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One thing I've noticed when warming up, let alone actually dancing, is just how important the hamstrings are.


Having been in a seated position for essentially a decade, my hamstrings have shortened to accommodate that configuration, with the result now that as I am on the road to fitness again I've found my hamstrings to be horribly unsuited to dance, gym, and a great deal of other things.


I can still stand up straight - they're not that far gone - but in pilates I can only straight-leg stretch through an arc of about 65 to 70 degrees while lying on the floor (and the other leg is lying out straight and resting on the floor), and touching my toes (with legs locked straight) is a distant dream (my fingertips are not even reaching my ankles yet).


In the dance studio, stretching my leg while resting the back of my heel on the barre is an exercise in agony, and many of the moves are way beyond me because of my hamstrings. I've been told to stretch (while warmed up) wherever and whenever possible, even if it's flexing my feet back and forth while seated at my workplace; and my personal trainer (who stretches my whole body after each workout) has recommended getting leg massages to help the muscles to regain some of their former suppleness and length, but I'm wondering - amongst the experiences of those here - if there's anything else I should be addressing. Diet perhaps? Any particular 'dance' exercises targeted at hamstrings that wouldn't necessarily crop up at the gym? Something else?


I'm becoming a little anxious after one doctor I saw reckoned it was going to take another decade to 'deprogram' my hamstrings from the shortened position to a suitable length again. He cited a case of another patient who had sat most of his life, as he was waited on hand and foot by wife and mother in law, had a desk job during the day, and did no exercise at all. He reportedly had hamstrings so configured for the seated position that he found is impossible to stretch his legs out, had an odd walking gait, and could not stand properly. Apparently he tried to exercise but gave up after a short while, preferring to do stretches instead. It took some years of stretches for him to be able to stand properly, but other improvements were not very much in evidence. Now, I'm nowhere near as tragic as that, and am quite enjoying my exercise, but *a decade* to improve hamstrings?


Advice based on personal experience would be most welcome.

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Between the gym and the studio, you're hitting those hamstrings from just about every direction. I would hesitate to make a diagnosis, but it wouldn't surprise me if you see a noticeable improvement in about a year, not a decade. So steady on, keep up the good work!

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Dave, I could never touch my toes as a kid. Then I gaind most of my flexibility in a couple of years of dance training in college. I never really lost it after that, not even when I took five years off.


I once had a student who was really really tight. He had this big muscles all over and was built kind of like Frankenstein. His was the tightest, most muscle-bound body I'd ever seen. Needless to say, touching his toes was a distant dream.


Well... within 8 weeks, I got him to touch his toes. Not by forcing him or ripping his muscles. But by working on breathing. Breathing properly is incredibly important for stretching, because it allows your body to relax and then the muscles can stretch out. If you ever hold your breath, even for an instant, it ruins the effect.


Anyway, I got him breathing properly and relaxed, and ever-so-gently put a very light pressure on his back as he was leaning over, and before he knew it, he had touched his toes. It was quite remarkable. I didn't force him, the pressure was very light.


So my advice is, learn about proper breathing for stretching, and practice it.

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Dave - I suggest that you do two things: buy "Stretching and Flexibiity" by Kit Laughlin (Simon and Schuster) which is an excellent book on stretching for adults - and use it.


Also, go to the website http://www.pandf.com.au/ and click on "find a P&F practitioner" in the grey box on the right side of the screen. You will see that there are several in your area. They will either run group or one on one classes for developing flexibility.


It is a fantastic system that is very effective, in which I have been trained. It certainly produces results, though no-one can promise FAST results with mature adults (exspecially for males, who are more muscular). But it will be doing the best that you can.


One thing not emphasised enough in the book is the use of warming up the muscles as much as you can to stretch. If you want rapid progress, you could try something artificial like saunas, hot baths, or Bikram yoga. Personally, I have no experience with this, and wouldnt recommend it, but some people do it. Myself, I prefer to do things more naturally.



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  • 2 months later...

What would you call a P&F practitioner in the states?


I bring my foam roller to class and use when the other group is dancing or after class. It really helps!

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"What would you call a P&F practitioner in the states?"


The system as such only exists in Australia, where it was devised. Otherwise, the best thing is to buy the book and work from it.


As far as North America goes, there are practitioners in Vancouver. Maybe there is also one in Scottsdale, Arizona, as I see that they are arranging a teaching workshop there.



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Feldenkreis and Yoga are both systems of training that are similar to P&F. Yes, I think it's a good idea.

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I dont know about Feldenkreis, but P and F is different from yoga, in that (1) it is a pure stretching method, so the exercises do not work on other things at the same time, such as balance - the result is that you can really concentrate on the flexibillity. (2) Unlike yoga, it is based on modern anatomy, and the stretches are targeted as directly as possible to specific muscles or groups of muscles, so you really know what you are working on. (3) It uses a basic variant of PNF stretching, called contract-relax (CR), whereby the muscles' own reflexes are used to enhance the stretch.


It was initially derived from experience in martial arts. Martial artists not only have to be flexible, but are not generally the demographic that develops flexibility easily, being mostly muscular adult males. The powerful techniques they use knock spots off those used by others (for this reason, they are inappropriate for children). If you dont want to get the book, I suggest you do a search on martial arts sites, and PNF stretching.



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Please, do NOT attempt PNF stretching without supervision! Ballet exercises are full of PNF stretches as well.

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I received this from another person at Ballet Talk, re: P&F:


Saw this on the men's forum. That's how that ligament near my SI joint got damaged. That floor barre I used to do had tons of contracting/releasing. And my body did not do very well with it. I spent a lot of time with the doctors trying to figure out why I "mysteriously" had so many muscle spasm problems.


That was what...two and a half years ago? I still never really regained all the flexibility I had on my left leg, and I still have sciatica pain.


Yes...VERY careful with that kind of stretching


Ridiculous, since my body doesn't even require much "aggressive" work to get flexible in the first place. Some deep, centering breaths and a relaxed attitude about what I'm doing has served my dancing much better

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"I received this from another person at Ballet Talk, re: P&F:".....


That sounds a bit of a puzzle, since from the posting it doesn't sound like a P and F program that the person was following....




(NB - P&F and PNF are not the same, by the way - P&F stands for Posture and Flexibility, and is a specific exercise program, whereas (as you know) PNF stands for proprio-neuro-facilitation.)


I'll also add, that any powerful technique needs to be used with care and sensitivity.

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