1. Not warming up
It is very tempting to sit on the floor as soon as you enter a studio and stretch your legs, however, if the muscles are not warm this could potentially lead to injury depending on how aggressive your stretching is. Or you simply will not see much improvement in your flexibility.
To help lengthen your muscles in preparation for your dance session it is good to include dynamic stretching after the pulse/ temperature raising section of your warm-up. However, to actually improve your flexibility, most static stretching and any PNF stretching (see previous post on stretching methods here) should be done at the end of the dance session when your muscles are thoroughly warm.
Too much static stretching before your main dance session could actually decrease the amount of force the muscle can produce (your jumps might not get as high).
2. You are going too big, too soon
When you see other dancers doing big weird and wonderful stretches in order to target specific muscles it is very easy to simply copy and hope for the best…this however can become very frustrating when you then do not see any improvements in this stretch.
Just like any other training of any other component of fitness you have to be able to progress. Start off with more general or basic stretches before then progressing on to more specific or complex flexibility work.
For example, if you cannot sit up, with your legs out straight, and have a curve in the lower back, then increasing that curve to ‘stretch your hamstrings’ will not achieve much. First try to build towards sitting up straight, this can be helped by performing the same hamstring stretch sat on a cushion or a yoga block which will increase the angle of the hips in the starting position and allow a progressive stretch in the hamstrings until the cushion or block is no longer needed.
As your flexibility improves you then need to gradually increase the intensity or complexity of the stretch.
3. You are not consistent with your flexibility training
Inconsistent stretching only has short term effects. To really improve your flexibility in the long term you need to have a more consistent plan for your training. Longer term, progressive flexibility programmes where dancers have trained their flexibility a minimum of three times a week, have shown to have longer lasting improvements (Critchfield and IADMS, 2011).
Use it or loose it.
4. You are overdoing it
Something I see a lot, especially in younger dancers when stretching is holding the breath and tensing the muscle they are attempting to lengthen. This does not help yet is far more common than you realise. I am often reminding both dancers and clients to breathe. This will help relax the muscle which will then increase the length to which it can go.
”No pain, no gain” is a common misconception when you come to components of fitness, flexibility included. Yes, you may experience mild discomfort when stretching (especially if you are experiencing muscle ache from the day before!) but it shouldn’t be painful. If you are experiencing pain, again, the muscle will not be able to fully relax and you will not gain maximum benefits.
Like any other area of your training you must allow for recovery. Regular rest and recovery time in your flexibility training will help avoid overstretching and muscle tissue damage. It will also lessen the risk of “cheating” your stretches to appear more flexible when actually you are just no longer in correct alignment.
5. You are not considering the whole body
It is very common for dancers to work on what they are good at. Stretch their best side, stretch where they are already flexible. However, the body is all connected and repeatedly working on one area, while ignoring other areas, may mean you aren’t seeing improvement in your flexibility. Most dancers who want to kick higher will stretch their hamstrings, yet ignore all the other areas in the posterior chain (calves, glutes, muscles along the spine), when this could really help them see better improvements.
Quin, E., Rafferty, S., & Tomlinson, C. (2015). Safe dance practice. Human Kinetics.
Alter M. (2004) The Science of Flexibility. Champaign, Illinois, USA: Human Kinetics.
Deighan, M. A. (2005). Flexibility in Dance. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 9(1), 13–17.
Haff, G., & Triplett, N. (n.d.). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (4th ed.). Human Kinetics.