You walk into a dance studio and what is the first thing you see? Dancers sat around stretching. Legs on bars, splits, middle splits and legs up by their ears. But there is now lots of evidence that is now pulling us away from this cliché to create strong, injury free dancers. In this blog post I wanted to digest some of the science for you and clearly give you some information to the best of my personal knowledge about this subject. Information and facts that the dance industry is only just taking on that I don’t think has really truly filtered through to dance training facilities and schools as of yet (I know dance is a little behind other sports injury science that is out there!!).
So, a while back I came across an article talking about how the Australian Ballet have changed their whole ethos about stretching (See article link below). After a 10 year long study by scientist involved with the company, they have found that stretching can increase the level and risk of injury in dancers. Which is a little crazy to take in, as stretching is commonplace in any studio or any dancers routine. The study found that removing calve stretching boxes and removing calve stretches in general from stretching routines, they saw a dramatic reduction in the amount of lower leg injuries and calves strains. Which is super interesting right!? But it makes complete sense. By putting the muscles under the extra strain and excessive stretch it will cause an increased volume of lower body injuries. If the muscles are already very flexible and long they are more at risk to injuries caused by overuse, and overstretching. When looking into the study further it is really targeting the use of static stretches. Static stretches are stretches that are targeting a certain muscle or muscle group in a position where the maximum stretch is held for a minimum of 10 seconds. But when do dancers on stage ever stay in a passive position for more than 10 seconds? To answer that question for you, as a dance teacher who loves to choreograph… it’s not very often! The type of stretches that should be used are stretches that go in and out of the selected range of movement. Make sure you take a look at active, PNF and dynamic stretches.
With this introduction of stretching comes the next step of adding in strength training to dancers routines in place of a reduced stretch routine. Strength training is key and yes dancers can lift weights and still look graceful and beautiful. As dancers move in and out of movement planes, they need to be strong across the board to control these movements, ultimately reducing injury. I recently posted a blog post on cross training in dancers where I go into this in more detail on the benefits of cross training (link below).
I feel like I have grazed the surface on this subject and there is so much more detail to cover on this subject about exact stretches and what to stretch and what not to but I think an awareness in the industry of this information will be so beneficial. Legs do not need to be by our ears constantly and do not get me started on over stretching and Instagram!!! I will pop some useful links below of places that are great for information on this and similar subjects.
Thanks for taking a look,
Chloe Reynolds , BA Hons Dance Performance, SMT Level 3.
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