Stretching is an essential element of any workout, and when dancing, a key component in achieving maximum flexibility and maintaining a healthy and strong body. Here are some of my favorite tips, tricks, and trade secrets!
Make sure your muscles are warmed up before stretching. Picture your body as a giant ball of putty/sticky tack; if you try to mold putty that was just in the fridge, you are not going to get anywhere until your hands warm the putty up. Same goes for your muscles. Get your heart rate up and blood pumping before you stretch. This will help you obtain a max range of motion and prevent injury.
When you are in your stretched position, push yourself far enough that you feel a pull that may be slightly uncomfortable, but stop before you feel any sharp or intolerable pain. Hold every position for a minimum of 30 seconds. After holding that position, try changing something small to engage a different muscle. For example; if you are in a plank position (feet straight out in front of you), hold a stretch with your feet flexed (toes towards the ceiling) then hold a stretch with your feet pointed (toes towards the floor). Our bodies have over 700 muscles so lets work 'em!
Guess what? We are all born with the ability to be super flexible! If you have children or have ever seen babies move, you know they are super malleable and that their bones do not fully ossify until about age 3, which means children enrolled in dance or other sports classes will learn proper ways to stretch and can maintain their super human flexibility throughout their life. However, if you are like the majority of the population, we missed the boat or our flexibility has dissipated over time. Luckily, we all have the potential to gain it back! Like any other task, if you challenge yourself daily, I promise you will eventually put that two year old's talent to shame!
Stay hydrated! Our muscles are about 80% water and need that nutrient to perform safely and to the best of their ability. Take small swigs of water throughout any dance class or workout, and have your water bottle close by during your stretch and cool down.
Take slow deep breaths when stretching. You want to keep your blood circulating to your muscles, and breathing helps that happen. As you exhale, go deeper into your stretch. That is when you have had the most oxygen in your body, and as you breath that out, your chest lowers (or shrinks) allowing you more space to stretch into.
Believe it or not, stretching is a science; however, everyone's body is unique. A stretch you love may not work well for your neighbor so never hesitate to consult a physician, teacher, trainer, or seasoned athlete for advice!