Stretching Tips for Dancers

As a dancer, one understands how important it is to maintain both strength and flexibility. Dancing requires a level of control and stability while performing dynamic movements needing a greater range of motion than most other sports. Many dancers focus on the unique need for a classical dancer’s line with positions such as arabesque, develope al a seconde, and high grande battements. How many times have you thought, “I should have gotten to class earlier to stretch?” Well, as it turns out (no pun intended) achieving your personal best line and increasing range of motion can be achieved by following these guidelines.

When to stretch- Stretching is not the same as warming up. The purpose of warming up before class or rehearsal to increase the temperature of the core and muscle tissue.1 Time before class or rehearsal should not be used to increase flexibility. Warm muscles are more extensible and responsive to stretching. Research shows that applying a small amount of stretch force to warm connective tissues lengthens them more effectively than a larger stretch force applied at normal body temperature.2 Additionally, there are greater long- term benefits of stretching when warm. Lengthened tissue lasted more than twice as long when low load stretch was applied to warm tissues versus normal body temperature.2 Studies have also shown that stretching with higher temperature tissues, such as after class or rehearsal, resulted in fewer injuries.2

When not to stretch- Do not hold static stretches before a demanding class, performance, or rehearsal. Intensive stretching of a muscle has been shown to impair strength, power, endurance, sprint time, and jump height for up to one hour.3,4,5 Decreases in muscle strength are thought to be both mechanical and neurological and may not be recovered until for up to one hour afterwards.6 However, brief stretches of less than 15 sec are less likely to cause performance problems. Dynamic stretching such as dance movements, are also less detrimental to performance than static stretching.7

How to stretch- Research indicates that holding a static stretch for 30 sec repeated 3 to 5 times in a single bout is enough to maintain joint range of motion and current flexibility. It has been shown that there is little benefit in doing more than 4 repetitions of a stretch.1 If increasing flexibility is the goal it is vital to make sure the muscles are warm and stretching needs to occur after dancing. Increasing the frequency of stretching throughout the week also shows continued benefits and carryover.7 Finally, each dancer’s body is different. It is important not compare the flexibility of one dancer with another. Some bodies are naturally very flexible and are hypermobile. These bodies need more strengthening and stabilization exercises to avoid injury. Other bodies have denser connective tissue and require more stretching and flexibility. Each body is unique and a combination of stretching and strengthening should be customized to that dancer’s needs for optimal performance.

stretch Stretching Tips for Dancers

1. International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. Stretching for dancers.

2. Warren CG, Lehmann JF, Koblanski JN. Elongation of rat tail tendon: effect of load and temperature. Arch Phys Med. 1971;52:465-74.

3. Behm DG et al. Effect of acute static stretching on force, balance, reaction time and movement time. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004;36:1397-402.

4. Knudson D, Noffal G. Time course of stretch-induced isometric strength deficits. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2005;94:348-5.

5. Nelson AG et al. Acute effects of passive muscle stretching on sprint performance. J Sports Sci. 2005;23(5):449-54.

6. Fowles JR, Sale DG, MacDougall JD. Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantar-flexors. J Appl Physiol. 2000;89:1179-88.

7.Viale F, Nana-Ibrahim S, Martin RJ. The effect of active recovery on acute strength deficits induced by passive stretching. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21(4):1233-44