In recent years (months, even) I’ve changed my mindset as it relates to flexibility and stretching.
Having spent 10+ years contentedly overstretching the crap out of my ligaments and testing the integrity of my hip labrums and knee meniscii (meniscuses?), I am now just as happy to not do any stretching.
Because sometimes less is more.
And because the other day, when going up the stairs, I realized that what I thought was the floor creaking was actually my knee. I’m in my 20s. These are not the sounds I wish my knees to make at this stage in my life.
I can’t do the splits anymore and that’s just peachy. And even though I can’t do the splits I can somehow actively lift my legs higher than I used to (except that damn arabesque, the bane of my existence).
And I enjoy dance more today with less flexibility than I did back in the day, when I could over-split and fold myself in half.
These days, my active and passive flexibility are almost on par, and so even though I’m not as passively flexible (less splat) I can actually control my movement through it’s full range of motion. It feels pretty good to be in control.
If you take anything away from this blog post, let it be this: Control > splat.
Your new rule of life. And things hurt much less when you follow this rule, by the way.
Control= Your stretching must involve a need to stabilize a proximal (closest to your center) structure. If you’re familiar with the joint-by-joint approach, you already know that proximal stability allows for distal mobility.
Because as a dancer, you’re probably not lacking any passive range of motion. I’d wager that to get more hip mobility, for example, you’d be better off working on lumbar spine stability. Less splat, more control.
I am not against stretching as a whole. Just the ones that are silly and you might regret 10 years from now. The ones that make your knees and hips degenerate prematurely.
Today’s stretch I wish you would stop doing:
The “hip flexor stretch” lunge. Because your hips feel tight…
Oh your hips are tight? Maybe it’s because your ligaments hate you.
I know you totally do this stretch because I used to do it too!
It’s possible that because you stretch your hips like above, you’ve overstretched some ligaments, and now, instead of having nice taught ligament support, your muscles need to take on more of a stability role becoming more like pseudo ligaments.
Your hip flexors are meant to flex your hips! Not act as ligaments preventing you from hyperextending. They should be helping you produce force, not bracing against doom.
This bracing is why your hips feel tight. Because they are tight. Reflexively tight, in an attempt to protect the joint. But it’s not an indication to stretch!
Instead of allowing the hip flexors like iliacus, TFL, pectineus, and rec. fem. to have a moment of relaxation, you inadvertently stress them to the point of protective tension because with the ligaments on stretch, increasing muscle tone is the best strategy to prevent your hips and spine from exploding.
The goal of a hip flexor stretch is to go from hip flexion into extension, or even hyperxtension, without letting the spine or pelvis compensate (splat), and without putting undue stress on passive structures like ligaments and bones.
The hip flexor stretch above ain’t stretching crap.
Issue 1: Losing pelvic and spinal neutral.
On closer inspection, you’ll notice her pelvis is rotating both into the saggital plane and transverse plane while also compressing slightly her lumbar spine.
Is she maintaining a level pelvis? Nope. She’s going into an anterior pelvic tilt, right pelvic rotation, and a bit of lumbar extension. Does this stretch, therefore, require her to stabilize anything? No.
Should you do a stretch that doesn’t have a stability component? No.
Remember, control>splat. Proximal stability for distal mobility.
Issue 2: Relying on passive structures in end range
In this stretch, because she is twisting and bending to get into a deeper range of motion, she is bypassing anything productive and putting her iliofemoral and iliolumbar ligaments on stretch instead. Maybe even some bone-on-bone action, too.
By the way, bone impinging upon bone is not pleasant.
Once a ligament becomes over-stretched, it can never go back to the way it was before.Without ligament support the joint loses proprioception, dynamic stability, and becomes at risk for degeneration
If she can’t maintain level pelvis in this range of motion, I doubt she is in control here. If she can’t breathe diaphragmatically in this position, then she for sure is not in control, as I like to use the ability to breathe as a barometer for positional stability.
And if she can’t control this range of motion statically, then I would be super impressed if she can control it it while dancing.
So what should you do instead?
Try an exercise that forces you to maintain a level pelvis, while extending the back hip. Try something that requires some core stability. Maintaining level pelvis require the abdominals to actively stabilize your spine, and your brain might actually allow your limbs to move freely because they have an anchor.
Like a ship anchored down, it can drift safely within the range of it’s chain. If you want more freedom, you increase the length of the chain. You get that core locked down. This happens in the motor control center of the brain, not at your ligaments.
Try half kneeling variations like a halo or anti-rotation press that challenges you in all planes of movement, maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis, while helping you get into more hip extension. Or just hold half kneeling and breathe, because sometimes, that’s enough of a challenge.
Here is an excellent primer for setting up correctly in half kneeling.
And then progress to something like this:
Think she’s not feeling a stretch? You better believe it. And her core is working like mad to not fall over.
Dance isn’t about flinging yourself into a range of motion that you have no control over. Well, sometimes it is. But that sure doesn’t feel great on the body after a while, and if you are a competitive dancer or gymnast, you know this first hand.
Ligament laxity is super impressive, but is it worth it when you need hip replacements at 30? It’s your call.
PLEASE NOTE: You will see I used some naughty words in this post (the lesser of the naughty words, relax). I choose not to edit them because it keeps my original sentiment more “real”. Sorry if you don’t approve. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want :).
This is a message to the dance majors feeling unsure about their career path.
Or to the recent graduates, new bachelors of fine arts, serving in restaurants and feeling anxious about the future.
“What good is it”, you may ask, “to have a degree in dance if the chances are slim I won’t even have a career in dance when it’s all said and done?”.
