Stop Stretching Your Hamstrings So Much

Stop Stretching Your Hamstrings So Much

A few days ago I had an interesting conversation with a client of mine about body awareness. Specifically, on the importance of listening to your body when it tells you you’re in pain.

Pain exists for a reason- To guide you. To teach you. To give you some very important information. Your nerve endings can’t talk so they have to resort to being annoying to get your attention. Annoying to the point of being total jerks.

Communicating with jerks is a good skill to develop, and in much the same way, having good communication with your body is important. Body awareness- the ability to interpret what your body is telling you.

It’s your choice, and your responsibility, to listen to your body’s signals, and interpret their meaning. I highly recommend you do.

Like the one time I tried hot yoga and felt like vomiting and passing out simultaneously. The (only moderately fanatical) teacher, reassured me that this was just my body “detoxing” and that I should at all costs NOT leave the room before the 90 minutes was up. I’m all for not being full of toxins, but something tells me the teacher wouldn’t have appreciated me “detoxing” all over the mat. Nor would the sweaty gentleman next to me. And so, much to the instructor’s chagrin, I chose to listen to my body, which was telling me to get the hell out of there.

Detox my ass. That was horrible. I will never hot yoga again.

Is your body being a jerk?

Before you take pain killers, lather up with tiger palm, and ignore these signals, maybe consider changing the way you treat your body.

Imagine you have a pot of water boiling on the stove you want to cool down to drinking temperature, so you keep adding ice-cubes to it in hopes that will cool it down. But this is a silly, ineffective attempt- If we want the water to be a comfortable drinking temperature, you have to take the fire out from under the pot.

I see all too many people masking their pain so they can ignore it. They’re just putting ice-cubes in their pots. You can only put in so many until you run out of ice, or the pot overflows.

But, like, whatever. You can do whatever you want to do. Speaking for myself, however, when my body sends me signals of impending doom, I know better than to ignore them.

So anyway, onward to today’s real topic of discussion.

So you have tight hamstrings, do you?

Do you relate to any of the following? :

“My hamstrings are soo tight, I need to stretch them more”

*while sitting in splits* “I wish I had more flexible hamstrings”

“POP” (sound of hamstring tearing).

I’ve only been witness to one acute hamstring injury (my own) and yes, there was an unsettling popping sound. It was… unpleasant.

I would love it if you could use the information  prevent such unpleasant muscle strains and treat your hammies with the respect they deserve- You should probably STOP stretching your hamstrings so much and work on getting them a bit stiffer.

*IMPORTANT NOTE*

The following article is for dancers who are already at a pretty advanced level in their training. Advanced meaning in terms of years they’ve been dancing, technical skill level , or a combination of the two. This could include university, competitive and professional dancers, and aspiring younger recreational dancers who excel among their peers. Also to any other dancer who meets the following criteria:

  • Can already do the splits in all directions, especially if you can do over-splits
  • Can actively lift the leg up to, or past 90 degrees
  • Dances 3-4+ times per week for at least an hour
  • Competes/performs regularly several times per year
  • You’re hypermobile:

This could also apply to gymnasts, firgure skaters, circus peeps, etc.

This one’s for you guys, to keep you safe. You’re welcome.

You can stop the excessive hamstring stretching!

Just to avoid confusing, I’m definitely not saying that no dancer, ever, needs to stretch their hamstrings, because initially, you will. There are many dancers who benefit from stretching their hamstrings if they lack flexibility.

The hamstrings act to extend the hip, flex the knee, and also help to rotate the leg when the knee is flexed. Biceps femoris, the most lateral of the 3 hamstrings, is most often the hamstring injured, since it’s the only one what also laterally rotates the leg. Ohh turnout… The hamstrings are also important for dancers because of the deccelerative action they perform-The eccentric control necessary for landings from jumps, and for speed and agility.

The misconception is that because your hamstrings “feel stiff”, or “tight”, they should be stretched more. But just because a muscle feels stiff, in your specific case, this might actually be an indicator of the opposite- A need for more stiffness. An actual stiff muscle, by it’s true definition does not feel sore and tight, but feels kind of springy.

