What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever heard about increasing your flexibility?
I’ve heard that sleeping in a frog stretch or watching TV in the splits is the fastest way to increase flexibility. (Yikes!)
Unfortunately, when flexibility is your dancers’ main focus, they’re willing to try just about anything to sit in their splits or kick their legs higher.
The truth is for your dancers to increase their skills, like kick height, you need to help them focus more on mobility — not flexibility.
When dancers’ joints are strong enough to move through their full range of motion, then their bodies are able to show off their flexibility.
Myth: Increasing strength can decrease flexibility.
Have you heard that before? Many dancers believe if they build muscle strength, their muscles will not be limber and flexible. But think about it this way. If you have a very thin rubber band and you pull on it, it’ll simply snap. If you were to use a thicker rubber band or even a thick athletic band, it has more density and fibers. So when you pull on it, it can withstand more resistance — just like your muscles.
The more muscle fibers dancers build with strength training, the thicker their muscles become, and the more they can withstand. Strong muscles are better able to withstand the wear and tear of their dancing.
When dancers increase muscle strength, flexibility increases. You can help make it easier for your dancers’ muscles to stretch with consistent strength training.
Strengthen the Right Muscles When it comes to strength training to increase your dancers’ flexibility and mobility, the goal is to focus on strengthening the following: Abductors, Core, and Rotators.
Abductors help support the legs when it’s moving away from the center of the body, especially when the leg is to the side. Abductors are actually a group of small muscles in the side of the hip. These muscles work together to support the hips and keep the body stabilized during dance movements.
The deep core acts as a stabilizer. If your dancers have hip flexibility goals, they need to be able to stabilize their hips before it’s safe enough to extend their leg up to their nose in a kick. The hips and the core work together to stabilize the whole body.
We can’t forget about strong rotators. These are the butt muscles, including the outer butt muscles, which are responsible for rotating the hip. Strong rotators make it possible for the hip to go through its full range of motion, like when kicking up towards the nose.
Even if your dancers have a ton of hamstring flexibility, when their hips aren’t strong enough to turn out, the height won’t be there. It becomes a joint issue, not a flexibility issue.
So, how do you fix this? Here are 3 exercises you can teach your dancers to strengthen their abductors, core, and rotators.
Be sure to give the 90/90 Hips exercise a try.
How to do 90/90 Hips:
1. Start by sitting on the floor. Form 90° angles with both of your legs on the floor. The right leg should be in front of you while the left leg is behind you. Both legs should look like your bent leg in a half pigeon position.
2. Place your fingertips on the floor behind you for balance. Lift both knees, so both feet are flat on the floor and knees are bent in front of your body.
3. Then bend your knees to 90° angles on the floor on the left side. Now your left leg should be in front and your right leg should be behind you.
4. This is a smooth motion without stopping in the middle, alternating sides.
5. Repeat for 20 seconds. Remind your dancers to sit nice and tall so their hips are as square as possible when their legs are bent on the floor.
This exercise is an oldie but a goodie and still just as effective for competitive dancers. And it takes less than a minute!
How to Increase Core Strength Dancers use their core in every dance movement. It’s one of the most important muscles in a dancers’ body.
Banded Monster Walk strengthens your dancers’ core muscles while also stabilizing their hips, having proper alignment during movement. Strong, stable hips work with your dancers’ cores to get their legs higher in the air. Let’s practice working with both muscle groups at the same time.
Here’s how to do Banded Monster Hip March:
1. Place your band around both ankles. Sit in a low squat position. Clasp your hands together in front of you.
2. Stay in your low squat, step to the right as far out as your athletic band will let you.
3. Step to the right with your left foot, just enough to ease the tension in your athletic band.
4. Walk to the right, 8-12 steps. When you finish those, stand up and march your right leg.
5. Repeat on the left side. You’ve done one rep
. 6. Repeat 3 reps.
How to Increase Rotator (Turn Out) Strength
Sometimes we forget how important turn out is in helping your dancers’ legs get above 90°.
When your dancers are flexible but their joints don’t have the mobility they need, it’s impossible for them to kick high.
Clam Shells help your dance team increase their turnout.
How to do Clam Shells:
1. Lay on your left side on the floor. Bend both knees and keep your legs stacked on top of each other. Bend the left arm into a 90°angle so your elbow is directly under your shoulder, supporting your body.
2. Keep your toes touching and lift your right knee as high as you can.
3. Bring your knee back down with control.
4. Repeat 20 times on each side.
Be careful that your dancers don’t slam their knees back down to their supporting leg. It’s a controlled motion. Be sure that their toes are always touching. If you want to make this exercise more difficult, have your dancers try this exercise with an athletic band around both legs, placed above their knees.
Get Bendy Strength training helps your dancers increase their mobility and flexibility for a better turnout, stronger hips, and a stabilizing core. Flexibility has many parts to it. Simply stretching will not be enough for your dancers to kick higher or hit a full split in their leaps. When you focus on mobility and flexibility, you make it possible for your dancers to execute skills consistently, correctly, and safely. Focus on strengthening their abductors, core, and rotators — and their flexibility will improve.
Want to know which stretches pair well with strength training for increased flexibility? Check out these safe and effective dynamic stretches.