Sure, we all joke about the pitiful worth of our degree, but this joking comes from a place of real fear: “Oh shit. My degree makes me highly unemployable in the real world”.
But does it really?
For what it’s worth, I think your BFA is worth a hell of a lot more than you think.
You shouldn’t even joke about it, “haha my degree is basically worthless haha”. Stop that shit. The language you use with yourself is super important. A degree in dance is, quite possibly, one of the most valuable, underrated degrees, and you don’t even know it.
I am a fine arts major. I have a BFA in dance performance and I didn’t become a brilliant professional dancer like I had hoped.
But what I’ve learned studying dance for four intense, challenging years comes in handy everyday. I just didn’t realize until now.
Fast forward to today, three years post graduation.
Somehow, I have been accepted into a wonderful network of clinicians, bodyworkers, and movement specialists who really get it. They seek the truth, are detectives of dysfunction, and are thousands of times more intelligent than I could ever aspire to be. And they get results.
I’m talking mostly about the community of people I met through NeuroKinetic Therapy, and other seminars.
Somehow they take me as I am, yet the BFA in me feels like a bit like of an imposter.
I get to hang out with this network of smart people and they speak to me like I’m one of them. They don’t dumb concepts down for me, but treat me like an equal despite the fact that my formal education pales in comparison.
Awesome as this is, there’s a part of me that worries what people in my new world will think of me when I tell them my education is in dance.
I had a meeting with the owner of a gym once and I was able to keep up with all the technical lingo he threw at me, but when he asked what my education was and I said, “dance”, his expression visibly changed.
“Oh,” he said, “I wasn’t expecting that”. And he didn’t sound super positive either.
Despite instances like this, I’ve somehow come to find myself getting referrals from my awesomely smart network. These people actually trust me. I can’ t believe it sometimes.
Imagine that. Me, the imposter, no formal education in my field and getting referrals from the RMTs, chiropractors and physiotherapists I look up to.
What the hell??
I still don’t think many of them know that all I have is a dance degree.
All I have? Hell, I shouldn’t be saying that.
See, until very recently, I didn’t believe that my education was enough. I was self-conscious of my abilities because I was letting my perception of my degree hold me back.
I thought my education was worth less than a physiotherapist, or a chiropractor, or a kinesiologist.
And while certainly the cost to become a physiotherapist is much higher than to get a dance degree, my dance degree isn’t worth less than any other degree, it’s just worth different.
Unlike other degrees, a BFA is so much more valuable than the money it can (or can’t) make you.
I know now not to be ashamed of my “inferior” education.
A few days ago, my truth came out to a clinician I regard very highly, as he was doing an acupuncture treatment with me.
We were talking, as he stuck needles in my adductor magnus (oh boy!) about education.
He was telling me, in retrospect, how little his training in chiropractic meant. How he was closed minded when he was in school, and how continuing education was everything. Telling me that the important things are what they don’t teach you in school, the things you don’t learn until you start practicing with the drive to be a better clinician. Then you begin to learn the things that really matter. Not just how to adjust spines, how to be a good detective.
To this I said, “Well, then I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t go to ‘real’ school…”.
And I don’t think he knew anything about my education. “What IS your background, anyway?” He asked.
“Dance”, I said, “I have a degree in dance”.
“So then how did you learn all the anatomy and stuff?” he asked.
“I took CEUS and read a lot,” was my response. “We had a dance anatomy course, and it was pretty good, but I did a lot of learning on my own after I graduated”.
Part of me, the doubtful side, was expecting him to think less of me for being self-taught (I know some people would see that as a reason NOT to hire someone). But he didn’t. And this gives me confidence. It should give you confidence, too.
It’s a good thing I had to teach myself. It’s a good thing that most of the time at continuing education seminars I feel like the stupidest person in the room.
Because what I eventually chose to learn on my own is the stuff that I am really interested in. The stuff I care about. And because I actually care, I have the drive to learn the truth about it, not just what they teach you in school.
Why am I glad to have a BFA in dance? Why does it help me everyday?
Because the four years I spent dancing in university was the experience of what it feels like to slowly break down a body. What better education could I want for learning how to rebuild one?
I learned, through my dance degree, what it means to build an identity around a way of moving, a no-pain-no-gain mindset, and how pride is deleterious to one’s longevity. This taught me the non-dual nature of mind and body- How rebuilding a body sometimes helps to rebuild a mind.
I learned where my interests truly lay. I had wonderful opportunities to study, unbeknownst at the time, my future clientele in action.
I learned hard work, discipline, respect, teamwork.
I learned through my dance degree that I was not going to be a professional dancer. This is most important perhaps. Learning what I was not going to do.
And so, when I graduated, unable to dance due to injury, I did what seemed to be the only natural thing: To try to help dancers like myself by showing them how to prevent my same struggle.
And I think I’m pretty ok at it.
So if you’re wondering what on earth your dance degree is going to get you, or you’re in doubt of the “real-life” worth of a BFA, or if your parents, friends, etc are telling you that you’ll never make a living on a fine arts degree, I am telling you otherwise.
You have a degree in the experience of being.
Whether you are aware of it now, or later, this is really what you get out of a dance degree- A four year education in self.
Maybe your BFA earns you a dance career, and that’s great. Or maybe you learn how to leverage your experience to find your true talents, and use those to help other people, and make the world a better place.
Either way, that’s pretty damn cool.
With an education in self, you can do anything you want. With your skills as a performer you can imposter your way into any group. Learn from them. Become one of them.
Ah the fine art of faking it until you become it. This is dance, is it not?