In reality, this  hamstring “tightness” is the feeling of a muscle locked long that you are over-recruiting. A weak, over-stretched, over-worked muscle tightening reflexively to protect itself from tearing.

Think about this: you’re obsessed with stretching your hammies, and then you make them perform strenuous, repetitive work, at a high volume while they’re locked in an eccentric (elongated) contraction. Not a super strong place to be.

So if the hamstring is locked in a stretched out position, and you’re jumping around all day kicking your legs over your head, AND THEN stretching them even more while you’re cold, does it really surprise you that they tend to get  cranky and damage easily?

The good news is, knowing this, you can easily prevent these sorts of overuse injuries. Here’s how:

1) Evaluate your need to stretch your hamstrings. They need to be flexible, but they also need to be strong. Act responsibly. If you’re already flexible and/or hypermobile, your needs are different than your friends’. I very rarely do any hamstring stretching with my ballet dancers. There are more productive things we can do. But if you do indeed need more flexibility, spend some time stretching them- Ideally after your day of dancing is complete, or as a separate session on a non-dance day.

Check out THIS RESOURCE on the Bowen Works website, titled “Managing Joint Hypermobility- A Guide for Dance Teachers”. Some solid info on training hypermobile dancers. This is their take on stretching (but check out  complete article when you have a chance. Important stuff for teachers, parents, and dancers to know):

Hypermobile dancers like to stretch. They find it easy and it feels good, but stretching for long periods into the end of range may lead to instability and even injury. Stability and strength should be developed as a priority. However, even in hypermobile dancers there will be areas of restriction and tightness and it is good to stretch these, whilst avoiding stretching areas where there is already excessive mobility.

Many hypermobile people are naturally attracted to dance because of their additional flexibility. However, strength and fine control are essential components to match increased flexibility and end of range movement. Additional  coaching, conditioning and physiotherapy exercises can be useful to gain strength and reinforce movement patterns.

2) Strengthen your glutes and hamstrings. Add some functional stiffness.  Both the hamstrings and the glutes extend the hip, but often we dancers use our glutes (especially the maximus) to turnout, and so the hamstrings (especially the lateral one) do all the work. Silly. And risky.

Here are some exercises to begin with, and eventually progress to:

Prone hip extension. Focus on pushing your hips into the floor and try to not allow the lower back to dip down towards the floor.

Hip bridge with foam roller. Press through the floor with your heels and imagine you are getting a stretch for your hip flexors. Do not thrust up with your spine. Squeeze the crap out of the foam roller.

Pull throughs. A very exciting exercise to do in a busy gym.

Single leg stiff legged deadlift. Ignore how shaky mine are.

And one my favourite exercise of all time, le barbell deadlift. Start with a kettlebell or dumbbell, and progress to a barbell if you’re ready to handle heavier loads (ie no injuries, you’re taught proper form, etc).

That was a personal best for me from a little while ago. I don’t dance much anymore so I decided to work on a strength goal (I don’t recommend lifting THIS heavy if you’re dancing seriously). I accidentally counted the plates wrong, which kind of screwed the whole workout flow up. I can’t count. I avoid math if at all possible. It makes for surprising workouts sometimes.

So to conclude, I urge you to consider a more conservative approach to hamstring stretching (an “as needed” approach), and develop strength in your glutes, and hamstrings. A simple strategy that will go a long way in helping to prevent injury, and improving things like jumps, alignment, and over-all level of pain you’re in on the daily.

Have you had a hamstring injury? I’d love to hear your experiences. Leave a comment below.

 

 

Are Your Muscles Really “Tight”?

I have some sad news. As some of you know, I have, for the past several months, been working towards a 225lb deadlift, with the goal being to pull it by Halloween. In a ninja costume. Just kidding…

Just last week it looked like I might even be able to accomplish this feat BEFORE my goal time-frame. But that was last week, and as we know, all things are flux… Life happens. Shit happens.

Yep. Shit happens. I had a rather embarrassing bike incident (I fell off, going about 0 kmph. I’m really graceful). As a result, my ribs have taken a beating. How I managed this going at a near 0 speed? I have no clue. It was rainy. And my bike only has one pedal. Also,  my instincts told me to protect the bike, and thus, I used my body to cushion it, rather than save myself. And I did a good job of it too!

