Should You Use Static Stretching to Improve Flexibility?

Should You Use Static Stretching to Improve Flexibility?

Your thigh bone’s connected to your… shoulder bone!

Flexibility: For such an important aspect of being a dancer you can count the number of articles I’ve written about stretching on one hand:

Stop Stretching Your Hamstrings So Much
Stretches You need to stop doing Volume 1
Stretches You Need to Stop Doing Volume 2
5 Productive Stretches for Dancers
Hip Flexor “Stretching” for the Hypermobile

Three of them are related to NOT stretching so much, and, if you read the other two, you’ll also see that they aren’t really pro-stretching either.

One could get the sense that I don’t like stretching. That sense would be correct.

But I also recognize that it is a necessary part of being a dancer, particularly if your style requires flexibility, and that makes me very, very confused. And intrigued!

I am leary of articles on the web that say, “Do this awesome stretch and your life will be complete!”, because:

a) I don’t know if their claims are true based on other peoples’ successful experiences, or if their claims are based on “this stretch stretches this muscle and this muscle is tight so stretching it must be good”

b) My own experience tells me that stretching stuff that feels tight can make things feel worse, and that stretching is NOT the only thing contributing to flexibility gains, and finally…

c) Limitations in flexibility must be considered on an individual basis, not based on one population (dancers, football players, desk-sitter-down-ats), because of the inherent variations between each person in that group.

That’s why I don’t post a lot of articles about the “best” stretches and exercises for improving X, Y or Z, for a particular ailment, performance enhancement, or population.

It’s also why creating Dance Stronger was really, really difficult. In fact,  I hope I made it very clear that  Dance Stronger is meant to be a self exploration through movement and strength training, a suggestion to experiment and question what you’ve been told about dance training, and a philosophy for success in dance, NOT a “do this stuff because I said so without using your brain” kind of training program.

I haven’t deliberately “stretched” for 4 few years, and I’m still “flexible”… WTF?

A few days ago I tried out my splits, just for fun, and guess what… I’ve still got it! On one leg anyway.

Aside from yoga (which I don’t consider “stretching”), and some silliness I was subjected to in several dance “warm-ups”, which would have been rude not to do (such is dance etiquette…), I have not deliberately set aside time to work on improving my flexibility with static stretching since 2012.

This may be N=1, but I think a lot of my smart colleagues will agree: Quantity of stretching is not the only factor related to improving flexibility. 

If that statement makes your brain hurt, I am NOT saying that stretching won’t help you become more flexible, but that it is not the only part of developing and maintaining flexibility. If it were, 4 years of not stretching should have meant I lost some flexibility. Just one exception negates the “rule” (but I know I’m not the only one).

This is important information for dancers: We know that the excessive stretching used to achieve the degree of mobility and ligament laxity synonymous with success as a dancer can cause trouble for their bodies, but if we can reduce the amount of stress on their systems by reducing the amount of stretching they do while still maintaining requisite flexibility, we could help dancers perform better with less pain and greater longevity.

But could our egos handle that? (if it challenges your ego, you’re probably moving closer to the truth..)

This blog post is an expression of my quest for the “truth” about stretching. I may not have the answers for you today, but if you check in with me in 10 years, maybe I’ll have something more enlightening to share.

Before we continue, let me state my biases, my opinions, and that which I am ignorant of:

  •  I don’t know much about helping people become more flexible with static stretching.
  • Most of what I know about stretching is what NOT to do (which goes a long way…)
  • I am biased towards not stretching because I was injured while overstretching, but this doesn’t mean it won’t help certain people who could benefit from more tissue length; I am aware of this bias and do my best not to let my own stories impact the exercises I choose for my clients.
  • I believe that dancers can develop amazing flexibility and learn to manage it safely and effectively, but this takes movement honesty, the ability to tune-in to one’s body, and self-respect: things you aren’t generally taught about stretching in dance class.

