ardio? Check. Strength training? Check. And stretching? We’ve got you covered. Any dancer knows that maintaining and improving your flexibility through stretching is a crucial part of any dance fitness routine. Follow these stretching dos and don’ts to get your fullest range of motion—safely.
DO: Warm up first. Think of your muscles as taffy. If you try to pull apart or stretch a piece of taffy straight from the fridge, it’ll resist and could even break. Now imagine the taffy has been warmed up in the microwave. When warm, it’ll stretch out more easily without the risk of breaking. Your warm-up can be as simple as a five- or a ten-minute brisk walk or spin on a stationary bike.
DON’T: Hold your breath. Instead, send oxygen to your muscles by breathing slowly and evenly. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, even breaths help relax your body, increase blood flow and even remove the lactic acid that builds up when you exercise. Take a deep breath—it could be the easiest part of your dance fitness routine!
DO: Save static stretching for the end of the day. It’s tempting to grab a spot on your mat or at the barre, stretch out and just hold. Elaine Winslow-Redmond, our Director of Athletic Training & Wellness, recommends dynamic stretching as part of the warm-up. Static or stationary stretching has been shown to reduce strength and power output, neither of which would be ideal for dancers about to perform. “Dynamic stretching increases blood flow to the muscle, increases the heart rate and prepares the muscle for work and is especially helpful when performing eye-high kicks,” says Winslow. Static stretching is best used at the end of class as a means of increasing the overall range of motion and flexibility of the muscle.
DON’T: Focus only on your problem area—dance fitness is about stretching it all out! “Since everything is connected, it’s good to take the time to stretch the entire body and do it in the correct order,” Stacey Nemour, martial artist and flexibility expert tells The Huffington Post. Nemour likes to start at the top of her body, then work her way down. And if you stretch the front of a muscle group, get its counterpart, too.
DO: Listen to your body. Simply put, if it hurts, stop. Naturally, you’ll feel a little discomfort as you stretch your muscles, but a sharp pain could signal an injury. Set a goal, work toward it slowly and safely—then reap the rewards!