Safe Stretching

December 2014
with Jessica Howard

In the cold months of the year, a dancer’s warm up becomes even more important. Here are tips and ideas from Jessica Howard, The School at Steps’ Stretch Instructor. She covers everything from identifying tight spots and avoiding overstretching, to the effects of stretching on mental health. Here are some tips on how to practice safe stretching.

Stretching and mental health

Stretching is often neglected. With a bit of work, stretching can lengthen muscles, work out knots, and ease aches and pains. Dancers have more freedom of movement when their muscles are relaxed and pliable. Proper, active stretching increases endorphins, creating a sense of well-being and increased energy. This positive frame of mind allows dancers to work harder and be more productive in class.

How to identify tight spots

Many dancers experience tight muscles from vigorous training. It is best for dancers to target these troublesome areas, even when stretching may feel painful. To avoid any pain or injuries, dancers should prepare properly and stay within their limits.

To avoid these mistakes, begin by identifying your tight spots.

  1. Go through simple stretches that target major muscle groups (i.e. hamstrings, quads). When you feel a pull, you are experiencing a tight spot.
  2. Hold the stretch for about 45 seconds, take a deep breath, release a little deeper into the stretch. Repeat three times.
  3. Stretching the major muscle groups will allow physical freedom and will eventually allow you to stretch further while remaining safe and decreasing your chance of muscle or joint damage.

When you’ve stretched ‘too much’

Dancers and other athletes are often very driven, and can sometimes push themselves too far. In certain instances, a dancer is feeling limber and will overstretch his or her body. Jessica says, “I’m all for pushing yourself as hard as you can, but it is important to continue to check in with your body to determine if you are feeling any sort of weird pull. After a good stretch workout the limbs will often feel like jellyfish and heavy. Once you’ve reached that point, it is a good idea to finish stretching for the day. Rest and let your muscles recover so that you can continue to build on what you’ve already accomplished the next day.”


Dos & Don’ts for stretching

  • Do add a stretch class to your training regiment.
  • Do remember how the stretches make you feel and incorporate them into your daily routine. You’ll feel a difference!
  • Don’t be sloppy when you stretch and use extra caution when a partner is helping you. Partners do not necessarily know your limits and may not be able to feel your level of resistance.
  • Do remain focused and keep your stretches clean. Pushing your body and maneuvering yourself into unstable positions can be unsafe.
  • Do ask the instructor for tips on how to stretch a trouble spot.
  • Don’t forget your dance technique when you are stretching. Alignment and placement are just as important in stretch class as in dance class.
  • Do make sure you warm-up/stretch for at least 20 minutes before class, so that your body is pliable and strong when you begin.