That last point is, to me, is the most important part. Follow any stretching program consistently and progressively from a place of honesty, awareness, and respect for you body’s limits, and you’ll probably get flexible safely. Is there a “best” stretching program? Doubt it. But there is a “best” intention and mindset for stretching.

“You can’t do what you won’t until you know what you’re doing.”  Moshe Feldenkrais

That said, I have witnessed some wicked cool instant mobility improvements that were completely unrelated to stretching:

The dancer who’s “hamstring flexibility” was related to a breathing issue. Her active straight leg raise improved bilaterally after 5 minutes spent helping her feel a few full exhalations, getting her ribs into ZOA. It was cool. Her instinct might have been to stretch her hamstrings, but that may have actually made her more tight. Whether this was a core stabilization, air pressure, joint position, or nervous system adaptation, I have no clue. But it worked, and we didn’t stretch, so I’m into that.

The girl who’s toe touch was related to a knee internal rotation deficit. A friend of mine who, for 15 years was not able to touch her toes, bent down to touch the floor effortlessly after being taught a movement to improve her knee extension and internal rotation (Anatomy in Motion amazingness, and a can of worms I will not open right now…). It wasn’t her hamstrings that needed stretching, she had been stretching those for 15 years with no improvements! I still don’t quite know how to explain her drastic increase in range of motion, but it had something to do with the inability to internally rotate and extend her knees fully causing her to feel extra tension and her brain perceiving this to be an unsafe range to move into.

 

The dancer who improved her back-bend with developmental kinesiology. You guessed it, we didn’t stretch, but we drilled a DNS– inspired exercise integrating a reciprocal hip flexion/extension pattern with core and shoulder stability (variation of oblique sitting). In fact, when she got up to try her backbend, her increase in range caught her by surprise and she almost fell over.

DNS

Something kinda sorta like this…

So while I’m not afraid to say that I don’t know much about stretching, I know we can do less of it. I know stretching has it’s place but I don’t know how much and when are most optimal .And in what ratios? At what time? For how long? How little can we do for maximum results? Where’s the sweet spot?

I know you can increase flexibility and mobility without stretching, but I also know that stretching has to be a part of dance training- classical dance training anyway, to achieve the requisite lines and meet a certain standard (if you care about standards and expectations).

Stretching Myth: Static stretching is the gold standard for improving flexibility

Let’s get clear about one thing: Static stretching definitely can improve flexibility. I’m sure it has it’s place… I just don’t know for sure what that looks like, and I encourage the people reading this who have more experience and smartz than I to chime in.

It seems that, on our quest for flexibility, many of us will reach a point of diminishing returns after which stretching ceases to be beneficial and can actually make things suck.

As per the theme of this blog post (and my life in general), I can tell you more about when stretching is not warranted and what I don’t know than what I actually do. So many Nassim Taleb quotes apply:

“The sucker’s trap is when you focus on what you know and what others don’t know, rather than the reverse.”

or,

“It remains the case that you know what is wrong with a lot more confidence than you know what is right.”

And this one in particular makes me feel better on days my brain is not cooperating:

“I want to live happily in a world I don’t understand.”

Stretching: A world I don’t understand…

At what point does stretching lose efficacy?

  • You feel bones start to bump into each other, like when you’re doing the splits but you feel a crunchy block in your lower back.
  • You no longer feel muscles stretching, but ligaments, joint capsule, and other passive structures loading.
  • You actually strain a muscle from overstretching (duh)
  • You have a chronic tendonitis or tendonopathy
  • If you are dehydrated
  • You have to hold your breath and make a squishy face to “survive” a stretch
  • Your pain symptoms or feelings of tightness are exacerbated after stretching

While most of these might seem like “duh, of course”, many of us still try to stretch away our problems! I’m guilty of it, and my guess is that you’re guilty of it, too (or at least you were at some point…).

