Many of the dancers and clients I've worked with love to stretch. Not only does the dancer aesthetic favor super-human flexibility feats, but many fitness classes and magazines talk about developing a long, lean body that also has supple muscles. Flexibility is also a key element in performing all types of movements - from agility training to running after your kids - safely and efficiently. As such, the stretching component of my workshops and sessions gets a lot of attention. My primary goal when broaching this subject: to get my clients to stretch responsibly.

When I work with young dancers, I mostly discuss how they should warm up for classes and rehearsals in a safe and efficient way. I- do the same with every one of my clients as it pertains to working out and other forms of physical activity. We talk about the goals of a warm up and what types of stretching to perform. When I tell dancers in particular that sitting in the splits is not the best way to warm up, they are crestfallen. The question often becomes: If I shouldn't sit in the splits before class or activity, how am I supposed to acquire the flexibility I desire? Ah, but wait and see, I tell them! There are a few different ways to work on extension and depending on the time of day, some are better than others.

Before I answer their question however, we must first discuss the 3 different kinds of stretching:

Types of stretching:

  • Static/ Prolonged: This type of stretching is most popular in my opinion. It is characterized by sitting in a certain position - like the splits - and holding for 15-30 seconds (static stretching) or longer (prolonged stretching).
  • Ballistic: Ballistic stretching involves a dropping, bouncing or swinging motion like leg or body swings and pulses.
  • Dynamic stretching is a form of stretching where you work your body through its full range of motion in a controlled fashion mimicking sport-specific movement patterns. Starting your warm up by doing a series of deep plies or walking yourself through a downward dog is a good example of dynamic stretching.

Every form of stretching has its place and time. When choosing which stretch to perform at any given time, I always encourage my athletes to keep their goals in mind. To help them understand, I provide an example of a daily breakdown:

9:30am Just prior to first workout or rehearsal:

Your goal at this point of your day is to physically and mentally ready yourself for your workout or rehearsal; you should be warming up. Perhaps you have a core exercise ritual that is part of your warm-up routine or a series of exercises you prefer. Whatever the case may be, you should feel your brain and muscles activating and your body getting noticeably warmer. It is also imperative that dancers be sufficiently stretched for class so that they are able to perform the work with right amount of flexibility needed. This is the perfect time to use your dynamic stretching. If you have read any of my articles or attended any of my workshops, then you know that I am a huge proponent of dynamic stretching. It allows you to actively release tight muscles by reciprocal inhibition, work systematically and safely through your range of motion, activate large muscle groups, and raise body temperature. All of these are incredibly important for your actual warm-up itself.

Quite a few of the people I have worked with ask me if they can use static stretching at the start of their days. My answer is not a definite no. I would say to use primarily dynamic stretching so that you know you will be getting closer to your goal of being warm and ready to exercise or dance. If, however, you cannot live without static stretching, you can hold a static stretch for a bit after your warm-up. Just make sure not to get cold!

10:45am Between Barre and Center or Before You Start Your Big Lifts:

You should be warm at this point. Goals are now focused on fine-tuning and getting prepared for more dynamically complex combinations and movements. Because you are already warm, you should feel free to do a little dynamic, static, or ballistic stretching if you are still feeling a little tight. As I already mentioned, I would just make sure that if you choose to static stretch that you don't cool down too much!

12:30pm Cool-Down:

Now is the perfect time for static stretching. Use it as your cool-down from your first class, rehearsal or activity. At this point, you can sit in your splits or execute other static stretches as your body begins to relax. This is a great time to work on your flexibility. Why?

  • Your muscles are already warm and pliable! You will be able to get maximum stretch.
  • You will no longer be forcing your cold, relatively inactive muscle fibers to elongate therefore your risk of micro-trauma is significantly decreased.
  • Your muscles will cool down at a bit of a longer resting length.

Do you plan to do more after lunch? Repeat this cycle again!

A final note about static stretching:

A few athletes I have spoken with like to stretch before bed by stretching hamstrings, calves, quads, etc. I don't think you have to nix the practice. If your goal is just to do some stretching to improve the resting length to your muscles, this is a fine time to work on that. The only advice I would heed is not to be too aggressive. Stretch slowly and gently and be sure you pick a stretch you can always relax into.

That should clarify any stretching concerns you may have. Have questions? As always, if you do have questions or concerns about your stretching practices, ask a movement professional like a personal trainer, athletic trainer or physical therapist. Happy stretching!

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!

Articles From This Author:

3 Balance Training Tips Every Dancer Should Know

Top 5 Stretches Dancers Do that Athletes Can Benefit From

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