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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Improve back flexibility?


cream-crowdie

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Hi Everyone -- I suspect there's lots of information here already re: this, but I'm not sure where to look.

But, yes -- how to improve back flexibility? Allied to core strength, so work both at the same time? Specific suggestions?

 

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For bending forwards, I get a lot out of doing port de bras forward during barre. One teacher I had would put them in almost every combination, and it felt great. For backwards flexibility (it's my weakness), I have been working on backwards situps (with feet under furniture, laying on my stomach, and curling up), backbend bridges, and the yoga camel pose. Foam rolling all the different parts of the back helps a little too. It's important to not crunch any vertebrae to improve range, and try to use the whole back to lengthen and flex. "Up and over" in port de bras to the back.

 

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The general rule with all body conditioning is a mix of stretch & strength.  You generally need to lengthen (stretch) the muscles that are in opposition to the ones working (strength) to pull you into the position you want.  The simplest example is if you want to bend your knee, the quads need to be long enough to allow it, and the hamstring has to be strong enough to pull the leg back.

For an arabesque for example, this includes the hip flexors and the muscles through the front of the body - even including things like your pecs!  You can strengthen your back all you want, but if the front of your body is as tough as concrete it still wont bend!  Then in conjunction, you need to strengthen the muscles that do the work to pull you into the position - in this case your glutes, deep back stabilizers, and back muscles.  BUT - this is where is gets complicated with back because most of the muscles in the back also interact with your deep core and hip flexors at the front.  Your core is working to stabilise your spine from both the back, front, and sides, and without a strong frame, the more superficial muscles have nothing to pull against to arch the back - it all just goes to jelly.

Add to that the spine turns, and bends in multiple directions, not just back and forward so now you are also looking at side flexion, and stretching the muscles on the opposing side to allow that to happen. And we haven't even started talking about fascia! 🥴

So in short, all that complication comes back down to two really simple things you already realised - Mobilise your body, and strengthen your core.  Foam rolling is great for mobilizing fascia, and dynamic stretching that moves the body is generally helpful (as opposed to forcing the body into a position and holding it). Think about all the Ports de Bras you do in class - the body bending type - forward, side, backwards, circular ports de bras - they are all inbuilt mobilizations in class to loosen the body.  Think about how you do them - you shouldn't be stretching just so that you can do a better back bend and look fab at the barre - your back bend is the stretch so you can do a better arabesque!  Do them outside class as well after some warm-up using your breath to help ease the body through the movements.  Just get your back and body moving slowly at first and the increased range will come with time.  

At the same time, core work for not just your "abs" but also for your deep back stabilizers, and your hip stabilizers (like your glute medius at the side of your hip) develops that strong base you need for the back to flex around.  There are lots of ballet specific training courses out there, look for ones like PBT, Maria Faye's or Boris Knaiseff's floor barre, NYCB workout etc.  Just make sure whatever you do, it's quality not quantity. 

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oh, wow -- that is so helpful, and SO CLEARLY explained. Thank you so much, Miss Persistent, and Andy 32!

I'm going to find a way to print this out so I can look at it carefully and often!

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