To be completely honest: I am the girl who stretched bone into bone and thought the feeling of impingement was productive (pain=part of being a dancer was the mindset I was taught). I am the girl who tried to stretch away chronic hamstring tendonitis and then strained her hamstring stretching it in warm-up. And I am the girl who sat in the splits cold for several minutes before class, never quite exhaling fully, with complete disrespect for my ligamentous integrity. Also, I didn’t like water. Screw that stuff!

No movement honesty. No awareness. No respect.

Don’t do what I did.

#SimpsonsChallenge 4: Don’t Do What Donny Don’t Does. Please tell me at least one of you appreciates this!

What Factors Could Affect Flexibility, if not Quantity of Stretching?

Let’s say you’ve taken static stretching to it’s maximum potential and you’ve hit a flexibility plateau. You’ve hit a wall and are beginning to believe you’re no longer working with a tissue extensibility issue. Let’s assume your hydration status is great. And let’s also forget for now that being super bendy isn’t always advantageous if you also value force production (strength and power) and proprioception (body’s position sensing ability).

These are likely to be the two main factors that are limiting your flexibility:

  • Static joint position: A habitual posture you can’t get out of, joints compressing to provide support and proprioception to your body and you don’t want to leave that “happy place”.
  • Nervous system putting on the the brakes. Your brain perceives something might be unsafe to move into and adds extra tension at rest as a protective measure. You can’t just “stretch away” this type of increased muscle tone.

Either stuff gets compressed, stuck short, and you can’t move out of or go further into that position because it feels unsafe,

OR

Stuff is already stretched out, stuck long, and under high tension, so you can’t move out of or go further into that position because it feels unsafe.

Which leads us to a very important myth we need to stop perpetuating: “If it feels tight, stretch it.” 

What if you are stuck in a position due to compression, for example, your lower back is stuck in a mad degree of extension and you can’t bend to touch your toes.

“Stretching harder” will probably place additional load on other areas, maybe the  hamstrings or upper back, because your lower back is stuck and can’t flex forwards. It may be stuck for a very useful reason: Bones are very stable and reassuring for those of us who can’t sense where we are in space. That doesn’t make it a good long-term strategy.

In this same story, if your hamstrings are already stuck long from overstretching them, then any additional stretch on them will be perceived as “danger”, and Mr. Brain may tell them to tighten up to protect themselves from getting even longer.

In this example, the lower back needs to be given an experience that allows it to leave end-range compression in a way that feels safe and useful, and the hamstrings need an experience that gives them no option but to contract so they can get out of end range length.

This “experience” does not often need to be a static stretch. Think outside the box…

It can be a breathing exercise, a “core” exercise, PNF,  or muscle energy. It can be meditation or inner-work to let go of limiting beliefs affecting movement and alignment. It can be any movement that gives the experience of something different, to explore something that was missing, in a safe way. In Anatomy in Motion, sometimes this means momentarily bringing a joint into the very end range it is stuck in to teach it how to get out of it, but it can also mean giving it the experience of the complete opposite motion that it is stuck in. Both can work, but it depends on the person, their history, they way their unique brains and bodies react.

As I bring this post to and end, sorry if you were expecting a stretching routine. I don’t feel that I can ethically do that.

But I DO encourage you to try something different. Try not stretching. Try something else. Try the opposite of what you’re currently doing.

If you want some ideas, structure, and an approach to dance training that doesn’t emphasize stretching, I encourage you to check out Dance Stronger. It’s not a “how to” guide, exactly, but a “think-for yourself, you-may-find-my suggestions-useful, how-to-NOT” guide to enhance your dancing through supplemental strategies outside the classroom.

Read the first two chapters free. Discover the secrets to ruining a dance career, fast! 😉 And MORE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Mindset Changes You Must Adopt to Succeed in Dance

3 Mindset Changes You Must Adopt to Succeed in Dance

Through dance we learn a lot about ourselves and how to use our bodies. We learn to express ourselves physically where we’ve failed to do so with words and this helps us become stronger people, physically and mentally.

There is, however, a point of diminishing returns where dance ceases to help and starts to hurt us. Many of us who take dance seriously, pursuing it as a career, will experience this point.

