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 ofthree days a weekis 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 over stretching?
Over stretching 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.