Stretching is beneficial for so many reasons. For a dancer, extreme range of motion is crucial for their profession and craft, and for every athlete, mobility training (in the form of stretching) can help with joint mobilization issues, increase athleticism and improve quality of life. In this article, I will be outlining 5 great stretches that I use with my dancers to help them achieve extreme levels of flexibility. These stretches may be simple, but they are quite effective for dancers and non-dancers alike!

1. Hip Flexors

Dancers need strong, yet supple hip flexors in order to achieve extensions in any direction. Plenty of non- dancers have tight hip flexors from sitting for long days at work or from adopting a posture where the pelvis is tilted forward. For everyone, tight hip flexors can lead to low back and hip issues; when the muscle becomes tight, it can pull on your lower back where it attaches. The hip flexors can be a tricky muscle to stretch because they run across the upper and lower body. They originate at your lumbar spine (lower back) and attach to the inner head of your femur or thigh bone.

To stretch them, try: kneeling on your right knee with your left foot on the floor in front of you. Squeeze your glutes and tuck your tailbone under. You should feel a stretch not only on your hip flexor, but your quad as well. To enhance the stretch, lift your right arm overhead and reach to the opposite side. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds on each side twice.

2. Hamstring Stretch:

Dancers need strong and loose hamstrings for their front splits and other extensions. Everyone else needs loose hamstrings for the sake of healthy joints and increased athleticism. There are two stretches for the hamstrings that I particularly like: one of them is a static stretch and the other is a dynamic stretch.

For the first hamstring stretch (a static stretch), Start by lying on your back with both feet flat on the floor and fasten a strap around the bottom of your left foot. Slowly raise your leg off the floor keeping both knees straight. Only lift the leg to a place where you can relax into the stretch. Make sure that your pelvis is not tucked. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds on each side.

3. For the second hamstring stretch (a dynamic stretch),

Start from a standing position. Push your hips backwards, fold over at the hip, and reach your hands to the floor. If you cannot touch the floor without bending your knees, that is okay! Bend your knees just enough so that your hands touch the floor. Leaving your feet where they are, walk your hands out into a plank. Lift your hips back into the air as high as you can and walk your hands backwards as far as you can without bending your knees. Then walk back out again. Walk your hands in and out eight times before walking all the way back up to standing. You can repeat this dynamic stretch 2-3 times.

This stretch is good for a warm-up because it does a great job of activating and recruiting lots of muscle groups as well as increasing your body temperature.

4. External Rotation: 

Dancers have incredible turn-out! I am sure that those of you who have seen a ballerina walk down the street know exactly what I am talking about; they walk with their toes slightly pointed to the side. I find that a lot of my clients do not think about stretching their external rotation unless they have been told to do so by a Physical Therapist. The truth tends to be that for those of us who spend the majority of the day sitting, our external (and internal) rotation tends to be compromised. A lot of you are probably familiar with the pigeon position from yoga. That is one of many ways to stretch your external rotation. I prefer a different version that allows you to more easily modify how much stress you put on the joint. Start by lying on your back with both feet flat on the floor.

Place your left ankle on your right knee. Grab a hold of your right thigh and gently pull your right leg towards you. You should feel a stretch in your left hip. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat it on both sides.

5. Thoracic Spine: 

Generally, a lot of time is given to the flexibility of your lower body without enough attention given to the thoracic spine, shoulders, and arms. This last stretch is a fabulous mobilizer of the rib cage area and the chest, not to mention that it feels really wonderful! Dancers need this type of flexibility to perform the many back-bends and twists in choreography. For the layman, this stretch helps with posture and shoulder and spine health.

Start lying on your side with your legs bent to 90 degrees. Extend both arms directly in front of your chest with your palms touching one another. Keeping your knees on the floor and both elbows straight, pick up your top arm and twist your spine open attempting to touch your top arm and shoulder to the floor behind you so that your arms make a straight line. Bring your arm back the same way and repeat 8 times on the first side and 8 times on the other side making sure to breath.

I will leave you with one tip that I often tell my clients. I have noticed that many people like to wrench their limbs into a stretch that is painful to hold. I'll admit that stretching is not inherently the most comfortable of activities. That being said, you should always be sure that whichever position you choose to hold, your body is able to relax into it. If you are straining in your stretch, you will not achieve the same benefits because your muscles will be on the defensive and remain tight. Flexibility takes time and consistent effort, so be patient and relax into it. As always, if you have more specific questions, ask a movement professional. Good luck!

About the Author: 

Marissa Joseph is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) in Manhattan. Marissa graduated from SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance manga cum laude and shortly thereafter entered into the professional dance and fitness world. She has worked as a top tier trainer at Equinox and independently at various gyms to restore full function and health to clients who have had hip and knee replacements, herniated or slipped discs, shoulder impingement issues and other post trauma cases. In 2012, Marissa started Working Lines: a strength training program for professional dancers. Her training theories work to combat injury and provide a safe, practical and accessible way to stay strong and healthy. She has worked with dancers from Doug Varone and Dancers, Mark Morris Dance Group, Lydia Johnson Dance and more!

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