Dancers should incorporate stretching to maintain the high levels of flexibility needed for their art as well as to increase physical strength and endurance while avoiding injury. Dancers and other athletes can incorporate stretching before, during and after activity. When considering a stretching routine, be sure to include major muscle groups and joints. Incorporate stretches for the feet, ankles, calves, thighs, hamstrings and hips and for the abdominal muscles and back, shoulders, neck and arms. Here are some ideas dancers can use for stretching:
Seated Forward Bend
Seated stretches act on the muscles of the back as well as the hamstrings and calves. Muscles in the legs are among the largest in the body and are used in many actions including balancing, jumping, turning and initiating movement in the trunk and upper body.
Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your feet flexed so that the toes point upwards. Place your palms flat on the floor on either side of the hips. Point your toes away from you and hold the position for five to ten breaths. Then, flex your feet so that the toes point toward the ceiling and spread the toes for a stretch in the soles and balls of the feet. Hold this position for five to ten breaths.
Lift your arms straight up in the air, lifting from the top of the head upwards, inhale deeply, and exhale while hinging forward from the hips. Focus on reaching forward, attempting to keep a straight spine instead of curving as you bend. If you cannot accomplish this with straight legs, bend your knees slightly and allow your spine to remain straight, or simply hold your arms at a place they are comfortable. Never stretch so far that it becomes painful and do not bounce or make sudden movements when stretching to avoid injury.
Standing stretches can focus on the muscles of the legs, abdomen, back and upper body. Remember to take your time when stretching and pay close attention to form. Each person has a different level of flexibility so work on your own unique needs rather than comparing yourself to others.
Stand upright with your feet together. Raise your arms over your head and clasp the left wrist with your right hand. Lean to the right, allowing your hips to move to the left so that your entire body creates a half-moon shape. Gently pull on the left arm to intensify the stretch. This stretch acts on the muscles of your entire torso and should be held for at least 20 seconds and repeated on both sides. Be sure to take deep breaths while you are stretching.
Nest, stand straight with feet parallel to each other, place one leg back in a small lunge with the heel down and the front leg bent at the knee. Feel a stretch through the back calf and hold for 10 seconds while taking deep breaths. Straighten the front knee for a rest and then bend again, feeling a stretch through the back calf once more. Hold for another 10 seconds, then switch legs.
Stand upright once more and raise your arms overhead then bend forward at the hips until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Repeat, and then allow your torso to drop forward into a standing forward bend. Be sure to bend your knees if needed as you reach for the floor.
There are many stretches necessary for a dancer, but be sure to include these basics each time you exercise and keep in mind that your flexibility will improve over time. Discuss appropriate stretches for the type of dance you are pursing with your instructor to find out what other forms of flexibility may assist and protect you.
Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, LDN is a Chicago-based dietitian who specializes in integrative oncology. With a Master's degree from naturopathic Bastyr University, she practices plant-based nutrition and specializes in lab interpretation and appropriate supplementation. Ginger also had a passion for fitness and maintains both group fitness and personal training certifications.