Flexibility is something that all dancers spend a lot of time working on, particularly trying to get those flat splits, high kicks and perfect jetes.
However, do you know if what you are doing is actually helping and making a long term difference and are you doing it in an injury-free, safe way?
The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about flexibility is stretching. Whether you do your stretching at home or in class, you must make sure you are warmed up adequately.
In class, it is ideal for stretching to be at the end of the session, rather than at the beginning.
Holding long static stretches before exercise can actually cause injuries as it will affect your muscle strength and power.
Stretching should always be increased gradually so that the muscle has time to adapt. Try to increase tension slowly each week so that you don’t strain your joints, tendons or muscles.
Dynamic Warm Up
Classes should always begin with a dynamic warm-up to improve your range of motion, make you feel more limber, improve your body awareness and improve your blood circulation to warm-up your entire body.
Some good examples of dynamic exercises include:
- jogging on the spot
- body weight squats
- walking lunges
- forward and side leg swings
By the end of a good 10 minute dynamic warm-up, your muscles should already start to feel more flexibile.
As well as being a great injury preventer, your foam roller should be your best friend when working on your flexibility.
Foam rolling for 5 minutes per day, especially directly before and after your class is a must. “Rolling out” your muscles will not only prevent muscle soreness after dancing and exercise, it will also help to lengthen your muscles.
Work on those tight areas, particularly around the thighs and hamstrings.
Massage balls come in all shapes and sizes and are great at loosening those tight gluteal (buttocks) muscles and the hip flexors at the front of the hip.
They can get into those small spots that the foam roller can’t. When working on improving your turn-out, make sure you target the upper gluteal muscle that comes right around into the side of your hip.
Strong vs Flexible ?
So now that you are warmed up and feel loose from all of the targeted self-massage you have just done, the most important thing to do next is build your strength.
Specific strength training in the right areas is essential to help with your flexibility.
Everyone is different when it comes to strengthening, however common areas that need to be strengthened in dancers include your abdominals and gluteal muscles.
Being strong in your hips will help with your turn out and holding extensions and high kicks. This will ensure you have functional flexibility, with joint stability.
There is no point in having long muscles without having the strength to hold those positions.
A session with your physiotherapist can help you to determine which muscles need to be stretched more and which ones actually need to be strengthened.
Clinical Pilates is a great way to improve your flexibility, with specific targeted exercises tailored to you. Whether you want be able to achieve flat splits or help your turn out, Clinical Pilates with a Physiotherapist will help you to achieve your goals!
Rebecca Deluca is a Physiotherapist and professional Highland Dancer. She has studied a variety of dance styles, completing Dance Teaching Diplomas in Classical Ballet, Jazz, Tap and Highland Dancing and became a qualified adjudicator on the world-wide panel of Scottish Highland Dance.
To make an appointment, call our Claremont physio clinic on (08) 9384 1555 or our Nedlands physio clinic on (08) 6389 2947.