Stretching 101

Flexibility is an important part of dancing.  While there are individuals with “tight” muscles and others with “loose” muscles, it’s important to acknowledge that there are advantages and disadvantages to both.  Dancers with “tight” muscles are built to be stable and sturdy.  Stretching can help these dancers.  However, dancers with “loose” muscles are more likely to be hyper-flexible.  This extra flexibility puts these dancers at higher risk of injury from working too far into their joints.  Hyper-flexible dancers should focus on strengthening rather than stretching.  

Once you have determined whether stretching is appropriate for you, next you have to determine what type of stretching to do.  There are two types of stretching that might be appropriate for you:  Static or Dynamic.

Static stretching is probably the most common type of stretching, and one that you are probably already doing.  For a static stretch you reach to the end range where there is mild discomfort, but no pain, and hold for 30 seconds, breathing deeply.  This type of stretching should be repeated 3-5 times.  Depending on your goals it may be appropriate to stretch every day to achieve longterm flexibility, or once a week to maintain your current flexibility.

Dynamic stretching is an active, controlled stretch.  Dynamic stretches involve movement through the range of motion.  These stretches may look more like dance movements, and therefore can help emphasize ideal alignment.  You might be doing dynamic stretches already and may not realize it.  Dynamic stretches only need to be held for three seconds and can be performed without a full warm-up.  See the example below for a video of my favorite dynamic quadriceps stretch.

Regardless of what style of stretching you choose, your stretches will be more effective if you’re appropriately warmed up before stretching!  (Check out my video for an 8 minute warm-up)  Stretching after class, rehearsal, or performances is shown to have better results in terms of developing flexibility since the muscles are already warm.  Studies show that stretching before class can actually decrease jump height and speed.  When working toward a flexibility goal allow up to 6 weeks to see progress.

If you have been using one type of stretching for a long time, change it up and try another kind of stretching to see if you will get better results.  Remember also that muscles are three-dimensional so no matter which you chose, you should change the angles of your stretch to target different parts of the muscles.

For more information on stretching, check out this article.  If you’re interested in a personalized stretching program, please call the office at 410.381.1574 or email to schedule an appointment.

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