Stretching for dancers is a complicated topic.
When I was a young dancer I did some crazy things to increase my flexibility and “create” a body designed for dancing. I mean, we all know it. Stretching for dancers can get intense.
I remember, I used to shove my toes underneath the couch to stretch my arches to improve my feet.
I use to lay for hours in a frog position to open up my already very flexible hips.
My best friend had a “flexistretcher” to help her back become more flexible.
Not to mention the amount of time I would sit in over splits in a desperate attempt to someday have my adagio match my battement heights.
You see, I thought momentum was what got my leg into a farther range of motion in my battement compared to my adagio. And while that was true, I misunderstood the how.
You see I was confused about the difference between flexibility and mobility.
Flexibility is how far a muscle or group of muscles is able to lengthen (stretch).
Mobility is the degree to which a joint can move through it’s range of motion without the help of momentum or any other outside force (like your hands or a flexistretcher).
When I was sitting in my over-splits I was increasing my flexibility. However, without the mobility to support that flexibility, I found myself frustrated in class that I could rarely access that range of motion.
What was the missing piece? Dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching will increase your range of motion and increase your mobility. Sounds like a win-win, right?
The short answer is, yes it is.
So, what exactly is dynamic stretching?
Dynamic stretching is movement based stretching.
Rather than getting into a position and staying there. Dynamic stretching forces you to move through your end range of motion and back; activating your core, breathing, and muscles.
For this reason, dynamic stretching is a fantastic way of stretching for dancers because it not only increases ROM, but it also activates the muscles used when working through those ranges of motion.
In other words, not only will it make your battement higher, but it will warm up your muscles to adequately control the downward release of your battement.
So, does this mean static stretching for dancers is canceled?
According to this study, static stretching helps with overall range of motion, but if used directly before physical activity, will inhibit your power.
However, as far as increasing your overall range of motion static stretching for dancers still has value. In one study, sit and reach tests were done to test overall range of motion. The group that implemented static stretching saw 2.8% increase in ROM.
However, that’s all it did.
This same study goes on to state that theses findings suggest that static stretching should be used in conjunction with an activity specific warm-up. This way, both flexibility and mobility will be addressed within the warm-up without inhibiting your power.
Static stretching is fine for increasing flexibility but it has to be paired with dynamic stretching and weight training your end ranges of motion. And if dynamic stretching kills two birds with one stone, that may be the best way to get the most out of your stretching sessions.
However if you love static stretching- maybe it helps you wind down at night- fine. But these sessions should be focused, intentional, short, and should not be pushed to the point of pain!
No more sitting in your splits for 30 minutes while you watch TV!
Instead set a timer and work through those end range stretches for 30-60 seconds each. Taking time to bend and flex and breathe. (For more tips about safe stretching for dancers, give this article a read.)
However, for a pre-audition or class warm-up, static stretching will only inhibit your power. And you need that power for jumps and battements!
Instead, we suggest that you swap out the static stretch for something more dynamic.
This warm-up flow will work you through those end ranges of motion, warming up your body to not only access your flexibility, but pair it with the power and strength to control it.
A bonus? Dynamic stretches make excellent warm-ups for dancers.
In fact, we even made a dynamic warm-up with holding rooms in mind! Check it out here, on the DWL blog!
So to make a long story short, stretching for dancers is all about finding a balance that serves your needs.
Dynamic stretching, overall, is a bit safer because you don’t run the risk of over stretching your muscles. However, if you really love it, static stretching can have its place as long as it’s used wisely and appropriately.
Like any exercise you have to know they why behind what you’re doing in order to choose the most effective method.
So, what do you think? Are you ready to use your yoga block for yoga instead of over splits? Let us know in the comments!
Not sure what to think? Check out our Body Mechanics program so you can learn first hand how to train your body as a dancer!