We are all different. Our anatomy, our goals and our dance styles vary. So is there really a golden list of stretches you absolutely should not do? No, not really. But are there some really smart rules to follow to help you avoid teaching or encouraging ineffective and injurious stretching practices? You betcha! Here is one such list of five things about stretching that you should avoid.
# 1. Avoid overstretching.
Dancers need to learn their own range of motion and how far they can go before feeling tension, followed by pain. Stretching into pain doesn’t do anything for you and won’t improve your flexibility; in fact, the only effect you might get out of it is injury. It might not seem like it in the moment, especially if you’re trying to be careful, but overstretching over the course of time contributes to breakdown of the protective surfaces in your joints. So those crazy stretches that your students are trying to do in their teens could eventually cause them pain in their 20s and onward. There are a couple over-stretches that dancers seem to love. But don’t do it!
-Forcing your frog (on your belly)
-Walking on your knuckles/tops of toes
-Backbend without abdominal muscle support
# 2. Avoid stretching when you haven’t warmed up.
When you are warm, getting your heart rate up and starting to sweat, your muscles and other soft tissues respond and are able to stretch more easily. It really doesn’t help to try and stretch something that isn’t willing to let go. Learn more about this here.
#3. Avoid stretches that don’t prepare you.
You should be stretching for a reason. Usually, that reason is to prepare your dancers to perform certain kinds of movement or to increase flexibility. The warm-up and pre-dance stretching should be based on what you are going to do in class or performance, and generally focus on dynamic stretch. After dancing, usually during the cool down when you no longer need to produce powerful movements, is when you’d want to focus on increasing flexibility and do more static stretching. Review your static, dynamic and ballistic stretch here and here.
# 4. Avoid copying others.
Here’s where Instagram can steer your students really, really wrong. Discuss this with your dancers. Once they know the limits of their range of motion, they must honor and respect their amazing bodies and maximize within their personal limits. Other people have their own body to learn and figure out. Learn more about these differences and what contributes to individual flexibility in this article.
#5. Avoid forcing your students into stretches
Sometimes it can be fun to have students play games and push each other into stretches, but they don’t know what each other are feeling and they can very easily push bodies past a safe position. Same goes for teachers! Educators should not be forcing students into positions either. When someone else is moving you, you’re also often not engaging the muscles that stabilize your joints, so a lot of the natural protection mechanism your body has for your joints is lost. This same problem holds true for using devices that force you into a passive stretch. If you want to stretch with your friends, focus on Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation.
#6. Bonus: Do you even need to stretch?
If you’re really tight or injured, stretching could make it worse. Remember that you should stretch to the point of tension, not to the point of pain, so if it is hurting, stop! If you think you might be injured or know you are, see a healthcare provider to find out what happened. Stretching something like a strain or sprain could exacerbate the sensitive injury.
Experts who generously contributed opinion to this article:
Kathleen Davenport, MD
Melody Hrubes, MD
Ellie Kusner, MSc
Yuriko Nabeta, PT, DPT, OCS
Esther Nolton, MEd, LAT, ATC, CSCS
Marissa Schaeffer, PT, DPT, CSCS
Carrie Skony, DC, CCSP
Hillary Pane, MD
By Leigh Schanfein of Dance Informa.