I have selected some of the most asked questions that I receive from dancers regularly. The following questions are also from two online dance magazines that I have recently done Q&As with. The answers to these questions can also easily apply to gymnasts, synchronized swimmers and martial artists.
1. Should I stretch every day and what time of day is best?
I feel everyone is different. For example some people are morning people and that time works best for them, but I peak in the early afternoon. Also it's important to pick a time that works with your schedule and commit to that as you would to brushing your teeth. Listen to your own body clock with regards to best time of day.
It always good to warm up and cool down before and after you train. For serious or professional dancers or athletes, six days a week of stretching is good with one or two rest days per week. The body needs time to process, heal and repair. As far as daily training in your sport, it helps to cross-train and work different muscle groups so the other muscles can repair. This helps one progress. Make sure you are stretching correctly with good form. Never force or bounce.
2. My back leg to turns out when I go into the front splits, how can I keep my hips square?
If you have developed the habit of going into the splits without being in correct alignment, the body becomes accustomed to that. When you try to change that and do it technically correct, it can feel uncomfortable. You may have had a tight back and hips to begin with, which may have lead to you cheating a bit, to feel like you are all the way down in the splits.
To help slide down into the splits with correct alignment, make sure you can feel the knee and the top of the foot of the back leg, on the the floor. The front leg and the foot should not be rolled in or out, the leg and knee should be pointing up to ceiling in one clean line.
3. What are the most important areas or muscle or muscle groups to stretch for increased flexibility (for legs -- arabesque, developed, split leaps, splits, etc.)?
Since everything is connected -- it's good to take the time to stretch the entire body and do it in the correct order. I like to start with upper body to get the energy going. Then work my way down, with each stretch gradually becoming more intense. Don't forget to stretch the calve, it will make it easier to stretch the hamstrings and low back. You want to get that whole line stretched.
Make sure you open up your outer hips (IT band) and stretch the waist to help the lower back to release. Don't forget the inner thighs, too, which is also a necessary area to prepare to perform the moves listed above in the question. Ankle weights are good to use once you are warmed up. This helps tire and strengthen the muscles to enable someone to increase their range of motion.
4. How do I know if I am overdoing it?
If you are feeling constant fatigue, soreness and your body is not performing at its best. I recommend getting plenty of sleep and taking some rest days so the body can repair and store up energy. This will help tremendously. Also massage and going for a walk can help get rid of the lactic acid.
5. How can I recover flexibility after a hamstring injury?
It can be helpful to see a chiropractor that does the activator method. Do not stop training completely. Train around the injury with exercises that don't bother the leg, such as a stationary bike, swimming and stretching. This will keep you in shape and get blood circulating to the injured area. This can help one to come back even stronger. Don't do anything that causes the bad kind of pain. It also helps to visualize and see your body pain free and in top form.
6. What are The keys to flexibility?
A. Stretching properly with the correct form.
B. The body needs to be opened up step by step by doing the stretches in the correct order.
C. Using your breathing correctly is one of the biggest parts of getting results.
D. Relaxing -- never force or bounce.
E. Warming up and cooling down regularly.
F. Dedicate certain days to just flexibility and core strength training
7. What do you feel like are the top three things dancers should focus on or include in their warm ups?
A. Create a sequence to wake up the major muscle groups to gently transition from whatever is going on in your day into practice that is completely focused.
B. Listen to your body. If your body is talking to you through back pain, shoulder pain or if you are unable to master a new dance move because you are too tight, I suggest you learn the best stretches for your specific needs, to avoid ending up with a lots of frustration and injuries.
C. Once warmed up, gently start practicing similar movements on the floor and at the bar, that you will be practicing or performing.
8. What advice do you have for dancers looking to increase range of motion in their shoulders?
In my DVDs I demonstrate how to get a deeper stretch in my shoulders, by holding the wall and twisting away from it. I also have my clients do exercises with light dumbbells to stretch and strengthen the back and shoulders.
9. What are some myths about flexibility?
People believe they are old too increase their flexibility. The truth is anyone of
any age can become more flexible, if they learn to do it properly and commit to it.
10. What do you wish dancers knew?
A. That the mind controls the body. See yourself exactly the way you wish to be and the body will follow by doing exactly what you believe you are capable of.
B. Stay away from cigarettes and starving to be thin. Treat food as medicine and learn to eat foods that heal and balance the body. Then you will not have to worry about weight. You'll also perform at top level while feeling and looking your best.
11. How do you define flexibility?
To have the full range of motion in ones sport without pain or strain.
12. Why do you believe flexibility is important for dancers?
One's level of flexibility affects that individual's form, alignment, the ability to have clean lines, proper technique and it prevents injury.
Photo credit: Tony Donaldson
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