Dancers are often known for their ability to bend and twist into various contortions, but many are not aware of the hours spent stretching all sorts of muscles - from hamstrings to deltoids - to ensure their safety and to add a wow factor to their performances.
Some people are born naturally flexible, others are not. Personally, I was of the second group; although I danced from age 4, I did not achieve my right splits until age 13 and still to this day have trouble with my left side. There's nothing that say dancers have to be flexible to be talented and beautiful performers, but it definitely does help with choreography and certain skills. Therefore, here are some tips and tricks I've learned throughout the years to help you achieve your flexibility goals!
1. Figure out which muscles in your leg are the least flexible.
There are three major muscle (groups) on your upper leg that most influence your capacity for stretching - the quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip flexors. Made up of three seperate muscles, the hamstrings are located on the back of the upper thigh. The quadriceps (or quads), on the other hand, are made up of four muscles on the front of the thigh and are responisble for extending the lower leg. The hip flexors (iliopsas) are well-named, as they describe the muscles connecting your hips to your pelvis.
Start by sliding into your splits slowly (after a sufficient warm-up to decrease the risk of injury), and determine what section of your leg feels the most stretch by using the diagram below.
a. If you feel the most stretch in your hamstrings:
This means that you usually have trouble toughing your toes, executing a needle or penchee, and bending your front leg in the splits gives you relief from the majority of the stretch. The following stretches are geared toward hamstring flexibilty. Remember to always warm-up by doing jumping jacks or a similar cardiovascular activity before you plunge into intense stretching!
This stretch always gets me no matter how much I've warmed up because it targets the hamstring muscles so efficiently. Hold the stretch for 1 minute repetitions with at least 30 seconds of rest in between. Tip: try this with flexed feet for an added challenge!
Start with your feet together in parallel position and slide your right foot forward, keeping it in line with your hips (like a pair of scissor shears!). Then slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in your right hamstring. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat the motion on the left. Do each side 3 times, adding in a flexed foot on the third time for a deeper stretch.
As the name suggests, you will need a chair (or a barre) for this