A vital part of a dancer’s life is stretching. You’re constantly told “Don’t forget to stretch!” whether it’s before, after or even in between classes. It is vital in increasing your flexibility, but is also important in helping avoid delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). However were you aware that there are several types of stretching and not performing these stretches correctly could actually reduce your flexibility. Resulting in pain and no gain, which no one wants.
Firstly, all stretches should be held for at least 10 seconds, if you are unable to perform the stretch for this long don’t push yourself to begin with. Holding a stretch for any long than this can ‘shorten’ your muscles and tighten them up. This is because your brain holds ‘muscle memory’. When you stretch you should feel it and it will feel slightly uncomfortable, so holding the stretch for less than 10 seconds will cause you r brain to think that you are performing a move which is damaging your muscles, causing the brain to prevent you doing this movement again and tightening the muscles. Holding the stretch for at least 10 seconds however will encourage your muscles to lengthen.
Secondly, there are several different types of stretches, which can be used for different reasons:
- Ballistic stretching
- Dynamic stretching
- Active stretching
- Passive stretching
- Static stretching
- Isometric stretching
- PNF stretching
I will be discussing these techniques and how they can be carried out.
Ballistic stretching involves a light bouncing movement in the stretch. This uses the momentum of the body to force the part of the body that is being stretched past its normal range of motion. One example is sitting down with your legs stretched out in front and bouncing over them to touch your toes. This type of stretching is not recommended as it is not seen as being useful and can lead to injury as there is little control over the movement.
This type of stretching can also be called natural stretching. A good example of this type of stretching is leg raises or arm swings. These stretches move your body to the limits of their ranges. they are very useful for warm ups and should be performed in set of 8 repetitions.
This type of stretching is probably one of the most commonly used. To carry out this stretch you need to get into your stretch and hold it using only your muscles. For example, sitting down with your legs stretch out and stretching over with your head on your knees. This stretch will actively increase your flexibility and must be held for at least 10 seconds.
For passive stretching you will need to get into your stretching position and hold it there with either another part of your body or another object. A good example of this stretch is the splits. This type of stretching is good for relieving an injury (as long as your doctor says it’s ok) or to cool down after class.
Static stretching is very similar to passive stretching except you do not have anything else helping you hold the position. You stretch to the furthest point you can and hold it there, not pushing past this point.
Isometric stretching is a more complex form of stretching that involves resistance of muscles through contracting the stretched muscle. It is a quick way of increasing flexibility but must be approached carefully. To perform this stretch you will need to apply resistance to your leg for example either by holding onto it, using some form of apparatus (such as a wall or anything that won’t move) or ask someone to help you. You will then tense the muscle (for at least 10 seconds) by trying to push away from the resistance holding your leg in place. Then relax for at least 20 seconds.
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching is currently the fastest way to build up flexibility, however it should be approached with caution as if performed incorrectly it can cause injury. This stretch works best with a partner and combines isometric stretching and passive stretching. The muscle is stretched isometrically and is then relaxed for 2-3 seconds before being held in a passive stretch for at least 10 seconds. A good way to perform the passive part of the stretch is getting a friend to hold, the leg for example, in the stretch position. The muscle is then relaxed for 20 seconds before repeating.
As this is quite a long post if you want more information on these stretches, particularly on isometric and PNF stretching and how they work, have a look at this website: http://people.bath.ac.uk/masrjb/Stretch/stretching_4.html
All of my information i have provided has come from the IDTA anatomy and physiology course.
All images are from: dancemagazine.com