Safe stretching: Achieve your flexibility goals safely and effectively

July 2020 Issue

Now that we have more time on our hands, and with the summer break soon approaching, it’s the perfect opportunity to work on our goals and improving ourselves. So, how can we achieve our flexibility dreams and improve our flexibility safely.

The most important thing to remember when stretching is to warm up properly before you begin. This ensures that your muscles are ready to be stretched and gets the blood flowing around your body, preventing and reducing risks of injury. A warm up typically consists of ‘cardio’ exercises, such as jogging, jumping and other dynamic exercises. Remember to begin calmly and gradually increase the intensity. Do not go full out with too much energy to begin with or you may injure yourself.  I personally require and like to perform a long, extensive warm up before stretching to ensure that I do not injure myself and also so that I can get the best out of my session, progressing effectively.

When stretching, you should never feel pain, only slight and mild discomfort as you are pushing your body past its natural range of motion. This is crucial for preventing injury and ensuring you are looking after your body, after all, you only get one. Depending on who you ask, the time in which a stretch should be held varies from between 15 to 30 seconds, so decide what works for you and how long you personally would like to hold your stretches for based upon the improvements you would like to make and your current level of flexibility. When improving your flexibility, it is important that you know which parts of your body you would like to lengthen and improve so that you can make sure that you perform stretches that specifically target those areas. Establish a routine consisting of your favorite stretches for the areas you wish to work on, whether that be your hip flexors or hamstrings. Perform this daily to get the best results. My own daily stretch routine lasts around 25 to 30 minutes depending on which stretches I decide to perform, and I have developed my personal routine over time to suit my improvements.

It is important that you stretch safely to prevent injuries as this may significantly affect your progress. Stretching safely does not just involve the body, but the environment you are planning to stretch in. Between 25 to 30 degrees is the optimum room temperature for stretching and this contributes to injury prevention. Ensure that you have enough room to stretch and move any obstacles to create sufficient space. Warming up before stretching is every important as it ensures that the muscles are warmer and have more oxygenated blood being provided to them, ready to be worked. Without an effective warm up, which would usually last around 10 minutes, the risk of injury to the muscles, joints and ligaments is increased and these injuries, depending on the intensity of the injury, can result in weeks and perhaps months out of action.

One of the most important things to remember when improving flexibility is that it can be a long process. It is important that, in order to make improvements, you are stretching and training consistently to get the results you desire. With this, resilience is key. After performing a stretch routine, you may feel more mobile but there may be no lasting significant change in your flexibility. To achieve your goals, you must be willing to work for it. In the coming weeks and months, you will see the changes and be thankful that you didn’t give up. Be dedicated and find a routine that works for you and makes sure that you consistently work towards your flexibility goals. As a dancer who is not naturally flexible, I have had to work hard to get to where I am today, and I am continuing to put the work in to achieve my goals. Additionally, it is important to not compare yourself to others and this is something I am heavily guilty of. You don’t know how others train or for how long they have been working for. Focus on yourself and you will achieve your goals.

Creating a routine that targets your desired areas and timetabling it into suit your schedule is incredibly helpful as it ensures that you always have time to train and stay on track with your personal programme. Whether it be in the morning, midday or a late-night stretch, find a time where you can unwind and focus on where you want to be in the future.

To conclude, something I have always been told is that as lovely having the ability to perform the perfect tilt, kick or développé is, having huge amounts of flexibility is not ‘the be all and end all’. As a dancer who is not naturally flexible, this has been very helpful over the years as it allowed me to not focus on comparing myself to others and work on myself instead. There are other attributes to dancers and yourself personally that are much more valuable. So, focus on and nurture them instead of worrying so much about the height of your grand battlement, you are all unique so embrace it.

Stay safe and train hard.

Costello

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