As a result, it’s hard to breathe deeply, and getting up and down is especially painful. I’m also starting to get weird spasms in my back and abdominals. Needless to say, heavy deadlifts are probably NOT a good idea, as even walking sends shooting pains through my rib-cage..

Sigh… 225 you will be mine soon. For now, I’ll just have to enjoy the break.

But anyway. What I really want to talk about, is something that is becoming more and more confusing to me: The concept of stretching.

For dancers, flexibility is kind of important. Unfortunately, we have no idea how to do it properly: The what, when, how, and why of stretching. There’s more to it than sitting in your splits for 2 minutes. Even though that’s really fun and impressive.

I used to think sitting in a over-split was cool. If you ever catch me doing this again, shoot me.

Are your muscles really “tight”?

You know that feeling the next day after you’ve worked really hard, and your muscles are sore or “tight” feeling? That was a dumb question. Of course you do! So what do you usually do about it? You  stretch the sore muscles, right? This may sound counter-intuitive, but I’m learning more and more that this is probably NOT the greatest idea.

I know I always talk about when I strained my hammy, but let’s think back to that for a moment so I can better illustrate what I’m trying to say.

My hamstring was feeling really tight for 4 months so I decided to stretch it intensely and tiger balm it up before each dance class. In reality, it wasn’t that it needed to be stretched out, but it was actually inflamed from being over used. But what did I do? I stretched it excessively because it felt tight. What happens when you stretch something that is inflamed? It becomes weak. Using the metaphor of a rubber band, what happens to a weak, damaged rubber band when you stretch it too far? It snaps.

Just an FYI, dancers: Have you ever noticed how often we stretch our hamstrings, and how common of an injury it is in our population? Just sayin’…

You see, the muscle becomes inflamed and “tight” feeling, because it is trying to add some stability to the joint in question (in my case, my hip). It creates a sort of “self-cast” to lock everything in place. This adds a bit more solidity to the joint, but also makes it very weak and lacking in mobility. This tight-feeling muscle is actually weak and inhibited in this inflamed state, and stretching will only make it weaker, and make it more prone to injury. BAM. Hamstring strain.

So, if you have “tight” feeling muscles, you really don’t want to stretch them too intensely. How much should you stretch? I really don’t know the answer to that, but learn to listen to your body. It usually knows best, if you actually listen.

Check out this article in the New York times which talks about how stretching can potentially weaken the muscles, and why static stretching shouldn’t be a part of your warm-up

Short Muscles vs Tight Muscles

Yes a muscle can actually be stiff and feel tight, but this is a different thing from being chronically short. I recently partook in an assessment and exercise webinar, and here are some take-away points on the topic, from Nick Rosencutter, a really smart fitness guy:

Stiff muscles:

  • Muscle tissue and connective tissue are resistant to stretch
  • Muscle has a rubber band/spring type feel
  • A potential solution is to strengthen antagonist/synergists, and do possible tissue work and stretching

Short muscles:

  • The muscle is in a shortened position, with possible shortening at the joint
  • Muscle will have a more distinct end feel, and lacks significant ROM
  • Potential solution includes long duration stretches, more aggressive tissue therapy, and antagonist strengthening can still help.

It is important to understand the difference between these two feels so as to go about the right method in restoring it’s flexibility.  As a general rule, muscles that become “stiff” are ones that are overused (like your hammies), and ones that become “short” are from chronic poor positioning, like slouching and sitting all day (like your hips and pecs).

But I need to be flexible so how do I do that if stretching is bad??

Well stretching isn’t necessarily “bad”.

For dancers, and other athletes who require extreme flexibility, I guess there really isn’t any way of getting around the fact that you’ll need to do some extra stretching. It’s the nature of the beast. But, it’s also nice to be flexible without making yourself weaker and more pre-disposed to injury.

