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Stretching mechanics questions


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Did a search first like a good little ballettalk forumer, but to no avail.


So after having one of the most intense and amazing full-body stretching sessions of my life (and yes, I was nice and warm beforehand), I've come back with a few quick questions about the mechanics of effective stretching.


1) How often should I do one of these mega-sessions (this one was an hour and a half long)? Is it like cardio where you should do it everyday, or more like weight training where you do it every other day or 3 times a week?


2) How long should a stretch be held to be effective? And how do I know how far to keep going in the stretch? (Obviously, I don't want pain, but should I keep going until I hit pain, then back up a smidgen?)


3) How do I know if I've reached maximum flexibility for my body to naturally and healthily achieve? I'm not going for contortionist-grade, but I've wondered if I'm even "built" to be able to do a half-decent center split eventually.


4) How much progress should, or rather can, be achieved in each session? Is there a physical limit, or could Joe Dancer start out with no splits ability, work on it for 24 hours, then have perfect splits (This is an EXAMPLE to clarify my question, in no way would I ever want or be able to work on a stretch for 24 hours)?


And lastly, I offer a bauble of information in hopes it might help someone else someday: For quite sometime I had been at a plateau in my flexibility, and most stretches either didn't feel right or just didn't do anything, or even worse, felt like they stretched my tendons/ligaments rather than muscles. But this semester I decided to work extra-hard on my least flexible muscle group, my hamstrings, and just work up from there. Lo and behold, a few weeks later, not only are my hamstrings improving, but other muscles groups are falling into place by my being able to access and isolate them much better than before. Seems I simply had to get over the hurdle that was holding the rest of me out of whack. Also, working on a gym mat has been a godsend; no more hard, painful studio floors for me.

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Everybody's going to be different, but generally speaking:


1) When you've got an intensive class in stretching, once or twice a week is plenty. Then work on the stretches you've been given after your regular technique class.


2) For most active stretches, where you're doing the work, 15-30 seconds should do it. In passive stretches, where gravity is doing it, you can spend quite a long time. If you reach the level of pain, then


3) You've found the limit you can do safely, back off immediately. You should feel stretch, not pain.


4) Progress in stretching for an adult male is like trying to measure the growth of a tree. It's slow, but it's there. Initially, there will be a very fast difference, but then it slows to the steady grind, grind, grind of progress that obtains in every facet of ballet training.

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The answer to each of your questions is the same—no one knows.


Mel’s wisdom is excellent for a dancer in my opinion. If you look at the yoga world, you find people doing all sorts of things with respect to intensity, frequency, length of time a stretch is held, and pushing a stretch. All seem to result in greater flexibility. I’m sure there are individual differences—i.e., people respond differently to any approach—so that you have to experiment and do whatever you believe works best for you.


As a dancer, don’t forget that there are two types of flexibility—static and dynamic. Static flexibility is that which you can achieve in a pose so to speak. Dynamic flexibility is the ability to move easily through a range of motion. Of course dancers need both, but my sense is that many concern themselves more with static flexibility and not so much dynamic flexibility. How does one work on dynamic flexibility? I think the best way is through the typical exercises we do in class, trying to relax and feel the stretch that occurs in many of the exercises we do.

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Would another word for dynamic flexibility be "extension"? Or am I not following you? If so, then of course I agree that dancers need both. I'm hoping that a more solid foundation of static flexibility will allow me to better access what I need to (i.e. the correct muscles, better alignment) to then improve my dynamic flexibility.

I'm reminded of what John Magnus said in my master class with him this weekend, "Ballet is organization". Cool way to think about it, yeah?

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I am glad that the subject of stretching has been brought up.


My teacher says that I am very supple for my age (52) and that I am more supple that most of the younger ballet dancers that she teaches.


I do not propose to be an expert on stretching but this is what works for me,

I stretch about 2 or 3 times a week.

I never stretch when I feel tired therefore I mostly stretch in the morning when I get up.

I can do the splits on a good day and very nearly do the side splits.

I also waterski and I know how warm neoprene rubber is.I have an old pair of neoprene trousers that I sometimes wear whilst stretching.These trousers keep my legs very warm whilst stretching and I find I can stretch more without feeling any pain.

I always stretch before I go for my ballet lessons.



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"Ballet is organization".


See, ballet still has those traits from the Enlightenment, when there was balance and harmony as a ideal in EVERYTHING. Too bad they had to let PEOPLE do it, because people always mess things up! :unsure:


Now, Paul, remember to stretch when you're well-warmed-up, or you could really get into trouble. Yes, neoprene "poopie pants" (that's what they're called in the Navy. Their real name is "trousers, exposure, wet conditions") will trap heat close to your body, but don't mistake that for real deep-down warm muscles. Get the muscles warm from the inside out, then put on the pants to hold the warmth in.

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Thankyou for the advice Mel.


I always ensure the room where I stretch is well heated too.



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Paul - just curious - does your name Rubberlegs relate to your leg flexibility, or to what you wear on them?



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Many years ago I used to attend a jazz class.

The first 30 minutes of this class was devoted to stretching.

The teacher noticed that I was quite supple and she always called me rubberlegs.

The name "rubberlegs" stuck with me for years and that is what I was called in her classes. :D


I am now practicing ballet for a RAD grade 5 exam.



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Here's another query:


They say that when weight training, you should eat some protein fairly soon after you're done with your workout to aid the muscles in recovering faster. So then with stretching, are there any dietary concern or tips I should be observing before or after I do a long session? Any magic flexibility nutrients (ha, jk...but seriously...)?

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Remaining properly hydrated and keeping a good potassium and trace minerals level is a general way to reduce limiting muscle spasms, which compromise flexibility.

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My ballet teacher usually asks me if I have eaten a banana before I start my lesson.


I have never liked banana's :)



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Drink orange juice. It helps with the potassium and the traces, and it tastes better than a burned stick, which would be another source of potassium! :)

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  • 4 weeks later...

The FAQ from Citibob's comment is awesome. I just printed it out from the PDF format and will start applying it immediately. I appreciate it - thanks.



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