As dancers, we know just how important stretching is to our craft. It helps us with beautiful extensions, as well as preventing injuries. So below are some of the basic things to remember, so you can get the most out of your stretches.
How much to Stretch
The answer depends on the dancers body. Avoid comparing your flexibility with other dancers. Instead work on what you need. If you have a “tight” bodies, then you are built for stability, with dense connective tissues. Your body is less extensible. Conversely if you are innately more flexible. your hyper-mobility puts you at an increased risk of ligament sprains. Hence “loose” dancers should spend less time stretching and spend more time on strengthening exercises. Remember to be patient with stretching. Pushing stretches too hard may cause a muscle strain (tear). Stretches should be held to a point of mild discomfort, not pain. ‘No pain no gain’ is not the motto for stretching.
How long to Stretch
There have been numerous scientific studies to determine how long a static stretch should be held. It is recommended that the stretch should be held for 30 seconds and then repeated 3 to 4 times in a single stretching bout.
When to Stretch
Interestingly, studies have shown that stretching done correctly (held 30 seconds and repeated) is enough to maintain current flexibility only. To increase flexibility, deformation of the connective tissue (not tearing) is necessary to produce muscle length change. When trying to INCREASE flexibility, it is important to do so AFTER dance class when muscles and connective tissues are warm. But avoid Prolonged Stretches (more than 30 seconds).
How often to Stretch
A single bout of stretching last about all of five minutes. But a multi-week program of stretching creates benefits that last for several weeks after stretching is discontinued. Some research has shown that increasing the frequency of stretch from once per day to three time per day did not increase range of motion. Additional benefits are gained from doing up to four repetitions within a single bout of stretching. There appears to be little benefit in doing more than four repetitions.
Flexibility and Age
A very interesting study was done with 4,500 children ages 5-18 years. 100% of the 5-year-olds could sit with legs straight and touch their toes. By age 12 only 30% could do so but by age 18 flexibility increased to 60% could touch their toes. The low point in flexibility was age 12 for boys and 13 for girls.
Why is there a loss of flexibility? This age coincides with the skeletal growth spurt, so muscle tissues are shorter relative to bone length until muscle growth catches up to bone growth. Be aware that their is also an increased chance of injury to muscles during this time.
At the other end of the spectrum, aged adults become less flexible with the passing years because the connective tissue loses elasticity.