Here is what I speculate is the best way to improve or maintain the desired amount of flexibility you need without TOO many risks:

  • DO NOT perform static stretches prior to class/training/what-have-you. Instead warm-up with dynamic stretches that increase the fluid in the joint, brings blood to the muscles, and loosens up the tendons and ligaments to be used.
  •  You can probably gain a significant amount of flexibility by simply working with your full range of motion in class or in training. To be honest, I never really worked that hard to get my splits when I was dancing everyday. It just kind of “came” because I always worked my hardest in class. And now, after 7 months off, and not stretching that much, I can still do the splits.
  • Only perform static stretches (longer than 30 seconds) AFTER you have finished all the work (classes, rehearsals, training sessions) for the day. You might say, “but I need to feel like I have my full ROM stretched out before I do class!” That’s what the dynamic warm-up and stretches are for.
  • If a muscle feels “tight” or “stiff” for more than a week, it, or it’s tendon/ligament friends might be inflamed, and you should probably take some rest, and do some kind of soft tissue work instead (whether it be self-myofascial release or done by a professional. And anything done by a professional always wins).
  • Maybe it’s not just a matter of the muscle itself that needs to be stretched, but the joint just lacks mobility due to certain imbalances and weaknesses, and reciprocal inhibitions preventing it from working at it’s optimal level. I’ve written about this before HERE
  • And because I know that dancers and other athletes like gymnasts and martial artists WON’T stop stretching, I would have to say that my preferred method is the PNF method of alternately tensing and releasing the muscle.Like this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6uhXn9d0CA&nbsp 

I guess what you should really take away from this, is not that stretching is necessarily BAD, because it does serve it’s purpose. But please stop stretching mindlessly. Use caution. Learn to listen to your body. As you are stretching, ask yourself WHY you are doing that particular stretch. If you don’t have a good reason, then don’t do it. And please for the LOVE OF GOD, remember to warm up. I dare say that I might still be able to dance today if I had only paid attention to that one thing. Or maybe not…

 

 

Smart Mobility for Dancers- Better Ways to Stretch

Smart Mobility for Dancers- Better Ways to Stretch

“So, you’re a dancer! You must be really flexible- Do you stretch a lot?”

The amount of times I’ve heard that… Yes- I’ll admit, I am pretty darn flexible (used to be, anyway, before I injured my hamstring).

Do I stretch a lot? Well, not really.

Was I always flexible? No. Before I danced, I couldn’t do the splits. I could barely touch my toes (though now I know better than to do the standing toe-touch stretch, which you shouldn’t do either if you have a history of lower back pain).

The concept of stretching is controversial, and has many supposed, and some legitimate benefits. The kind of stretching dancers do could be considered highly dangerous for the average person. By this I mean, holding intense static stretches immediately prior to a class or performance. The following is part of the Twitter status of a prominent dance company, who will remain nameless, announcing their auditions “…Come early to stretch!” I cringed. No, people, don’t come early to stretch, lest you want to injure yourself.

By contrast, the kind of active stretching that is done intrinsically during the bulk of a dance class is highly beneficial for increasing one’s mobility and range of motion (henceforth denoted as ROM) at a particular joint. Dancers don’t stretch as much as you think they might to maintain their level of flexibility. Getting there takes years of hard work, maintaining is easy. How did we get there? Consistent, hard work in class, and always pushing to work with the maximum ROM for any given movement. A little bit of specific stretching, to the particularly tight parts, helps, especially for men.

There is a lot of information out there saying not to stretch statically before doing physical work, but to do dynamic stretching instead; and there are all kinds of programs with different philosophies for increasing one’s flexibility. My favourite is Pavel Tsatsouline’s “Forced Relaxation”- This guy is really flexible, but you can tell he’s really strong too, and his approach to increasing flexibility actually has some merit. Mostly, I just love his video series because it is one third terrifying, one third hilarious, and one third motivates me to go get super flexible.

Check out one of his videos here: Pavel Tsatsouline- Forced Relaxation

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to talk less about “stretching”, and more about increasing “mobility”. What’s the difference? Stretching primarily refers to increasing the length of a muscle, while mobility can be considered an all encompassing term, referring to the joint as a whole- Its ligaments and musculotendinous unit.

What is mobility?

