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Articles: When is there a reason to not stretch?


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Dear All,

DD (10) and I read a recent NYT article and wondered when not stretching -- barring injury -- would be appropriate advice for ballet dancers. What are your thoughts and if possible do you have any suggested references (ie from IADMS) for further research on this topic? While I recall this same understanding from my own (and now past) sport of rock climbing, in which flexibility is a crucial element of one's physical condition, I also recall it as not being equally shared by all. My sense is that this is one of the areas where ballet really differs from other physical activity but then I still have much to learn.

Kind regards,

pgo

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I read the article and found it interesting. I'm a fairly decent reader of research in sport, though I don't pay much attention to research on stretching other than what I'd call the basics. Even then the implications for dance don't always follow. For example, it seems clear that stretching alone does not warm up the body because warming up is usually defined as raising body temperature. Nonetheless most of the dancers I know stretch as part of their warm-up. Is that bad? I don't think so. Warm-up is more than raising body temperature. Musicians warm-up by doing activities that prepare them to play, not to raise body temperature. Just about all styles of dance involve so called lengthening (which is a type of stretch)and extending. Stretching before performing is a way to warm-up for that act. Stretching as part of a warm-up is also a mental preparation I think.

 

Dancers really don't need huge ability in things like power or strength, so if stretching does reduce one's power or strength is fairly irrelevant. The physical quality that dancers do need is mobility and flexibility is highly related to mobility.

 

As I type this in the back of my mind I keep asking myself if there are instances where baring injury there stretching isn't good for a dancer. I honestly can't think of any.

 

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Ballet Bunnie

Well, this article mostly referred to static stretching before activities, which I agree with. Stretching essentially is reconstructing your muscle fibers, and in the process, there are micro tears along the way if the muscles are stretched beyond the elastic range, and will lost ability to contract for at least 30 mins. I personally believe that dynamic stretching is more effective in terms of warming up the body and increasing ROM.

However, static stretching after activities is another story...

 

(PS. I should probably include some reference articles, but on the go...)

(PS. 2. There are so many contradicting studies out there on stretching, including timing, intensity, and methods, which leads me to think that everyone need to find out their own way to make their body function the best...)

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What you should keep in mind is that heavy stretching really reduces the power your muscles can deliver up to an hour or more after the stretching.

 

One of my teachers always gives a really long leg on the barre/pied a la main/stretch combination at the end of the barre section; afterwards I feel really weak, and it shows in my center work.

 

This is of course not a reason not to stretch, but maybe people should think about when this heavy static stretching is appropriate.

 

Edit: it seems like Ballet Bunnie and I were posting at the same time, she said pretty much the same thing in more technical terms. :)

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Miss Persistent

 

Dancers really don't need huge ability in things like power or strength, so if stretching does reduce one's power or strength is fairly irrelevant. The physical quality that dancers do need is mobility and flexibility is highly related to mobility.

 

 

I would like to politely disagree Garyecht - I feel dancers need a huge amount of both power and strength to perform. Particulary Adagio, Allegro, and certainly Grand Allegro - a huge amount of muscle power is needed to catapult one's body 4 feet off the floor!

 

I agree with the thinking that long, deep, static stretches (even long hold yoga poses) are best left until AFTER the days dancing is done.

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Hi All,

 

Thanks for your responses.

 

What I recall prior to a 'performance' for my sport -- not too unlike ballet in many ways -- was 1 hour of preparatory physical warm-up to raise the heart rate and increase blood flow, followed by 10-15 minutes of "light stretching" to ensure that the mind was focused on the status of the body and expectations of performance, followed by intense power and strength performance -- mostly anaerobic -- over a 3 to 12 hour period (median of 5) depending upon the difficulty (eg grade) of the effort with 10-15 minute rests in-between 45 minutes exercise. At the end of the day a minimum of 1 hour (usually 2) hours of long stretching were taken with considerable re-hydration due to the performance. Over a week's time were 2 days-off from exercise but which included ~3 hours (total) of long/deep stretching as 4 x 45 minute periods with a minimum of 2 hours in between each stretch-period followed by a minimum of 8 hours of full rest until the next day's performance. Each year a full 3 months -- "Summer Intensive" -- were taken to focus on developing strength and technique. From my albeit parochial but relatively well documented approach, I was able to maximize power and stamina over a 10 year period relative to my peers. (I then stopped to have DD and her sister. :) )

 

Anyway, if I find what appear to be appropriate references I'll post to this thread. I would not be at all surprised if authors report considerable discrepancy from one to another (eg due to lack of shared definition of "stretch"). Important observations: 1. What question -- how narrow and specific -- did the study attempt to answer? 2. Was the study designed in the terms of ballet methodology/pedagogy common or uncommon and in such a way as to answer the question in a definitive way for the majority of people? Negotiating both is difficult for any field/funding request and thus I would not be surprised if analyses and their authors disagree. (One really cannot say much from study results which focus on the behavior of fibronectin.)

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With regard to research on sport (or dance even)having to do with training, studies are by their very nature weak. That's not because the researchers are necessarily bad, but rather because things like randomization and control of human behaviors are so difficult if not impossible to implement. Generally speaking research in sport is either exploratory or confirmatory. It either brings up interesting ideas that need further investigation or confirms (or is counter to) what people believe. That's why I always take research in the area with a grain of salt, even when it seems to confirm what I already believe.

