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Is there a limit to flexibility in adult dancers?

Guest Zarafa

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Question for dancers/teachers - is there a limit to the flexibility an adult dancer can achieve?


By which, I don't mean because of skeletal factors (obviously, there are some people that aren't going to ever do side-splits without a hip replacement!) but to do with age/muscle limitations due to ageing etc?


Could I stretch for an hour a day for the rest of my life without seeing much improvement? I ask because Mel J said that flexibility only improves up to 25 years, and after this it's only maintenance! Yet you hear stories about people starting yoga at 30, and now being super-bendy?


Any science/personal anecdotes on either side of this debate?



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I don't know about any scientific studies on this, Zarafa, but in my experience there is probably a limit. The improvement is slower and rather minimal in terms of flexibility in an adult dancer, especially one starting as an adult. However, it can be increased, up to a point. Where that point is, probably impossible to know until you are there. After that, it's maintenance and hopefully not losing it as you get older. :party:

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I think much has to do with the flexibility one had as a child. If you were a flexible child, chances are you could regain that flexibility. Regardless, careful stretching after warm up, everyday, should help pull you in the direction you want to go. From what I gather here and from my teachers, the strength and technique, with a good classical line, should come first.

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Guest dancer'sheart

zarafa, I'm not a specialist on this but would like to share you my experience. I have been performing from the age of 17-24. Never got a 180 degree extension. But I was strong and fexible at that age. Now as an adult returning to ballet, I noticed that I'm not that flexible anymore. As my classes go on I'm regaining my flexibility and sometimes, especially on good days, my extensions were like before. I think it has to do with the body type. Some are really more flexible than others, even as teens.

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zarafa (nice name, btw)


I danced 3x/week or so through my teens then stopped completely for 19 (eeeek!) years.


When I returned to ballet, I had only been biking so I was hideously inflexible--bending down to lock my bike was enough to pull muscles.


I would say that _overall_ my flexibility in my second ballet life is in the same ballpark as the first time 'round (as in "not all that flexible and absolutely minimal back mobility"). THere is, however, one very significant and measurable difference: I _never_ had a full split the first time 'round, and now most days I'm there. I know it's a small thing and not critical for ballet, but it's still satisfying.


I had one other remarkable improvement in flexibility. In some of my classes, we do the traditional leg on barre stretch. Toward the front, I could usually get my forehead to my knee with some effort, and I was pretty much "stuck" at that degree of mobility. Then one day one of my teachers told me to keep my torso straight and stretched, and to go down only as far as I could while maintaining that posture, even if it wasn't far at all, which it definitely wasn't at first. But here's the weird part: within a month, I was able to bring my whole torso to my leg. Even the teacher was a bit shocked.

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There is no simple answer to the question.


Could one stretch for an hour a day for the rest of one’s life (say starting at age 30) and not improve in flexibility at all? Sure that is possible especially if that person is very flexible when one starts the stretching, for example.


Some older people start a stretching program and improve their flexibility considerably while others barely improve. I’ve read, but don’t know for sure that it’s true, that people with what might be called muscular or athletic physiques have a hard time improving flexibility, while those with chunky or thin physiques have much less difficulty improving flexibility. My personal experience is in line with that notion.


If you have done some physical activity requiring specific flexibility for the activity, you tend to retain that flexibility for years thereafter to a great extent.


As a general rule, one does lose flexibility with age, though things like stretching throughout a lifetime significantly slows the degradation in flexibility.


Also flexibility is specific to the activity one does. Dancers for example tend to have very flexible hamstrings but elbow joints that are not so flexible because dancers do a lot of movement that stretches the hamstrings and almost no movement that requires a lot of elbow mobility.


In my teen years, though having a muscular build, I was reasonably flexible, certainly as flexible as anyone else in my high school. After being a serious competitor in a sport until my mid-30s, I started yoga practice and found my flexibility had decreased substantially from my teen years. With yoga practice, my flexibility improved, but it never came close to that teen level. Stopped yoga to participate in another sport (no flexibility required for the sport) and didn’t resume yoga again until I began dancing having turned 50. When I began yoga again, my flexibility was substantially less than when in my mid-30s. After doing a couple of more years of yoga, I essentially quit and did pretty much the stretches that dancers do. Now, eleven years later, I have improved my flexibility, but am not quite (close but not quite) at the level I was in the mid-30s yoga practice.

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I seem to of experienced the opposite :rolleyes:


I did dance and alot of stretching when i was younger but never seemed to get very far, i found it quite painful and dont remember much progression!!