Mobility refers to the total range of motion through which a particular joint is able to move, which can be expressed as a measurement in degrees. Mobility affects your ability to perform certain isolation (single joint) movements and compound movements (multi-joint).  Not to be confused with hyper-mobility, which refers to an excessive range of motion of a joint, measurable at an angle which is larger than is optimal (unless you use this ability to monetary advantage somehow, like a circus contortionist).  Hyper-mobility requires supplementary strengthening in order to control and prevent injuries as it is generally caused by extremely lax ligaments.

Stretching- How to do it right, without compromising your safety

Flexibility is a misunderstood term. According to McGill, there is no relationship between static joint flexibility and dynamic performance. We often think of increasing ROM in simplistic terms: Make muscle longer by stretching it out. There is however much more to take into consideration. Some variables you should consider:

  • The muscles surrounding the joint in question– Do they need to be stretched? If your joint is lacking mobility, it is likely that one or both muscle groups are dysfunctional. One side may be overactive, and the other, underactive. Do you really need to stretch, and thus weaken, an already underactive and weak muscle? Probably not.
  •  Passive tissue restrictions– Fascial adhesions cannot simply be stretched out, but must be manually released by someone qualified, or by yourself, with a tool such as a lacrosse ball, or other SMR tool (anything can be an SMR tool, if you’re creative). There are also training styles which can”train” the fascia to become more flexible through specific exercises.
    Ligaments often should not be stretched, as once they become lax, they will never regain their former elasticity, which could become problematic in terms of stability.
  • Pain threshold– Many of those who necessarily do need to stretch certain muscles may not have the pain threshold high enough to withstand what is necessary, and their mobility will hinder because of lack of intensity while stretching or releasing muscles. Others, with high pain thresholds, may stretch too intensely, which could result in weakness or lack of stability.
  • Neuromuscular modulation of length and tensionWe must never leave the brain out of the equation. There are reflexive structures in our muscles (spindle, golgi tendon organ) that send nerve impulses to the brain, telling it when to contract or relax a muscle in order to prevent the muscle from tearing. This is also a factor that is altered when stretching, as these receptor sites can be become more or less responsive with training. In fact, according to McGill, modifying neuromuscular processes has the largest affect on functional range of motion.

Is there a “best way to stretch”?

Stretching should be performed simultaneously with tension challenge. What does this mean? Not holding a static position, but rather actively moving through the ROM. Think “grande-battements”, using your maximum effort and leg height.

Evidence suggests that passive tissue stretches rarely contribute to increasing ROM, and rather, one should train their tolerance to stretch, allowing them to take the joint to further positions. Passive tissue stiffness and loads do not change at a specific joint angle. In other words: Muscles cannot be stretched to increase ROM, they must be “trained” to grow stronger in a larger ROM. Stretching the passive tissues also reduces stability- A joint lacking passive stiffness requires more muscular contraction to maintain stability.

A recent study suggests that  static stretching caused a deficit in strength, power output, and muscle activation at both slow and fast velocities, and thus practitioners are urged to consider a risk-to-benefit ratio when advising any stretching protocols.

Another study, done by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, found that dynamic stretching could actually increase muscular power:

“Dynamic stretching produced percentage increases in peak knee extension power at both testing velocities that were greater than changes in power after static stretching. The findings suggest that dynamic stretching may increase acute muscular power to a greater degree than static stretching. These findings may have important implications for athletes who participate in events that rely on a high level of muscular power.”

Active flexibility is more important for performance, dance performance in particular, where muscular force is produced through an often extreme range of motion.  Training the joints under tension throughout the full ROM, that mimic the specific ROM of the activity in question, are most beneficial for improving joint mobility. This is part of the reason why anyone who is smart will squat as deep as they safely can- Not only will it activate a larger muscle area leading to an increase in strength, but it can assist with increasing joint mobility, leading to better, deeper squats.

Why is mobility important?