When it becomes too stressful due to judgement, competition, and rejection.

Physically, we can hit technical plateaus, become over-trained, and injured.

Emotionally, we start to doubt ourselves, our chosen path, and our ability to be great dancers.

When we reach these points, the same training that helped us become stronger as people can drag us down.

I’ve experienced all of the above points- the injuries, and the doubt, and many dancers I’ve worked with have, too. What I’ve found is of utmost importance for dancers to continue to progress throughout their careers while avoiding these discouraging set-backs, is to adopt three distinct mindsets, which I will explain further down in this post.

In dance our set-backs are often self-imposed, whether we recognize it or not. A subtle change in how we perceive ourselves and our dance training can be enough to prevent catastrophe.

Dance allows our bodies and minds to work in wonderfully creative and complex ways. Dance can help individuals with mental illness like bipolar and depression, slow the brains aging process helping to prevent Alzheimers and dementia, and help improve quality of life for those affected by terminal illness like Parkinson’s.

But like the physical training necessary to become a great dancer, you must become a master of your mind, the training for which is often much more challenging and non-linear. And way less sexy.

The following three mindsets are ones that successful dancers (and successful people in any domain) perceive their world through, whether they are aware of it or not.

You can use the descriptions below to identify whether you approach dance and life with a  healthy mindset, and to help you to change if your current paradigm (if necessary), or to affirm that you’re on the right path.

Adopting these three mindsets will change how you dance and extend your career:

1) Growth mindset. The understanding that to improve, you must work at a place that challenges you, where you make a lot of mistakes, and recognize that the fact that you’re struggling is precisely what is helping you to grow and improve. A growth mindset maintains the long-term goal of improvement, while focusing on the immediate, short-term goal of seeking challenge and screwing up as indicators of growth.

Trying to be perfect all the time is not how to improve at dance, or at anything because avoiding failure actually prevents you from improving. This is why dance teachers often ask you to take risks, and if they’re really awesome, will give you a high-five when you fall down because it shows you’re pushing outside your comfort zone.

I encourage all dancers to pick up the book The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle, as mandatory reading (as featured in my top 13 resources list). In his book, Coyle explores the neuroscience of how people become good at things. It’s not genetics (although they do help), it’s how we practice. Those who Coyle observed to be at the top of their field were not there because of genetics or luck. They succeeded because they practiced deeply, they practiced at the very edge of their abilities, and they made a lot of mistakes.

Yep. When these athletes, musicians, etc. practiced, they didn’t appear to be very talented at all. They screwed up a lot, but were practicing deeply, often very slowly, and repeating where they made their mistakes until they ceased to occur.

This is also a concept that Trevor Ragan built his website Train Ugly upon. He claims that if your practice looks ugly, it’s probably helping you. I LOVE this idea of training ugly. From Trevor’s manifesto:

“ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT GETTING BETTER IS NOT PRETTY, THAT THERE ARE NO GIFTS, AND YOU GET BETTER WITH PRACTICE, PERIOD. SEEK OUT CHALLENGES. MAKE IT GAME-LIKE. DO THE HARD THINGS. ENJOY EVERY MINUTE OF IT.”

By staying in your comfort zone, looking pretty, and playing it safe with your dancing, you’re preventing yourself from improving. Please realize that a growth mindset permitsrequires you to make mistakes and look a bit rough while you dance, because it means you’re challenging yourself enough to change how your brain creates movement, and stimulate it to improve.

Train a bit ugly, train at your edge, and know you’re growing from this.

 

2) Sufficiency mindset. The belief that who you are, what you have, and what you’re capable of is enough. Knowing to your core that you don’t need anything more than what you already have within you, and that you need not strive to be like anyone else but you.

How often do you find yourself feeling unsatisfied with yourself, and thinking that if only you had something MORE you’d be happy?

Why would you need all this stuff?

