Easy Everyday Stretches—Dancer Edition!
Dancers and athletes all relish that post-workout sensation—the satisfaction of having completed another session of muscle sculpting and calorie burning (not to mention the perfect excuse for some gelato goodness!). Walking out of the studio brimming with sweat, we’re often elated that we took a few more minutes to stretch thoroughly. Even with our flexibility, we feel a great difference in the increased range of motion and effectiveness in a training session when we spend an extra five minutes in an over-split or a back-bend.
Too often people manage to fit in HIIT workouts, which necessitate showers and change of clothes, but deem stretching, as something flexible—in terms of both time and body! And even though we’ve all heard of the great benefits of stretching. Here’s a short recap:
Stretching increases your blood flow and natural endorphins, that euphoric sensation like after chocolate consumption, which leads to a de-stressed, happy, and clear-thinking you!
Stretching allows you to hit the pause button, rest your mind and feel good about something that is healthy for you.
The fact that you're working and loosening those tight joints and muscles will reduce arthritic pain and correct posture.
Daily life activities can also be completed with more ease and elegance after your flexibility and range of motion is increased. Move swiftly, stride quickly, and work confidently!
So next time you’re tempted to take a coffee break, take a stretching break instead—it’ll save more time in the long run too, not to mention cash!
Alright, here then are a few stretches we dancers often warm up with. They might seem very simple and you might even remember them from gym class. Don’t underestimate them, though. They’re very helpful in lengthening the muscles for an elongated figure. They can be done almost anywhere—your living room, office, hotel room… even staying in bed is possible! There’s no particular order, but studies show that starting from the top of the body and working your way to the bottom is more effective. ‘Nough talking, let’s get down to some stretching!
1. Shoulder Stretches
a. Take one arm and lift it next to your ear, then bend it over your head. Use the other hand to grab that elbow and pull it towards your opposite ear.
b. Find something you can put your elbows or wrists on that’s around chest-to-shoulder height. If you can’t find anything, a wall works too. With your elbows or wrists against it, head and upper body facing the floor, let your head drop past your shoulders as much as you can. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
If you don’t feel enough of a stretch, bend your knees to apply more pressure.
c. This next stretch is effective in correcting posture. It opens your shoulders and chest, which prevents slouching.
Upright, with your arms straightened, clasp your hands behind your back, palms facing up. Slowly bend forward, allowing your clasped arms to follow downwards towards the floor. You will feel a lot of tension and resistance in the shoulders. Don’t worry, use your own force to push your arms down as much as you can. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat 3 times.
2. Side Twist
Crucial for many classical Chinese dance movements, this stretch teaches you how to look like an ancient Egyptian painting! Aside from that, it also ameliorates back pain and increases mobility.
Find something that can withstand some pressure, like a counter or a table, and stand parallel to it. Grab it with both hands and slowly rotate away from it. Hold for 15 seconds 3 times. Repeat on other side.
3. Seal Stretch
A good, soothing exercise for the back, this will stretch out the lumbar spine constantly abused by long hours of sitting. It’s also beneficial for your kidneys and bladder!
Lay down with your stomach flat on the floor (you can place a jacket or cushion under your hips) with your arms propped up in front of you about shoulder-width apart. Then press your upper body up. It’s okay if your hips aren’t able to reach the floor. Everyone’s condition is different, so try playing around with the distance between your hands and hips. Make sure to breath; as you exhale, you’ll be able to push your body up more.
To increase the stretch, try to arch your upper body and head toward the ceiling. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat 3 times. And don’t forget to exhale!
4. Leg and Hip Stretches
a. Great for elongating the hamstrings, this stretch will make your legs appear longer and leaner.
Start with one leg about a foot or two in front of the other. Align your heels in a straight line. Make sure your front foot is pointing forward or out and your back foot is turned out. Bend down and hug your front leg as much as you can. Use one of your arms to support yourself on the ground to prevent falling over. Hold for 15 seconds, 3 times. Repeat on the other leg.
b. Sit on the floor with both legs together straight in front of you. Hold your arms out in front and, as you bend forward, reach both hands toward your pointed feet. Again, the goal is to get your body as close to your legs as possible. Just go as far as you can while keeping your knees straight and hold for 20 seconds, 3 times.
c. This one is used in P.E. classes worldwide. Well, our teachers were right—this stretch is excellent for opening the hips and targeting the inner thigh muscles called hip adductors.
Sit on the floor with your heels together (the closer to the body the better). With hands on your heels, try pushing your knees down with your elbows and if you can, bend forward. Hold for 20 seconds, 3 times.
Tip: You can also try sitting against a wall or sofa or find something to pull on, like the leg of a table or bed.
5. Foot Exercises
a. Feet are crucial for the intricacies of dance. Often neglected and overlooked, the feet experience the most pressure throughout the day. So make warming up and engaging all those joints and ligaments in your feet part of your routine!
Lie on the floor, with one leg straight up and one leg bent. Imagine your top foot—the one pointing to the ceiling—is a sharp object piercing through the ceiling. Engage for 10 seconds, then flex that foot as much as you can, bringing your toes as close to your shin as possible, and hold for 5. Repeat this point-and-flex exercise 3 times. After completing it, roll your ankle around 5 times clockwise, then 5 times counter-clockwise. Repeat this whole cycle on the other side.
b. This is a quick foot stretch we dancers much rely on. Stand next to something you can lean on with one hand for support. With shoes off, cross one foot over the other and press the back of that foot against the floor so that your arch points up. Now bend your knees to increase the stretch in the back of your foot. Bend and pulse 5 times for 5 counts each, trying to increase the arch. Then repeat on the other side.
Remember that results are not always immediate; like anything, stretching takes time and effort. What’s more important is that you’ve committed to taking on a beneficial activity. The mental results are just as meaningful. If you strive forward with a positive mentality, success will be within reach.
So see how much you can improve, take photos of progress (record your “before and after”), and most of all—happy stretching!
Were there any stretches you found particularly helpful? Are there any others you would like to learn about or see? Post your comments below!
February 9, 2019