Stretching, one of the key elements of dance, improves flexibility, reduces muscle soreness, & decreases risk of injury. Here are some of my tips on how to get the most out of your stretches and reach your flexibility goals.
1. Warm Up
It is important that you always warm up before stretching, as muscles are more elastic and less prone to tear when warm. A good rule is to aim for a five-minute dynamic warm-up before you stretch. This includes exercises like lunges, leg swings, plies, jumping jacks or any other exercise that gets your blood pumping and involves some degree of flexibility and range of motion.
2. Stretching Regularly
Stretching consistently is necessary if you want to come flexible. Get into the habit of taking 15-20 minutes, 4-5 times a week to stretch. You will become significantly more flexible with patience and time. Work progressively at your own pace and slowly increase the difficulty of your stretches at a rate you are comfortable with.
3. Set Goals
Determine the area you want to focus on, where you want to be, and set a date you want to achieve it by. I’ve found it helps to have a journal or notebook to log your progress. Once you have that goal in mind, find out what in particular is hindering you from achieving it, then consistently work towards your goal.
4. Breathe & Balance
Breathe normally when stretching and only stretch to the point of mild discomfort. Don’t try to hold your breath or push yourself too aggressively. Always remember to balance your routine, working opposing muscle groups each time you stretch. Example: if you start by stretching the muscles in the back of your thigh, then follow by stretching the muscles at the front.
5. Think Positive
Not everyone is naturally flexible, think positive and be patient! Everyone’s body is different. Don’t compare yourself to others. It takes patience, persistence, and time to open our muscles, don’t be hard on yourself, you can’t do it all today but you can do it.
Over-splits can be useful for getting higher battements, improving your standing splits, improving splits in aerial skills, higher jumps and more! Start small, a step, a book, or yoga block. Place your forward foot onto it. Make sure your hips are squared (facing directly forward). If you cannot touch the ground let your hands go and raise them above your head if you are able. Let yourself sink down into the stretch as far as possible. If it hurts too badly stop! After you’ve accomplished that height, add another book and keep progressing as long as you’re comfortable!
Bridges are a great way to increase back flexibility and build core muscles.
Start by lying on your back, bend your knees up and keep your feet flat on the ground, place your hands by your ears with palms facing the ground. Push your body up until only your hands and feet are touching the ground, and your back is arched. Once you’re up in a bridge, straighten your arms and legs and push your shoulders over your head. Your wrists to your shoulders should form a straight line to the floor. Keep your fingers and toes lined up with your body, not turned out. Keep your knees together. Slowly lower your body back to the floor, tucking your chin toward your chest as you come down to relax your back. Once you’ve gotten your bridge, an elbow bridge can also help target shoulder flexibility even more as well as pushing forward and straightening your legs.
Maybe you weren’t born with gorgeous, overarched feet, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with what you’ve got. Strength and flexibility can improve with training, within the limits of your individual anatomy.
Hand towel, for scrunching toward you as you actively curl your toes. For a challenge, add weight, like a book, to the end of the towel.
Thera-Band, for slowly pointing and flexing in parallel. Then, sickle with a point, return to neutral and repeat; and wing (in both flexed and pointed positions), return to neutral and repeat.
Tennis ball, placed at or above the ankle bones, as you slowly relevé and lower in parallel.
Piano toes, From tendu second, flex the foot off the floor and articulate the toes into a pointe one at a time.
Sitting on the floor, place the foot you want to stretch over your other thigh to create a figure 4 with your legs. With the hand closest to your heel, push into your heel. Be sure to relax your Achilles! (the large band coming down from your calf that attaches to your heel) With the hand closest to your toes, place it over your toes and up your foot a couple inches and pull back so that your foot arches, feeling a nice stretch on the top.
For the top of your instep, standing in pointe shoes, cross one leg over and press the top of the foot into the floor. Plié to increase the stretch.
Grab a yoga block or foam roller, place the front of your foot on it and sit on your knees with your feet under your butt on your foam roller/yoga block. Stay there for about a minute to stretch your instep and increase your ankle flexibility.