 

Personally though an interesting finding, I am quite skeptical about the claim that sustained stretching causes an immediate drop in strength or power. I can see that if one was asked to do a strength or power activity immediately after something like a yoga session, one might see a decrease in strength or power not because of the stretching, but because of the relaxation that occurred as a result of the yoga session. That possibility cannot be dismissed and is very difficult to control for in a study.

 

As to power requirements for ballet, let me suggest you look at a dancer's head in relation to the background during a big jump. What you find is that the head really doesn't get that far above the ground. What looks like a big jump is really the dancer having a nice plie before the jump and a shifting of the center of gravity while in the air, which makes it seem as if the dancer is almost flying. This is technique, not power. It's why well trained dancers can be good jumpers despite not being that powerful. If power were necessary for ballet, we could sort dancers out by a simple test of doing a standing long jump. If you can't do a standing long jump of at least 9 feet, you are out. This is obviously idiotic, hence the lower power requirement for ballet.

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Garyecht -- Thanks. You make an excellent point regarding randomization and control. In many ways research in sport is much like research in sociology, the large Ns may be there but available $s or control factors are often lacking. Nonetheless study design via thought experiment-alone might be useful: If 1000 dancers pre-rated on individual skill were divided into two, 500 following their normal routine and 500 reducing by x% a common/particular kind of stretch, would a mean difference between the 2 groups be observed? If so, what would that stretch be ie a really long leg on the barre/pied a la main/stretch combination?

 

Thanks for highlighting the psychology of stretching as exemplified by yoga. Clearly, mental imagery plays a large part in a ballet performers life, and anything which removes or reduces focus is likely to result in a poorer performance or sensation of difficulty by the dancer. Again, maybe what we are seeing from the article -- and research in this area -- is a question which the study did not intend to answer.

 

Is there a ballet pedagogy which emphasizes flexibility more than any other?

 

That's a great point about big jumps. Is it your perspective that the same could be said about a dance combination; the more power the less grace? Is this one reason why a dancer with more power might alter performance (eg from art towards 'sport')?

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From my research (I have done a fair amount of reading on sports training, cross training, athletic performance etc although I am by no means an expert) I have always heard that the best way to warm up for dance is to do exercises-- activating the muscles about to be used-- as well as dynamic stretching (i.e. leg swings). This does not change the fact that a majority of dancers, also at the elite level, equate warming up with sitting in the splits. But even if the stretching does negatively affect their power/strength, as Garyecht said, brute strength is not a requirement for dance. What dance requires is a lot of fine control, finesse, technique, coordination and generally a combination of strength, balance and flexibility. Another thing to consider is that in the sports examined in the study (jumping and sprinting), having increased flexibility would have a negligible impact on performance. Considering the limited range of motion covered by those activities, what good does it really do to stretch beforehand? The article already hints at this by saying that a warm up should include activities that mirror the motions to be used in the sport; if flexibility is not a goal within the sport, why should stretching be part of the warm-up? In stark contrast to dance, where flexibility (range of motion) is obviously of great importance. Still, I would be interested to see if the gains in flexibility offset the losses in coordination. Sorry to be long-winded and not really go anywhere...I'll just end by repeating what I've heard and read: given the controversy around stretching, just save your big stretches for after class. As far as I know, there are no objections to stretching after training.

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Victoria Leigh

The teachers here on the board all strongly recommend that flexibility stretches do not take place until after one is warmed up. They are not used AS the warm up. That doesn't mean that a lot of dancers don't do them anyway, but we teach them to do simple exercises to stretch their feet, a bit of gentle rotation on the floor (not splits!), abs, and maybe a bit of light jogging or "prancing" around to get things moving. Flexibility stretching, with the exception of feet/ankles, should be after the barre or after the whole class, not before.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Latest edition of Pointe magazine has an article (April/May 2013), under section The Workout (page 60) of Celine Cassone; "The Ballets Jazz de Montreal dancer lifts weights but avoids stretching", in which it is stated:

 

Why she avoids stretching

"When I was younger I'd stretch like crazy. But my body was too loose. I got injured often. Then I read stretching too much could cause tears. Now I stretch just 10 minutes after dancing, and never before."

 

Clearly she and her troupe (http://www.bjmdanse.ca/index.php) seek a particular kind of look and strength (eg 'metro') within the contemporary ballet dance world. To what degree would this not be feasible to either classical ballet dancers or most ballet dancers (in general)?

Edited by pgo
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The dancers in the company where I work all look very similar to the pics.

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The dancers in the company where I work all look very similar to the pics.

Hi Clara 76 -- Do you think that is a more common look now than in the past, or in one country versus another, and one for which weight lifting is replacing traditional barre exercises plus stretching ? It certainly seems so but then I am not sure (eg have not traveled the world looking a body types in ballet or the larger dance world).

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I should think so. Dancers today must be versatile, and must prepare for not only Classical works, but contemporary as well. This requires nutrition, cross-training, sleep, and weight training.

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I agree; that is what I see here, too, for the most part.

 

The "traditional barre exercises" will probably not be actually replaced by weight-training, but that - and other forms of cross-training - will become more important as the repertoires grow to include ever wider varieties of dance styles.

 

-d-

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