Flexibility is one of the fundamental abilities of dancers- body actions, lines, jumps and stretches we do in our choreographies only work if we can actually use our bodies without stiffness and limits. Some people are born more flexible than others and natural predisposition helps, but there’s no reason why anyone couldn’t improve- after all, being a great dancer is about becoming the best version of yourself, meaning furthering the abilities we were born with.
DON'T find excuses!
This is our number one tip- stretching and flexibility exercises tend to be pushed to the bottom of dancers to do lists. We sort of get that we should warm up and we sort of get that we need some strength training in order to dance better but stretching is something that weirdly tends to be forgotten.
“I’ve run out of time”, “It’s just a relaxation, I don’t need it”, “I don’t know how” are the usual things we tell ourselves (us included). Wrong! We all have at least 10 minutes after every dance practice to stretch out and while this will not improve your flexibility greatly it will help you keep the level of you stretches. If you start skipping stretching the continuous usage of certain muscle groups in contractions or very unnatural positions (standard posture, right girls?) will start making your muscles stiffer and may result in postural issues.
The “I don’t know how” excuse- we’ve got you covered! Keep reading to find out more about how to improve your flexibility.
DO warm up first
There’s nothing worst for your body than trying to stretch when your muscles are not ready. Pre-warmup stretching is a huge mistake and will not help you improve your flexibility- it may result in injury that can take years to get better. If you’re doing stretching as your training session, then a general rule to follow is doing a 15min warm up first. Here’s an idea of what to do pre-stretching:
1. 2min slow run
2. 3x 30 s medium height skipping
3. 20 classic squats
4. 20 sumo squats
5. 50 abdominal crunches of your choice
6. Hold plank 2x1min
7. 20 pushups
8. 2min slow run
As you can see this is a very gentle warm up, nothing that will make you tired but it will raise your body temperature and get the blood flowing. You need to be properly warm before attempting any stretching exercises!
DO dynamic stretches before dance practice
After your warm-up, you can go on to your technical practice or you can do an hour-long stretching session – it all depends on what your goal that day is. In general dynamic (in movement) stretches are done first or before your dance technique and static stretching comes last.
Dynamic stretches keep the effect of warm-up going as there’s more movement involved in the execution so are ideal to use as part of your pre-training warm-up or as the first part of a stretching session.
Static stretches are perfect after a demanding dance practice or as the last part of your stretching routine- positions held for at least 20 seconds help your muscles release slowly and consequently help you relax while actually improving your flexibility. Win-win!
DON'T overdo it!
It’s important to stretch and you can’t be a great dancer without a high enough level of flexibility. However, it’s important to take things one step at a time. You can’t improve drastically overnight; flexibility improvement is a long and ongoing process. If you’ve never done any stretching before, start slowly and build up over time; there’s absolutely no way you’ll be able to do the split in a week if you’ve never attempted it before! Start with stretching as a building block of your daily practice routine- 10 min of dynamic stretches after warming up/ 10min of static stretches as the last step in your training and increase the difficulty and duration as you go.
Introducing two 45min stretching-only training sessions in your weekly routine is a great start too- it will help you get into the mind frame of treating stretching as a serious workout rather than an afterthought.
DO listen to your body
This follows from the previous point- your body is your greatest source of information. Some discomfort or little moderate pain is acceptable and unavoidable when working on your flexibility, but you need to pay attention to any unusual sharp pains and aches- like every other training, stretching can result in injury.
Learn to understand and feel the signals your body is sending you- is this position ok, can you go deeper? Is there any chance to increase the stretch or should you loosen the position? If you learn to be self-aware and learn to really understand your body, you’ll have a much easier time with improvement.
DON'T spend money to get started
We get this all the time- dancers who have never done any real training come to us and ask for lessons on how to train/stretch/start physical preparation. Of course, you should see a specialist if you want an efficient training plan, but if you’re a complete beginner with a low level of flexibility all you really need to do is- GET STARTED!
Read this blog then jump on YouTube and search for free videos that you can follow to get started with your flexibility improvement. There are dozens of videos on this subject you can take a look at and to help you get started we’ve gone ahead and found a channel that we would recommend:
MadFit is a great YouTube workout channel, so you can have a go at their cool sessions in general, but they do have a great stretching exercises selection- just pick your fave a get started!
DON'T hold your breath
This was the most frequent instruction we heard from our stretching, Pilates, Yoga or flexibility instructors. Holding your breath during exercises is sometimes a natural reflex as we get tensed due to strain of the exercise. However, holding your breath will also keep the tension high and obstruct your flexibility improvement. Exhale when you achieve your position or increase the depth of your stretch and breathe normally when holding position. During dynamic stretching try and coordinate your breathing to the exercise- your execution will be more fluid, and you’ll lower the risk of injury.
DO challenge yourself
We told you not to overdo it but challenging yourself is important in order to improve. Taking it step by step is the best way to go, but one of the rules for successful goal-setting is always setting the bar high enough to challenge yourself. Choosing goals that are too high may lead to a lack of motivation but so can setting goals that are too easy to reach.
DO be consistent
We’ve all done it- we get super enthusiastic about improving an aspect of our dancing and pack our schedule full of training sessions, determined to get flexible NOW. We keep at it for a week or two and then it all gets too much – cue the total abandonment of work and sense of failure.
Make a realistic work plan- don’t start with daily stretching sessions if this is something you’ve never done before; introduce two or three sessions per week and pre/post training stretching that you can keep up with. Long-term work will beat short bursts of manic training every time-so be wise and focus on consistency.
DO use online workouts
As we’ve said in one of the previous points, there are many free videos available on YouTube that can make it easier to learn and improve your flexibility. But if you do want a platform that offers you flexibility training, stretching sessions and yoga-style workouts we would recommend giving LesMills On-Demand a go. This platform is the best out there for at-home/independent workouts, they have great instructors, amazing video quality and update their library often enough for you to never get bored.
We discovered LesMills during the lockdown period and haven’t stopped using the platform since. They have a wide range of body conditioning workouts available but for the sake of today’s topic check out BodyBalance and LesMills Stretch. The platform usually offers you a free trial period (currently there’s a 30 day free trial period), so try it for yourself and see how you like it. They do have a LesMills YouTube channel with a selection of free videos so go check that out 🙂
We offer online consultations, private lessons, group lessons and lectures so no matter where you are in the world LT DANCE is just a few clicks away!