You probably have a stretching routine that you’ve been doing for months or even years. Usually the routine starts standing, folding over your legs for a hamstring stretch, spending some time in a runners lunge, and of course a straddle stretch that slides right into the splits.
From studios to dance teams, stretching usually looks the same, but it’s important to follow healthy stretching guidelines to prevent injury and decreasing your strength.
So, how should a dancer stretch correctly? By avoiding these three things, below!
3 Mistakes Dancers Make When Stretching
1. Bouncing the Muscles
When stretching, it’s best to avoid bouncing or jerky movements to try and push further into the stretch. These ridged movements can tear tendons and muscles. This type of stretching, called Ballistic stretching, causes the muscle to shorten which counteracts the muscle lengthening you’re ultimately going for. Try breathing through the stretch and slowly reaching further and elongating with each exhale. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds and repeat 2 to 3 times.
2. Partner Stretching
Similar to Ballistic stretching, it can be dangerous to have a teacher or friend press, pull or push on you when stretching. Having someone push on your back in a straddle or push on your leg in a hamstring stretch will put your body in a position it may not be ready for. This can lead to muscle tears and injury. For healthy stretching, you should feel slightly uncomfortable but never in pain. When you have a friend or teacher pushing or pulling, it can be hard to gauge this feeling until they push too hard and it’s too late. Try using an elastic band or yoga block to help you reach further when you feel like you need it. This way, you have the control and you can use your breath to gently increase flexibility and range of motion.
3. Skipping the Cool Down
Believe it or not, some research has shown that static stretching BEFORE activity can actually decrease muscular power and strength. Static stretching is what you may be most familiar with, holding a stretch for a certain period of time and then moving to a new position and holding that stretch.
Schedule 5 or 10 minutes of stretching AFTER rehearsal when your body is warm and you’re able to move through a full range of motion. This way you’re actually working to increase flexibility, which is why stretching is essential to dancers in the first place. Try it for yourself! Go into the splits before rehearsal and then try again after. You’ll notice a dramatic difference.
If you don’t have time for a cool down, be sure to warm up with 5 minutes of dynamic stretching like leg swings, reverse lunges, and marching before jumping into your stretching routine.