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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Stretching Question


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About 10 years ago now (eep!) I remember my modern teacher saying that the "rag doll" stretch was one of her favorite, because it is so safe and non-stressful.

(i.e. stand in parallel, roll down, hang from the waist, let gravity do all the work.)

She specifically cautioned us to keep the weigh in the ###### of our feet, and to avoid pushing back in the hips.


This is my question, I've been stretching gently (very gently) in the mornings for a half hour for the last few weeks (its done wonders, even though I'm really just trying to unkink my muscles and get the blood flowing, I highly recommend it).


I've noticed that if I do settle some of my weight in the heels the stretch seems to "travel" up my legs. In fact, it feels very nice. I have this vague memory that it is bad for something though (sciatic nerve?) and I thought I'd check and see if anyone had more solid information, since I know that (sadly) all the things that feel nice in the world are not good for us. :shrug:

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I just read somewhere (I'll look for the source, but not sure if I can find it) that this stretch is not good at all for stretching the hamstrings. That's because they are already doing some work stabilizing the standing up position and the stretch you feel is partially the work that the muscles are doing to maintain balance. It's counterproductive (at least according to the random, unknown source I'm citing :shrug: ). This made a lot of sense to me though so I thought I'd bring it up.


Perhaps the many version of a seated position hamstring stretch would be more effective. Personally, I mostly stretch on the floor and have gotten fabulous results.


Also, I know this didn't answer your question. Sorry.

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I know what you mean about all the other things going on in the legs, and I move on to the seated hamstring once I'm a little looser, but when I first get out of bed my back is too tight for it to be at all comfortable (plus I can "hang out" down there while I'm waiting for the coffee).


In fact, I think thats one of the reasons I like it, not because it actively stretches (as in increases any preexisting) flexibility, but because it very gently seems to wake me up from toes to ears.


I am curious about your source though, after all if it's actually counterproductive (and sooo many things are that seem like they shouldn't be) I'd like to know. :shrug:

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I can see how that (hanging down) stretch might not be useful for achieving maximum passive flexibility. It might, however, be beneficial for increasing active flexibility.


In fact, intuitively I would think that that stretch might be useful for ballet - after all, a lot of the time in ballet the hamstrings have to both stretch and exert force at the same time - which is what is happening in this stretch. I'm no expert, though. B)


My ballet teachers seem to like this stretch and several variations of it, so I doubt they consider it counterproductive, much less actually harmful. :blink:


I do not know about the weight on heels thing, sorry. :shrug:



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dido- I don't know about you, but when I have my weight on my heels I feel a tremendous strain in the back of my knee because I am pushing my knees backwards. So my guess is that if you are hyperextended, you will only emphasize the hyperextension, while when you are like me, hypOextended you will just tear something.


I think that the natural thing should be weight over your ###### because that is where your center of mass will be when you bend/hang forward with your upper body...

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I know of no evidence indicating that stretching by standing and essentially bending over is harmful by itself. The only way you can stretch the hamstrings is to tilt the pelvis forward relative to the legs in a standing, sitting or lying position. Standing stretches might be harmful to someone with extremely hyperextended knees, I don’t really know about that. And of course violent stretches and forced stretches do carry an increased risk of injury, but that’s common sense.


By keeping the weight on the ###### of the feet as opposed to letting your tush move back, you increase flexion in the foot and consequently increase the stretch in the hamstrings. You can feel the same thing if you stretch while seated and flex the feet. But either way does stretch the hamstrings.


Another reason for keeping weight forward on the feet is because in ballet you do that when bending forward, so it’s a good habit to acquire. In fact in all dance forms, you keep the weight forward just about all the time.

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Dido, it might be helpful to loosen the sciatic nerve slightly before stretching the hamstrings (?).


I don't really know enough about the anatomy, but my PT recommended that I do a series of maybe 10-20 short stretch/relax things so as to loosen the nerve a little in its sheath, so that the hamstring stretch is more efficient and won't affect the nerve.


There were several ways to do the stretch/relax thingie, and they give a nice feeling of stretch running from the foot, along the back/outer border of the leg, along the hips and up the back. The one I do starts from sitting down, like for a hamstring stretch, but with the spine curved and the weight a little bit further back from the sitting bones (so that it doesn't stretch the hamstrings but curls the spine). Then I simultaneously flex my feet and curl the top of my head towards my knees, for a second or few, and then relax and straighten up a bit.


Note, I don't know anything about how (or whether :angry: ) it really works, but I think it has helped me stretch the hamstrings more gently and efficiently. I still do keep the weight evenly through the feet when hanging down, though.

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Try shifting the weight through the "control zone" of the foot from the back of the ball of the foot to the front of the ball of the heel just as an experiment, and also to find out how to control the placement of weight in a very gentle way; that is, in a passive stretch like this one.

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Good idea, Mel!

I wanted to add that maybe you could try it with your knees slightly flexed, taking care to make sure that your knees are "Tracked" in line with your feet (in parallel 2nd) neither rolled in or out, and see if that feels better. :) I tried it and it felt good to me!

I am guessing that the purpose for the rag doll is to help align the spine and neck, provided you are keeping everything relaxed and loose with no tension anywhere. It is similar to Mitzvah excercises which are designed to align and release.

Hope that helps! :wub:


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Hmm, I'm doing a lot of those things intuitively, both the slight plie Clara suggested, and Mr. Johnson's "moving through the "Control zone"" (that's exactly what I meant by shifting my weight slightly back.


It definitely feels good at 5 am to have my muscles elongating back out to their normal length again; glad to hear the general consensus is that it would be VERY difficult to do this stretch wrong.


Oh, and Saana, I love that stretch, but I can't do it first thing; back too tight :wub: . Anybody have any advice on stretching while we sleep :) ?

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We were always advised not to do that stretch during track practice because it put too much strain on the knees (people tend to lock their knees). I suppose as long as one doesn't , it would be all right.

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