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.