Ok, dancers and coaches, I’ve heard you.
I’m ready to share my thoughts on increasing your back flexibility. This is a question I get almost weekly and something that clients and followers are constantly asking me to comment on and create videos for.
I have to be honest, as a personal trainer and dance coach, I’ve been nervous about diving into back flexibility. So many dancers get the green light to stretch and before you know it, they’re pushing their foot on their friend’s back while pulling their arms up toward the ceiling 😫
Your back is not an area that you want to mess around with.
Full transparency, I am not a medical professional. So if you experience pain, please talk to a medical professional to be sure that you aren’t pushing your body too far, too fast.
As I share some of my favorite stretches and exercises, please make sure that you pay close attention to the directions, reminders, and modifications.
I promise that these exercises are safe and effective as long as you do them with proper form and alignment.
Is Strength Training Really Necessary for Dancers?
Only if you want to improve your skills for competition.
Back walkovers, scorpions, needles — they all require a certain level of back flexibility and strength to achieve the effortless look of these skills. Your back is a core group of muscles that stabilizes your movements, so you have more control and power when executing skills.
But what if your back is tight? Tightness in the body is a symptom of weakness in the muscles. So before you continue to overstretch (which can lead to injury), I want to make sure that you don’t miss out on the incredible results of pairing flexibility with strength training.
The next time you’re preparing for your classes, I want you to do the five exercises in the strength training plan below.
Back Flexibility Training Plan
This strength training plan is most effective when you perform Superman for 30 seconds (alternating between lifting and coming down flat to the floor) in between each one of the stretches below.
Start with two sets of Cat/Cow with 20 repetitions. Then run through the rest of the warm and do each exercise, and stretch for 30 seconds.
So your warm-up will look like this:
- Cobra Pose
- Bow Pose
- Wheel Pose
- Super Man
It’s 100% possible to increase mobility within your spine in a safe and manageable way.
When you partner strength training with stretching, that’s how you increase mobility. If you continue to stretch your back without strength training, your muscles get weak, and this can lead to tightness in order to protect the spine. We never want to put our back in a place that is not safe.
Now let’s do a practice session.
Warm up the mobility of your spine with Cat/Cow. I’d like you to do 20 of these, twice (with a small break in between each set). This exercise opens up the chest and back muscles. You don’t need any equipment for this easy exercise to kick off your back strength training plan.
- Get on the floor on your hands and knees. Keep your hands straight under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. The fronts of your shins and the tops of your feet should be on the floor and make a 90° angle.
- First, do the Cat. Curve your back up toward the ceiling, so it looks like a humpback when a cat stretches. Pull your belly button toward your back and elongate your neck to feel the stretch.
- Then, curve your back toward the floor, so your stomach creates the bottom of a U shape. Keep your upper back as upright as you can and look straight ahead.
- Alternate between cat and cow for 20 seconds.
The neck, shoulders, and spine are the focus of this stretch. Dancers spend a lot of time using this group of upper back muscles. This exercise is a good starting point to gently get the muscles moving so they are nice and warmed up for what’s next!
What I have below is a partner Super Man, but you can do this by yourself as well. Place your hips on a giant yoga ball to get more extension in the back, or do it flat on the ground by yourself. You don’t have to have a partner to do this exercise.
- You and your partner lay flat on the ground on your stomach. Extend your arms above your head so that your forearms overlap. Keep your legs straight on the floor, hip-width apart.
- Both of you lift your upper back with your arms extended in front of you at shoulder height.
- Patty cake with your partner by raising your right arms, like a sideways high-five. Then return your arms to shoulder height.
- Repeat on the left. Lift your left arms above your head for a high-five motion and return your left arm to shoulder height.
- Lower your upper body back to your starting position on the floor.
- Repeat for 30 seconds.
When you do Super Man, be sure to engage your glutes. If you do this exercise without a partner, be sure to turn out your legs and lift them off the floor when you lift your upper body. Imagine the back muscles you want to use to lift your chest up to help you use the correct muscles.
This is a simple beginner exercise, but don’t let it fool you. It’s still effective at helping you learn which muscles to engage for cleaner dancing skills.
- Lay on the floor, on your stomach. Keep your legs straight and your feet together. Place your hands, palms down, right underneath your shoulders.
- Raise your upper back as high as possible and hold for five seconds. Keep your arms bent with your elbows straight behind you, so your forearms are parallel to the floor as you hold your cobra pose.
- Release and return to your starting position, face down on the floor.
- Do Super Man for 30 seconds.
When you lift your upper back into the cobra pose, imagine you’re trying to crush a nut with your shoulder blades. Focus on bringing your elbows directly behind you, so you feel the shoulders muscles squeezing together. When you feel that, you’re doing it right.
- Lay on your stomach with your arms straight at your sides, feet together, and legs straight.
- Use your right hand to grab onto the top of your right foot, just below your toes. Hold onto your left foot with your left hand, just below your toes. Your thighs, stomach, and chest should be resting on the ground.
- Lift your thighs and chest as high as your can, looking forward. Your body weight should rest on your stomach.
- Hold your Bow Pose for 30 seconds and then release.
- Do Super Man for 30 seconds.
Modification: hold onto your shins if you’re not able to reach your feet.
As you get into Bow Pose, use your glutes and hamstrings to lift your legs. You should feel your lower and upper back during this stretch because your chest is lifted, and your legs are lifted high into the air behind you. Training your back muscles also means training other muscles in the process!
- Lay on your back with both legs bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Lift both of your arms up and back so you can place your hands, palms down on the floor, on each side of your head.
- Use your arms and your feet to lift yourself up into a backbend.
- Straighten your legs, so your upper body moves slightly backward over your hands.
- Hold this position for five seconds and then lower your body back to the floor, onto your back.
- Repeat this pose as many times as your can for 30 seconds.
- Don’t forget to do Super Man for 30 seconds when you’re done.
Use your lower back and glutes to lift yourself up into the air. Try to get your legs as straight as your can to get that nice arch in your back. This helps you use the correct muscles and prepares your back for the skills you’re about to practice.
Are You Part of the Dancer-Fitness Community?
You did it!
You made it through the entire back flexibility strength training plan.
Keep practicing these stretches paired with Super Man to improve your needle, scorpion, and back walkovers to impress the judges at your next competition. Run through the plan daily to start seeing results.
Dancers and coaches have improved scores, flexibility, and skills with skill-specific plans, just like this one.
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