How To Use Static And Dynamic Stretching To Improve Strength and Flexibility
Ever feel like you’re trying to do everything you can to help your dancers improve their splits, turns, or jumps and it just isn’t working?
You know how important stretching is for flexibility. But it’s also helpful in reducing the risk of injury, increasing mobility, and improving the overall performance of your dancers.
You have them stretch, but it feels like nothing is happening! Or there’s a small amount of improvement over a very long period of time.
It’s frustrating. But you’re not alone. I get asked about stretching all the time.
It could be that your dancers need certain types of stretches. Ones that are laser focused on warming up the body or improving flexibility and used at the most effective time during class.
So let’s talk about stretching.
What is dynamic stretching?
Dynamic stretches involve slow, natural movement while doing a specific stretch.
By movement, I don’t mean having your dancers bounce while in a specific stretch.
Let’s use a leg swing as an example. Dancers should keep their legs as straight as possible when they lift their leg into the air. When your dancers do this, they activate their hip flexors (the muscles right above the front of the thigh) while stretching their hamstrings (muscles on the back of the thigh).
It stretches the muscles through the movement.
Dynamic stretches are most effective when used at the beginning of class or practice. Because it’s like a warm-up for your muscles.
Your dancers prepare the outside of their body for class by putting on the correct dance attire and putting their hair in a bun.
But it’s even more important to prepare the inside of your dancers’ bodies before getting into hard core tricks, steps, and routines.
How does dynamic stretching get the body ready?
The number one goal during a warm-up is to prepare the body for the movements your dancers will be practicing. This prepares the body for stability and full range of motion (some people call it ROM).
Dynamic stretches target specific muscle groups. Let what you’re working on guide you on what types of dynamic stretches would benefit your dancers the most.
Think of it like marking a combination before doing it full out. Your dancers are “marking” the muscle groups before they perform a movement.
These stretches help your dancer’s muscles become stronger, more balanced, and more powerful.
A few of my favorites stretches are:
- Hip flexor stretches
- Half pigeon
What are the benefits of dynamic stretching?
Dynamic stretches help the brain make a connection to muscles. They’re like an alarm clock that gently wakes the brain and muscles before dancing. They prepare the muscles for stronger, more powerful movements.
Dynamic stretching has been shown to improve explosive movements (like jumping), performance, and expanding and contracting the muscles.
Plus, it saves you time! Say goodbye to 30 minutes devoted to stretches AND prepare your dancers’ bodies more effectively than ever before.
I recommend incorporating about 10 minutes of dynamic stretches before class. It not only heats up the body (which is necessary for stretching) but it actively engages all muscles from the toes all the way up to the shoulders.
This allows the muscles to expand and contract, safely and effectively. As a result, your dancers will eventually become more flexible. While dynamic stretches warm up the muscles, the muscles are able to stretch further in a shorter amount of time. Since dynamic stretches only take a few minutes, you’ll still have sufficient time to spend on other areas of dance education.
Think your dancers might give you some pushback? Try running your dancers through a dynamic stretch routine and get their feedback.
Let the stretches speak for themselves.
What is static stretching?
A static stretch is when a stretch position is held for a certain amount of time. Have your dancers relax and breathe into these types of stretches. The goal is to stretch a little further than the last time. It should be a feel good type of stretch, not painful.
When you tell your dancers that it’s time to stretch, they probably picture static stretches in their minds. Like sitting in a split, touching your toes, or stretching your calves.
Static stretches should be done toward the end of class when the body is warm.
Static stretches are actually used to cool down the muscles and help the body relax. So they can increase the risk of injury and lessen the performance of your dancers when done at the beginning of class.
I remember doing static stretches as part of our warm up when I was a young dancer. But now we’ve learned that this isn’t the best advice. The good news is that there’s a simple fix – switch them to the last few minutes of each class. And watch your dancers sink lower into their splits.
How do static stretches affect the body after class?
By the end of class, your dancer’s muscles are warm and stretched. But their muscles are tired. This is the safest time to do static stretches because the muscles are more malleable.
Practicing static stretches at the end of class helps the muscles relax and help prevent injury. Have you ever done a short jog or pilates and skipped stretching afterward? You were probably more sore than usual the next day. That’s because your body needed to recoup.
Think of static stretching as a deep breath for the muscles. It relaxes them and aids your dancers in recovery.
What are the benefits of static stretching?
Static stretching is better for increasing your dancers’ flexibility. Again, this will only help if your dancers are properly warmed up. Otherwise, it could do more damage than good. You always want to help your dancers in the safest way possible.
Remember that your dancers are growing at different rates. Your dancers’ age is a guide for how long they should hold a static stretch. Younger dancers shouldn’t hold a stretch for longer than 10 – 20 seconds, while older dancers can hold a static stretch for 45 seconds to a minute.
Note: Never push your dancers while in a static stretch. This could lead to injury if they’re pushed past their limit.
Flexibility + Strength = Improved Dancing Ability
Think about it. Flexibility is part of what makes it possible for your dancers to do splits on the floor. But if they’re having trouble getting into a full split in their leaps, their muscles may not be strong enough to do it while soaring through the air.
But what if your dancers aren’t sitting in their splits yet? Static stretches are the perfect thing to add at the end of practice. This will improve their flexibility so they’re one step closer to a grand jeté.
It’s 100% possible to help your dancers become stronger and more flexible.
Remember to do dynamic stretches at the beginning of class so the brain, muscles, and body are ready for what’s about to happen – dancing.
Save static stretches for the end of class when the body is nice and warm. This helps your dancers improve flexibility which improves dancing ability.
Both save time on stretching and only take a few minutes to incorporate into each practice session.
It’s a win win.
Ready to help your dancers become stronger, more flexible, and powerful in their movements?
Try this dynamic stretch video and follow along with your dancers at your next class.