Mobility is extremely  important for dancers, but also for athletes and people in general. I could write you a list  of the many benefits, but I think a visual is more fun and effective, so check out this diagram I made- I call It the mobility cycle, and it outlines the cyclical nature of the positive repercussions which are made possible by having optimal joint mobility:

1)      Optimal mobility allows for optimal stability, strength and neural control of a muscle-tendon unit.  When a joint has  the most mobility it can safely achieve, it’s motor unit will be able to access the maximum amount of muscle fibres. This optimal neural control allows for optimal strength, and stability. This is called…

2)      Symmetry! When mobility, stability, motor control and strength are all at peak function. This naturally creates…

3)      Muscle balance! Muscle balance is achieved when all the many muscles of a joint are equally strong and flexible. One group is not tight and overactive, and the other side is not weak and over-stretched. Muscle balance is synonymous with optimal force production at that joint, as well as…

4)      Decreased risk of injury! Obviously when muscles are balanced, bones, ligaments, and bursae, among other things that can potentially get squished together or pulled on inside the joint, will be able to move freely and safely, in a pain-free way. When one can exercise and move in a way that won’t lead to pain, one can safely achieve…

5)      Optimal range of motion! This happens not necessarily by stretching statically, but by being able to move through the maximum range of motion in a safe, active, way. How does this help the athlete?

6)      Optimal  athletic performance! All the aforementioned combined factors create the optimal athlete and performer. This can then restart the cycle, because when an athlete is always performing optimally, his/her joint mobility will be able to increase even more, or at the very least, the attained optimal mobility can be maintained. The good times just keep on rolling, so to speak.

Mobility is the gift that just keeps on giving.

 

Where people tend to lack mobility

In general, people tend to have the same requirements in terms of where they need mobility and stability the most, but just in varying degrees.  Rather, I should say people require symmetry, but to get there, some places need a little more mobility, as they tend to get a bit “stuck”. The joint by joint approach, popularized my Mike Boyle, shows where most people would benefit working on either mobility or stability :

T-Spine- Mobility
Scapulae– Stability
Shoulders– Mobility
Lumbar spine– Stability
Hips– Mobility
Knees Stability
Ankles– Mobility

Symmetry refers to optimal balance between stability, mobility, strength and motor control. By adding mobility to the places that need it, symmetry can be attained, as long as the other 3 criteria are also taken into consideration as needed.

Dancers require a tremendous amount of symmetry, as the nature of the activity requires consistent balance, awareness, and strength of the whole body.

Where does balance come from? Harmonious mobility and stability.
How is strength created?  From optimal force production- The result of balanced muscles by means of optimal mobility and stability.

So you see, mobility is necessary if you want to get strong. This means that yes, you will at times need to pay close attention to stretching, in a specific, intelligent manner, of course.

How to Gain Instant Mobility at any joint

These guidelines can apply to any given joint, and require a competent assessment of the current condition of the joint through motion analysis:

1)      Strengthen the weak/elongated muscles of the joint.

2)      Release (SMR, ART, FST, ect.) the tight muscles of the joint.

3)      Dynamically stretch the tight muscles.

4)      Full body integrated movement involving the joint in question.

5)      Statically stretch the tight muscles.

 

 Sample Ankle Mobility Routine

Caroline has an extreme limitation in her ankle mobility. To help her with this I’ve put together a simple routine that will take about 20 minutes to do, give or take. It should be noted that Caroline has a potential limitation in her ankle mobility, due to a bone spur in one ankle, which may not be able to be improved through exercise. But it won’t hurt trying! Here’s a new saying I’m trying out- When life gives you vermin, you make vermincelli… I know, it’s not ideal. Pretty lame actually. But I’m tired of hating on lemons! Anywho…

Here is a current picture of Caroline’s ankle mobility:

 This is as far into a “demi-plie” Caroline can go before her heels come off the ground, and she loses her neutral pelvic alignment. Ideally her knees should surpass her toes, and the triangle created should have smaller angles.

 

 

 

 

 

A photo to compare to Renee-Claude, who has pretty decent ankle mobility:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have other clients (including Renee-Claude) perform the same routine outlined below, but Caroline would benefit from it the most if done regularly. Because she is so restricted, I’ve recommended that she do the release exercises every day, 3 times a day at first. For optimal results she should start by doing this routine about 3 times per week. As her mobility improves she can go down to 1 or 2 times per week. Once she has achieved her maximum potential mobility, she can do this routine as needed, when she feels a little tight.

 

 

1)      Self-release plantar fascia and release jaw fascia.

