancing contestant Angela Rippon – but if you don’t have her flexibility, it’s not necessarily your age that’s to blame.

Rippon and her pro partner, Kai Widdrington, performed an impressive rumba to Conchita Wurst’s Rise Like A Phoenix – and the TV presenter wowed the audience by doing the splits twice.

Head judge Shirley Ballas said she was “in shock” after the dance, but at 79, Rippon’s ability to do the splits is no secret. Her high-kicking cha-cha-cha previously made viewers sit up and notice, but this week’s performance earned the couple a solid three eights and a seven from the judges, putting them fifth on the Strictly leaderboard.


Angela Rippon in Strictly Come DancingCredit: BBC

“Dancing is better than going to the gym”

From a childhood love of ballet to high-kicking with Morecambe and Wise, Rippon has always showcased her love of dance and enviable flexibility.

She told Saga Magazine in an interview back in 2016: “I’m so grateful my mum sent me to ballet when I was six for my knock knees. Dancing is better than just going to the gym – which tends to use only one set of muscles at a time.

“Dance uses every part of your body: it’s aerobic, uses spatial awareness, helps with balance, is good for flexibility and uses your brain, because you have to remember your steps.”

Age is no barrier to the splits if you’ve been doing them for years – Carol Vorderman recently revealed she’s nearly there, and Joan Collins boasts she can still flex the skill at 90 – but getting started might be a bit tricky.


“It’s never too late to move”

The Vitality Coach Rosaria Barreto, who specialises in exercise for older adults, tells Saga Exceptional: “I think Angela is a really good representation of what you can do if you keep working on it. Obviously, the longer you do exercise, the better, but you can start at any time in life.”

Barreto believes that although not everyone can do the splits at 79, Rippon is an inspiration to other women her age. “I do think you can catch up at 60, 70 or 80 if you’re living a sedentary lifestyle or have had years of very little movement,” she says.

“Thinking ‘I’m too old’ is so untrue. This has nothing to do with age, it has everything to do with what you’ve done throughout your life to get to that point.”

So how do we get started? “It’s really important not to go from no movement to all guns blazing because that’s unsustainable and you could get injured. Find what you enjoy – it could be dancing – and do it for 10 minutes at home. Or exercise while you’re cooking. I think group exercise is a very powerful thing, so if you can find a friend who’s in a similar mindset, try a Pilates class or join a walking group. Once you get the bug for it, that’s when your confidence gives you the ability to try different things,” she says.

“A big limiting element to doing the splits are our hip flexors. We’re a society that sits a lot, so focus on exercises that open up your hip flexors. A lunge stretch or an upward dog is a great start.”

“Motion is lotion”

Emma McElhinney, a personal trainer who runs Team Eat Move Win to empower women to be the best version of themselves, tells Saga Exceptional that Rippon has a great mindset:

“How cool is Angela? Getting on TV, dancing and owning it, showing the world what she’s got is absolutely incredible. One of the big things I talk about as you get older is your identity and not thinking ‘I’m too old to do that or wear that.’ Get out there and show the world you’re in love with your capabilities. She embraces her age, without looking like she’s trying to avoid it.”

McElhinney doesn’t think the splits is impossible for women of Rippon’s age, but says they don’t need to do it to have flexibility. “Motion is lotion,” she says. “If we don’t use our joints, ligaments and tendons effectively, we feel it. Flexibility is a key area, especially as our hormones change, our bone density weakens and our muscle mass starts to deteriorate. We could become less agile and less flexible. Yoga promotes flexibility, but we should be looking to do more for mobility, which is where strength training comes in.

“Some women worry about becoming too muscular, but I would say that about 80% of people who have never lifted a weight before in their life, love it. There are so many endorphins, you can’t help but feel good and you’re proving to yourself that you can do it, which boosts self-esteem. Not only will you become stronger, but it helps us if we do fall over – you’ll have the strength to get back up and remain independent.”

Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier


Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

  • twitter