Dancers who are excited to improve their skills and reach their splits often ask me:
How often should I be stretching?
While this varies for everyone, dancers can stretch daily. Stretching for a minimum of three days a week is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) for overall health and wellness.
Since most dancers are in their studio or working with their team daily, I don’t think the frequency of stretching is what you need to worry about.
I actually wish dancers focused more on dynamic stretches to increase flexibility and mobility at the same time.
How are mobility and flexibility related?
Mobility and flexibility are different, but they work as a team.
Flexibility is passive. Passive means you sit in a position and breathe deeper into a stretch to allow your muscles to lengthen.. Mobility combines strength and flexibility. It’s much more active. Mobility gives your joints the ability to actively move through their full range of motion.
So when dancers have goals to be able to get their leg to their face — or get that extra pop in their toe touches or side leaps — hip mobility is the goal, not hamstring flexibility.
Dynamic stretching is going to increase flexibility and range of motion at the same time. It also prepares your body for explosive movements like kicking and jumping. When you stretch, it’s important that the stretches mimic what you’re going to ask the body to do later.
When you just sit in your splits and stare at the floor, your muscles are passively being stretched. We do our splits because we want to increase our kick height and jump height. But when you kick and jump, (active movements) your muscles contract and expand. They don’t passively stretch while staying in one position.
When you stretch, it’s important and more effective to stretch in a way that safely contracts and expands your muscles for optimal results. And be sure to ease your muscles into each specific stretch.
Are you overstretching?
Overstretching is another issue I see often. Dancers feel tightness in their hips and hamstrings so they think they should continue to stretch, stack a couple of yoga blocks, and then stretch some more with their leg elevated on top of their yoga block stack.
However, when you feel tightness in your hips and hamstrings, most likely there’s a weakness in that specific area. Your body makes those weak areas feel tight to keep them safe. Your body is protecting itself by keeping those weaker muscles closer to your body, resisting the stretch.
When you feel tightness, instead of immediately going into your normal stretches, take some time to do a few strength training exercises for those specific areas.
Below you’ll find three of my favorite strengthening exercises for increasing flexibility and range of motion of the hips, hamstrings, and back.
- Begin by kneeling on the floor, as if you were asking someone to marry you. Both legs should be bent at 90° angles, the right foot flat on the floor. The left shin and top of the left foot rest on the floor. Keep your hands resting at your sides.
- Gently squeeze your butt muscles to tuck your pelvis so the hips move slightly forward. You may already feel a stretch in your hip flexors.
- Shift your weight forward, about an inch, onto your right foot and left knee, as far as it’s comfortable for you. Now, you should feel a deeper stretch in your hip flexor.
- Repeat small shifts in your weight, forward and back, for about 30-40 seconds. Then repeat on the other side.
The tuck is key. If you stop feeling the stretch, it’s probably because you stopped squeezing your butt cheeks, released your pelvis from tucking, or you need to tuck even more. Although the dynamic hip flexor stretch is small and simple, it’s effective in preparing your hips for kicks and leaps.
- Grab your exercise band and lay on your back with both legs straight. Put your band around your right foot and hold onto it with both hands.
- Bend your right leg as close to your chest as you can with your right foot flexed. Keep your lower leg straight and resting on the floor. Try to get your right leg to a 90° angle. Use your hands to pull on your band to get your knee even closer to your chest. Hold this position for 5 seconds.
- Straighten your right leg so it’s perpendicular to the floor with a flexed foot. Keep your left leg straight on the floor. Gently pull on your band to bring your leg as close to your face and chest as you can.
- Return to your starting position. Bend your right knee into your chest with a flexed foot, and use your band as leverage to pull your knee even closer to your body. Hold for 5 seconds.
- Repeat bending and straightening your leg for 30-40 seconds. Then repeat on the other side.
To get the most out of this stretch, try to straighten your leg while you keep your knee in place, close to your chest. The band gives you more leverage for a deeper dynamic hamstring stretch. If you don’t have a band, use a towel, belt, or your hands to pull your leg closer to your body.
- Lay on your stomach with your hands directly under your shoulders, elbows pointing directly behind your body, with straight legs.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and use your back muscles to lift your upper body. Keep your arms in the same position with bent elbows, pointing behind your body. Hold this position for 5 seconds.
- Release your upper body and return to your starting position, laying on your stomach on the floor.
- Repeat this exercise for 30-40 seconds.
The cobra pose focuses on your back, but you’ll probably feel the muscles working in your lower back and glutes as well. Do your best to keep your head and neck in alignment with your body so you build your strength in the correct muscles.
- You only need to stretch a minimum of 3 times a week to see improvements in your flexibility. But mobility helps improve your flexibility too.
- When you do strength training exercises that focus on the right areas, like the hips, hamstrings, and back, and stretch at least 3 times a week, you will see results.
- Dynamic stretches are the perfect way to focus on mobility and flexibility without overstretching your muscles. And you avoid injury by listening to your body when it’s not safe to push yourself into a stretch.
- I encourage you to partner these dynamic exercises with strength training exercises for the hips, hamstrings, and back for all around results in flexibility, mobility, and strength.
Find targeted strength training exercises at Dancer-Fitness.com.
- Tap the exercises tab on the homepage.
- Click on the filter search bar to find the muscle group you’re looking to improve.
- Then go to the category drop down menu and select strength.
I can’t wait to see your results!