Caroline also suffers from plantar fasciitis which affects the tension in her calves. I’m not sure if this is a “chicken or the egg” situation, and which issue contributes to which more. In any case, tight plantar fascia doesn’t help with the ankle mobility. While your hands are free, this is a good time to do some self release on the jaw fascia. All the fascia in your body is connected. The fascia in your jaw is connected to the fascia in your legs and feet. Caroline (and most people) holds tension in her jaw- She actually has trigger points in her jaw. Doing this will help relieve the tension in her feet, calves and hamstrings.

 

 

2)      Self-release posterior compartment (calf muscles)

Using a hard acupressure, lacrosse ball, or foam roller. Or, if you have money, go see a skilled professional. Go slow. Stop on any particularly painful spots (trigger points) for about 10 seconds or so. Caroline says that when she does this, some trigger points send referral pain all the way up to her head. This does not surprise me as her calves are extremely tight. She has previously told me she sometimes gets tension headaches, and she holds much of her tension in her upper trapezius. I told her to spend about 5 minutes on each calf, but I’m sure she could spend about 20 minutes going through all the trigger points. She’s just that tight.

 

3)     Theraband resisted dorsiflexion

This will help to strengthen the tibialis anterior (muscle of the shin). Strengthening it will also cause it to become shorter, and will allow her to actively reach a smaller dorsiflexion angle (increased ankle ROM).

 

 

4)      Dynamic soleus/achilles tendon stretch 

Dynamically stretching through her full range of motion will help to actively lengthen the now released muscles. Muscles respond better to stretch after they have been released, as they are more relaxed, and less reflexive. Move into the deepest possible lunge before your heel comes off the ground, hold for 5 seconds, release, and repeat several times on each leg.

 

 

 

5)      Static stretch for posterior compartment

If Caroline is not planning on doing anything active, now is a good time to stretch statically. If however, she’s about to squat, or do a dance class, I would say save the static stretching until she’s done. We want to avoid weakening the muscle right before she needs to use it.

 

 

 

After these 5 steps, your ankles will feel nice and loose and you’ll have a larger ROM. You will find, for example, that perhaps your “demi-plie” feels deeper.  The affects of muscles release are only temporary, however, and for optimal results, this must be repeated at a high frequency, several times per week, for mobility to be increased and maintained.

Ankle Mobility and Stability in Dancers

Dancers can sometimes lack dorsiflexion ability due to the high frequency of time spent on their toes, in plantar-flexed position. This is similar to the concept of dancers lacking internal hip rotation ability, as I explain in this post. It is therefore beneficial for them to work on increasing the mobility in their ankles in the opposite direction they work with in class, to maintain balance at the joint.

As found in a recent study on dancer ankle mobility and stability:

“Professional dancers showed a significantly increased plantarflexion of both feet in comparison to all other groups “

By the way, plantarflexion is when you point your feet. There was however no mention of dorsiflexion ROM…

The specific work-related demands of ankle joints did not improve all components of functional ankle stability in professional dancers. Therefore, the inclusion of proprioceptive exercises in the daily training program is highly recommended, aiming to improve functional ankle stability and thus to minimize the risk of ankle injuries.”

As I have already explained, the work dancers do in class is one-directional: Working only in one direction of a range of motion can hinder overall mobility and stability of a joint, thus affecting it’s balance and strength, and overall, whole-body performance. Inclusion of exercises that work the function of the entire joint, not just the extremes of ROM required in a dance setting, is optimal for a dancer’s technical performance and injury prevention.

That’s about all I’m going to say about mobility for now. I am trying a new thing where I keep these articles less than 3000 words (this one’s getting close…). There’s something to say about brevity- In writing AND in the gym. Efficient, abbreviated training styles rouse results; efficient, abbreviated writing rouses readers.

 

References:

Crowe, A, and P Matthews. “The effects of stimulation of static and dynamic fusimotor fibres on the response to stretching of the primary endings of muscle spindles.”Journal of Physiology. (1964): 109-131

Manoel, M,  et al. “Acute Effects of Static, Dynamic, and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching on Muscle Power in Women.” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. (2008)

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