Dancers sometimes stretch to the point of contortion to improve their flexibility, but painful, forced stretches can cause tiny tears or pulls. Even seemingly harmless ones
can do damage.
Let's start by talking about the different ways to stretch our muscles and the different
techniques of stretching called ballistic, dynamic, static, and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF). Each type of stretch has advantages and disadvantages, but are all effective at increasing range of motion. Some stretches are better than others, either for effectiveness or to reduce the risk of injury. To start with, students should experiment carefully with their teachers to find the best stretching technique for their physique.
Ballistic stretches require that dancers be fully warmed-up. Bouncing movements are used, which provide force to lengthen muscles. Although this particular type of stretching can improve flexibility in the short-term, it also can lead to injury due to tearing of muscle tissue. Ligaments (which connect one bone to another) can be overstretched, which may lead to joint instability. Loose joints may cause dislocation.
For dancers, ballistic stretching can help improve performance by increasing their range of motion. A dancer may use ballistic stretching to jump higher or kick with more force.
Dynamic stretching is a controlled stretching exercise that uses dance-specific movements to prepare the body for activity. A lot of dynamic stretching exercises are already built into a ballet barre. These exercises gradually increase in range of motion until the muscle has reached its maximum length. A gradual fondu exercise that begins with an extension to tendu and progresses to a full extension en l’air would be an example of a dynamic stretch. Dynamic stetching improves coordination and it strengthens the contracting muscle and it keeps the core body temperature up so that muscles and surounding tissues remain supple.
Static stretch involves the slow, gradual lengthening of a muscle. Once a final position is
reached, the stretch is held for 30-60 seconds. Because the stretch occurs slowly, the muscle can relax, resulting in greater length. This type of stretching practiced frequently among dancers has a very low injury risk.
Dancers frequently use these stretches when they sit on the floor between classes or while doing homework, maintaining their legs in various stretch positions for long periods of time. For example, lying forward while in second position for extended periods places undue compression of the hip labrum, potentially contributing to future injury.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
PNF techniques are effective for producing short-term increases in flexibility. As they do present risk of injury, they should only be performed under the guidance of your teacher.
When to Stretch
It is far better to stretch immediately AFTER class when muscles are warm. Holding the stretch while cooling down allows even greater increases in flexibility.
A feeling of pins and needles in the toes or fingers during a hamstring stretch means these stretches should be avoided.
What have we learned?
It is safe and effective to move through the body's normal range of motion before class. Brief stretches of less than 15 seconds are unlikely to cause problems. Dynamic stretches, such as dance movements, are less harmful to performance than static stretching. If increasing flexibility is a goal, it should occur over time (at least six weeks) and should occur when the muscles are already warm and more likely to make permanent changes to increase flexibility.
Stretching cold muscles is not so good. Break a sweat before you stretch! It's important to have blood flow in the muscles so they become pliable, so do some cardio to warm up.
Keep in mind that any movement that's painful will not stretch muscles because our bodies are wired to protect us.
Your body has a stopping point. Is the joint too stiff or is the muscle too tight? You want to feel your stretches in the muscles, not the joints.
Work within your own facility and strengthen within your length. Being a smart stretcher improves your facility now and lengthens your dance career in the future.
TROUBLE WITH FROGS?
Lie on your back parallel to wall with feet flat on the floor and knees bent towards the ceiling. Let the leg closer to the wall turn out so the knee touches the wall, making a half-diamond shape. Gently press the knee against the wall for about six seconds. Relax, then repeat six times and switch to the other leg. After each sustained contraction the muscles elongate, allowing the leg to release further in the hip socket. Be careful to maintain alignment by keeping the outside hip pressed into the floor.
To help release the ankle and improve your arch, sit on your heels in a kneeling position, keeping your spine long to apply low-level pressure.
ALWAYS ALTERNATE STRETCHING WITH STRENGTHENING.