Tips for Stretching from a Pro Dancer

Written by Tristan Grannum

Professional dancers are usually known for their “out of this world” flexibility and strength. Almost every dancer at some point in their training had to work towards increasing their flexibility. Stretching is one of the most important activities an individual can do to prevent future injuries and increase overall mobility. Stretching benefits your physical health and can relieve soreness and pain of the body. If you are an active person you should never take stretching for granted.

One common misconception of stretching, is that before a ballet class or a workout a person should do stretches that push the limits of their natural flexibility. Practicing splits, or kicking your leg forcefully are not good exercises to do pre-ballet or pre-workout. Static stretching is not considered healthy if you are doing it before your physical activity. Before you begin doing a strenuous activity your main focus should be making sure your entire body is warm. Warming up is essential for stretching. Walking, jogging, jumping jacks, and planks are all exercises you can do that will help get your heart rate up, activate your core, and warm up your entire body.

Each person possesses different levels of flexibility and mobility. Some areas of the body tend to be tighter than others. Focus more time on the areas that need improvement. If you tend to be more flexible in a specific area of the body, focus on building strength in that area.

Hamstring Stretch:
If you have tight hamstrings, first roll out with a foam roller to make sure your legs are nice and loose. One good exercise for improving hamstring flexibility is laying on your back with a flat spine, have both legs parallel and straight in front of you with your toes facing the ceiling. Next take a towel and place it at the bottom of your foot near your ankle. Using your hands on the towel gently pull your leg toward your chest until you start to feel a mild stretch. While continuously breathing, hold that position for no more than 30 seconds without shifting your hips. Make sure to alternate your legs.

Picture

https://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/leg-workouts/best-hamstring-stretches

Tip: Make sure the leg that is not being stretched at the moment is completely straight without a bend in the knee and your foot remains parallel the entire stretch.
Cat & Cow Stretch:
If you would like to improve your back flexibility you should try a variety of back mobilizing exercises. One very common exercise which is also utilized in yoga is the cat/cow exercise. While starting on your knees and hands, activate your back into a full spinal flexion. Your body is in a “cat” position with your lower back arched. Then unwind your back into a hallow curve or a spinal extension which is the “cow” position. Alternate multiple times in-between both the cat and cow positions continuously breathing.
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https://workouttrends.com/cow-cat-stretch-pose

Ankle Flexibility and Strength:
I
f you would like to improve your foot flexibility you should focus mainly on stretching out your calves. Tight calf muscles restrict a majority of a person’s foot flexibility. Doing various exercise band movements help to improve mobility of your foot. With the exercise band around the entire bottom of your foot with your hands slightly pulling the band, gradually alternate between a fully flexed foot, to a forced arched foot with your toes back, then to a fully pointed foot. Do this exercise several times with each foot as the exercise band provides resistance.
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https://www.foot-pain-explored.com/ankle-strengthening-exercises.html

Stretching is not an easy task however it is useful and necessary for flexibility improvement and overall wellness. Always make sure you have a specific stretching plan which include which parts of the body you will be focusing on, the different stretching exercises you are going to perform, as well as the amount of repetitions for each specific exercise. If you start to feel pain during a stretch, Stop! If the pain persists consult your physician or physical therapist. Stretching can be loads of fun and with consistency, you will start to meet your flexibility goals. 

Works Cited:
Bueno, Leah. “Could A Tight Back Be Limiting Your Flexibility?” Dance Magazine, Dance Magazine, 6 July 2017, www.dancemagazine.com/tight-back-exercises-2453923313.html. 
Wingenroth, Lauren. “The Dancer’s Ultimate Guide to Stretching.” Dance Magazine, Dance Magazine, 20 Sept. 2020, www.dancemagazine.com/stretches-for-dancers-2639955572.html.

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