Let me guess. When you or your dancers struggle with flexibility, your first instinct is to:
- Stack some yoga blocks and overstretch.
- Push on your dancers or have partners press and pull.
- Open a book or turn on the TV and sit in your splits.
If these three options are your go-to solutions, I’m so glad you’re here!
This is written just for you.
I want to make sure that you and your dancers increase flexibility in a safe and effective way. So let’s go over a few targeted exercises to increase flexibility, the right way.
But first things first.
What Does Flexibility Really Mean?
Flexibility involves a little more than passively sitting in your splits while you rewatch The Office. When you combine strength and flexibility, you also increase your range of motion in your joints (mobility).
Mobility and flexibility work together like peanut butter and jelly.
When you dance, your body is moving dynamically. You probably don’t sit in your splits during a competition to show off your flexibility to the judges, right? That means your muscles need to be strong enough to lift your legs into the air and hit your side leap before your feet land on the floor. That’s why strength training is so important for dancers.
Think of it this way: Mobility + Strength = Flexibility
Dynamic stretches help dancers increase flexibility. Instead of holding the same position and stretching your legs, dynamic stretches stretch your muscles while they move through their full range of motion.
Dynamic stretches are effective because they increase your mobility, strength, and flexibility at the same time.
Exercises for Flexibility — For Dancers
Let’s start with a hip stretch and a hip strengthening exercise. These will help you understand how a dynamic stretch should feel and what it looks like. And you prepare your body for the jumps and leaps you’re about to do during practice.
You’ll need a yoga block for your hip lift drill.
Dynamic Hip Flexor Stretch
- Kneel on the floor on both knees. Lift your right foot, so it’s flat on the floor, with your right leg at a 90° angle. Leave your arms relaxed at your sides.
- Tuck your hips so your spine is neutral, and gently push your hips forward to feel a stretch in your left hip. Then return to your starting position.
- Continue back and forth for 30 seconds. Then repeat on the other side.
It’s very important to keep the spine neutral. That means there is as little of a curve in your lower back as possible. This helps to gently stretch the hip flexors where the leg and hip meet. Since this is a dynamic stretch, it’s safe to do as a warm-up before your practice.
Hip Lift Drill
- Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Place a yoga block under your left leg, next to your right ankle. Slightly bend your left leg so that it can rest on top of your yoga block. Place your palms flat on the floor, so your arms are straight at your sides for support.
- Flex your left foot and lift your left leg as high as you can then lower it until your heel taps your yoga block. Lift and lower your left leg for 20 seconds.
- Switch to the right leg and repeat this exercise.
Don’t worry too much about how high you can get your foot off of your yoga block. Focus on flexing the foot and leading with knee. If you lead with the toes, you’ll be using your quads, which we want to avoid.
Repeat both exercises for a total of 3 sets to safely increase your hip strength, mobility, and flexibility.
Overstretching has become a very common problem. When you overstretch or push on a dancer, it can lead to instability in the muscle. Think about stretching a rubber band. If you keep stretching it and stretching it, eventually the rubber band doesn’t make its shape anymore because it has lost its structural integrity.
When you push your muscles past the point of a safe stretch, you can actually get hurt instead of improving your dancing.
Your muscles can lose their structural integrity and after that, injuries are more likely to occur – so let’s avoid when possible.
What I’ve found to be most effective when working with dancers is to focus on the strength and flexibility of the muscle and the mobility of the joints.
Here’s how to do it.
Exercises for Tight Hamstrings
Although you want strong muscles, tightness in your hamstrings can make your body feel stiff and limit your mobility. Remember tightness can be a sign of weakness because your body wants to protect itself from getting hurt.
To help alleviate your tight hamstrings, give these two exercises a try.
You’ll need an exercise band for your hamstring curl.
- Place your exercise band around the arches of your feet. Both feet should be inside your exercise band. Lay on your stomach with your legs straight. Bend your elbows straight back, so your palms are flat on the floor, under your shoulders. Lift your head off the floor in a mini cobra position.
- Keep your thighs on the floor. Lift your left foot and calf up, so you feel resistance from the exercise band. Release your left foot just until you no longer feel resistance. Then lift it as much as you can.
- Continue lifting and releasing your left foot for 20 seconds. Then repeat on the other side.
Although hamstring curls are a beginner exercise, it’s an effective way to safely strengthen your hamstrings. Keep tension on the band throughout the exercise for more powerful jumps and straighter legs while you dance.
- Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart and pivot so that your upper body faces your left leg. Place a yoga block under your left foot. Bring your arms to fifth position.
- Keep your back straight and lean forward 45°, then pause for a second.
- Slightly lift your back to release the stretch and lean forward another 45°, so your back is parallel to the floor. Pause again.
- Lift your upper body and keep your back long as you lean forward another 45°. Your upper body should create a 45° angle to the floor. Hold that stretch.
- Repeat this exercise 3 more times and then repeat on the other side.
If you keep telling your dancers to straighten their knees, this knee release helps dancers keep their legs long and straight during jumps, leaps, and kicks. This stretch is gentle and gradual on the joints. Go slow and take your time to prevent more overstretching.
Flexibility or Strength?
Most of the time, when you feel tightness in the muscles, it means that there is a weakness. So instead of stretching as far as you can, take a step back from stretching and do a few targeted strength training exercises. This gives your muscles the strength and confidence they need to improve their flexibility.
Just a few minutes of strength training goes a long way in improving your flexibility.
For a more personalized flexibility exercise routine, go to dancer-fitness.com.
- Change the filtering tool to flexibility.
- Go to the filtering tool again and choose the muscle you’d like to improve flexibility in.
Strength training exercises for that specific muscle should come right up.
If you have any questions or need a customized training plan, schedule a coaching call!
I’d love to help you.