The teacher i had when i was younger, used to say no pain no gain :wub:


Yep, we would go as far as we could into box splits, then had to hold the position for as long as we were told (it felt like forever!) if someone dropped out too soon, we all had to start again and sometimes our feet were pulled outwards if it didnt look like we were trying hard enough (the jazz shoes used to stick to the floor) We were also encouraged to push ourselfs so far, i remember thinking i might pass out from the discomfort on one occaision :shrug:


Now stretching seems much easier, i dont know how or why, i dont stretch as much as i used too and it doesnt feel as bad either?? (maybe its just me!!)

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I too can just say the opposite-

when I was dancing as a teen I never have been especially flexible. It took me years to gain some flexibility.

Now as a young adult one year ago I started ballet over and experienced I happened to be more flexible than I ever have been. I am 22 so still kind of young but isn`t a kid or a teenager always supposed to be more flexible than an adult? :wub:

I GOT flexible when I was an adult- do not ask me why- maybe muscle structure (I grew to have the perfect ballet body which I did not have as a child!) or maybe better and more intense training... I honestly do not know. But I am happy about it! :shrug:

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I'm doing better than as a teen too (and I'm almost 30). I think I'm more comfortable with my body now, and I can feel more and control what I'm doing. Also, I go to chiropractors and get massage and have better training and understanding of anatomy than I did as a teen. I'm stronger, and more able to hold the extensions with nice line.


I will say that it's takes me longer to recover from injuries, and I'm more careful about my body. I also have more "bad" days when I simply cannot stretch so much.


But it keeps improving. I've not hit a "plateau". I have some setbacks with injuries, but I honestly don't feel like my physical capabilities have "peaked" quite yet.

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Guest sally-mandy

I don't know if there's any basis in truth for this, but seems like I read on another thread that some of what we have to contend with as adults is simply tight muscles, and we can loosen them up. As has been well shown here, we can't change what we were born with. But if we haven't been using our muscles much for years, maybe the natural flexibility we have is buried under them and as we stretch we can find our natural flexibility.


I had a yoga teacher in his early fifties who could almost tie himself in a knot. He began as a forty-something and said he had never been so flexible in his life. Maybe he just "found" what he'd always had.

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Yeah, my chiropractor (who specializes in dancers) told me to actually be careful about stretching. Said that dancers actually tend to try and stretch tight muscles. We end up stretching ligaments (which is bad) because the muscles are in a state of contraction. The "trick" is to get those muscles to relax...that's where the real flexibility is. After I heard this theory, I try and apply it. Not really stretching for the sake of a stretch, but just enough to feel the muscle "give". I notice I'm far less "achy" now in general. And I can stretch more easily...earlier on in the class.

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While it is a case of diminishing returns in terms of what you are capable of as you get older, it's hard to believe that if you stretched for an hour every day you wouldn't see marked improvment. I was a runner for 10 years before I started dancing and even though I'm not as flexible as other dancers, I've definately seen much improvement in what I'm capable of.

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I'm the same. After my summer intensive of one ballet class and one Graham class for just a week, my flexibility improved enormously. It seems to me that it is a case of relaxing and doing the right kind of work. I just wish I could work at that intensity all of the time!

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I would say that it is possible for adults to continue to become flexible into middle and old age, with the right technique, though not nearly as fast as when younger. My yoga teacher's hamstrings, for instance, got gradually longer up to the age of 70 (at 71 now, she's plateaued a bit). At 46 when I started yoga, and all my life before, I could never touch my toes with knees straight. Now I can do forward splits and deep backbends from standing easily. But my turnout is still lousy (ie ligament flexibility probably cant be achieved as easily as extending muscles), though my side splits are nearly there (some days). We know that ligaments can stretch in adults, because even older practitioners have to be careful not to over-hyperextend their knees.


A problem with failure to develop flexibility is inappropriate technique. Just getting down on the floor and stretching wont do much (but is a lot better than nothing). The best stretching technique I know is in the book "Stretching and Flexibility" by Kit Laughlin (Simon and Schuster). See also www.pandf.com.au. I am learning to be a trainer in this technique. By applying scientific principles of seeing how the body reacts to different regimes, it is possible to develop flexibility way beyond what most people would view as possible.


And by the way - an hour a day every day - no! Improvements in flexibility happen IN BETWEEN stretches, when the body is regrowing to adjust to the new demands. The greatest improvements occur with stretching undertaken twice a week, for each muscle group.



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Hi Jim,

So the improvement in flexibility happens while resting like how the muscle grows in between gym sessions for example?

Hope i explained this correctly :grinning:

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