Maybe you’re perpetually bored and unhappy with an aspect of your life is and need to go shopping to soothe yourself and keep from dwelling on these negative feelings. Or maybe your think that if only you had that expensive Yumiko bodysuit your dancing would be 10x better.

Or maybe you find yourself watching another dancer who’s body, with it’s extreme joint laxity and -10% body fat, you wished you had, because to be exactly like her is what you need to be better and happier and solve all your problems.

These thoughts- that we are not enough, and that we need something more, something outside of us, are dangerous thoughts, because they change us. They can lead us to believe that we’re insufficient beings and we start to feel bad about ourselves, developing low self-esteem, forgetting how brilliant we really are.

The truth is that no fancy bodysuit or restrictive diet is going to make you a more successful dancer if you do not put in the hours (the debatable 10 000 hours to achieve mastery) of deep, focused practice. The “tools for success” that you can buy are just a band-aid solution.

And when you find yourself thinking that if only you had the perfect body, or a more flattering outfit, you begin to believe that your own body is not good enough, you develop a negative opinion of it and how you use it, which is reflected in how you dance.

You ARE enough. You were given everything in this world to become great from the day you were born. When you can see yourself as sufficient (you don’t need to be perfect), you can let go of material consumption as a way of feeling more worthy, and you can stop coveting the body of another dancer because you know that while you’re not “perfect”, you are good enough, and you can use what you have to the best of your abilities.

It is unfortunate that dance can easily become a superficial activity and career if we do not see ourselves as sufficient. This is how disordered eating and injuries can happen- When we don’t trust ourselves and our bodies, we tense up and can become hurt. Our negative feelings about ourselves can become physical blockages limiting the ways we can move our bodies.

You are sufficient. You don’t need anything to be successful and happy other than the tools you were born with. And perfection is impossible, no matter what your ballet teacher says.

3) Two-sided-coin mindset. The ability to see two sides of a situation, feeling, or thing. To see problems as interesting challenges, to see jealousy as admiration, guilt as gratitude, and rest as productivity.

As a dancer you will face many challenging situations: Difficult dance steps, choreography, and getting along with the inevitable egos that exist in every dance community. You may face rejection from auditions, injury, and difficult conversations with dance teachers.

 

In these situations it is important to be able to see the non-duality of the situation, meaning that you can see that the issue and the ideal are not separate, but are two sides of the same coin, dependent on the other side to exist as a coin.

Being rejected after an audition can be perceived as a learning experience and an opportunity to receive highly useful feedback on how to become better.

An injury can be seen in the present moment as a set-back causing us to fester into a nasty depression, or it can be seen as an opportunity to learn how to become stronger, better, and prevent the same injury from happening again. Injuries also teach you about yourself and reflect how you react in the face of adversity. Injuries are opportunities to become stronger than before, and to remove a glitch from your movement patterning that caused you to become injured in the first place.

Having this ability to see a situation in its entirety, and not as only good or only bad, but both at the same time, helps remove unnecessary suffering from our lives. This also helps us not to get too high on our wins, becoming arrogant and unkind, knowing that success can only exist because we can also fail.

You cannot remove one side from a coin, but you can flip it to see only one side, or spin it to see how both sides blend into a beautiful spiraling thing that doesn’t look like a coin at all.

Being able to see the world in these three ways will protect you from the negative aspects of the dance world. Having healthy perceptions will keep you sane, continuously progressing, and will allow dance to be an ever increasing source of happiness in your life, through the thick or thin.

How have you experienced these mindsets? I’d love to hear stories of how changing the way you perceived a situation helped improve who you are as a dancer, and as a human being (leave a story in the comments below).

If you want to hear my story, check out Dance Stronger. It’s a book, online training program, and supportive community for dancers who want to get strong and dance pain-free while preventing injuries.

In the first chapter I tell the story of how my dance career went downhill (because I did not perceive the world through the three lenses above) so that you know exactly where I’m coming from, why I created the DTP, and most importantly, so that YOU don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.

In fact, you can download the first two chapters for free by clicking the image below.

 

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.