Flexibility – The best stretches for beginners.

Flexibility is defined as the body’s ability to move joints through an unrestricted and pain-free range of motion. The range of motion is influenced by the mobility of the soft tissues that surround the joint such as the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joint capsules, and skin. Flexibility is a very important aspect of dance. Ballerinas understand that achieving extreme flexibility empowers them to perform techniques such as arabesque, adagio, and grand battements effortlessly. Dancers who lack proper flexibility are more prone to injuries to their ligaments, muscles, and bones. A combination of good posture and flexibility allows dancers to elongate their movements and exude elegance. We constantly see contemporary dancers performing out of this world extensions, which just seem impossible for an everyday person. Dancers are pushing the limits of how far they can bend and contour their bodies. Such extreme flexibility is the result of dedicated stretching practices that they undergo regularly. 

Human bodies differ in size, shape, and flexibility. Most of us do not have a ballerina’s range of motion. Genetic predisposition is a factor that profoundly impacts an individual’s flexibility. Some people have longer muscle fibres, allowing them to stretch their muscles further and with more ease. On the other hand, some people have shallower, less restrictive joints and sockets which gives them a greater range of movement. With better flexibility, dancers are more aware of their movements and dancing becomes a breeze. It helps in the proper alignment of bones, allowing ballerinas to have better control over the extensions and jumps. Dancers have a few tricks up the sleeves that allow them to improve their flexibility. While we may not have control over our genetic make-up, however, regular stretching exercises can have a positive impact on flexibility. These exercises can help everyone, dancers and non-dancers alike, to improve their range of motion and gain better posture.

Best Beginner Stretches:

  • Butterfly stretch– This simple exercise is perfect for beginners to relieve tightness in the hips. This warm-up exercise can be performed before any workout or dance routine to loosen the hip muscles and elongate the spine.

    How to do it?

    • Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet pressing into each other. 
    • Place your feet closer towards your hips as much as possible. 
    • Root down into your legs and sitting bones flatly on the ground. 
    • Sit upright to elongate and straighten the spine and tuck your chin in toward your chest.
    • With each inhale, lengthen your spine and keep your upper body aligned perpendicularly. 
    • With each exhale, fall heavy into the floor and relax or sink a bit more deeply into the stretch. 
    • Hold the position for up to 1 minutes. 
    • Repeat 4 to 5 times.

  • Hamstring wall stretch- Using a wall as your main support is the best way to increase your hamstring flexibility if you’re not quite touching your toes yet.

    How to do it?

    • Start off standing half a foot away from a wall with your back facing the wall. Feet are hip width apart and in parallel.
    • Shift your hips back so your bum is touching the wall.
    • With straight knee, slowly fold your body over to try and touch your toes.
    • Hold the position for 30 seconds – 1 minute, not longer.
    • Slowly release and roll back up to standing stacking your vertebrae on top of each other.
    • Repeat this 2 to 3 times / 5 times a week to see results. 

  • Child’s pose- This exercise works on the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and spinal extensors. It helps to relieve tension all along the spine, neck, and shoulders.

    How to do it?

    • Place hands and knees on the ground, sink back through your hips to rest them on your heels. 
    • Hinge at your hips as you fold forward, walking your hands out in front of you. 
    • Rest your belly on the thighs. 
    • Extend both the arms in front of or alongside your body with the palms facing up. 
    • Focus on breathing deeply and relaxing any areas of tension or tightness.
    • Hold this position for up to 1 minute.
    • Repeat 3 to 4 times.

    • Hip flexor and quad stretch- The hip flexors and quadriceps can get extremely tight and if they’re not stretches or released can cause serious back, knee or hip pain.

      How to do it?

      • Begin by sitting on a mat, legs extended infant of you.
      • Bend one leg and fold to underneath you.
      • If this is already stretching that’s okay! For a deeper stretch come back on your elbows or place your back all the way on the ground.
      • Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
      • Repeat 2 to 3 times.

    • Upper back stretches- Upper back stretches help improve the flexibility of the upper body and promote the range of motion. It also corrects posture and prevents slouching. 

      How to do it?

      • Lie on your stomach, place elbows underneath shoulders, forearms on the ground.
      • Pull chest forward as you press shoulders down and together while lengthening through your tailbone. 
      • Inhale and lift your upper torso and head away from the floor into a mild backbend. 
      • Hold the position for 30 seconds.
      • Then exhale and slowly release your belly and lower your torso and head to the floor.  
      • Repeat 4-5 times.  

    • Frog stretch- This stretching exercise helps to open hip joints and reduce the strain on the knees. When done properly and consistently, frog pose can strengthen the lower back, stretch inner thigh muscles, and improve hip mobility.

      How to do it?

      • Spread your knees wide, feet together or shins parallel to the edges of your mat and the feet pointing outwards. 
      • Bring the hips in line with your knees and rest either on your elbows or chest flat on the mat and extend the arms. 
      • Hold this pose for 1 to 3 minutes. 
      • Bring your feet together, use your hands to push the floor away, and gently bring the knees in, one at a time. 
      • Rest in a child’s pose for a few moments.
      • Repeat 4-5 times.

      Tips to improve flexibility:

      • Practice stretching 5 – 6 days a week to see results in your flexibility. 
      • Use the right conditioning equipment like foam rollers, theraband, etc to advance your technique.
      • Maintain the stretch position for 30 seconds in the beginning but extend it to 1 minute for optimal results.
      • Always start with a fewer number of repetitions as a beginner and keep increasing the intensity as you build more mobility. This will prevent injuries as you are not over-exaggerating your muscles.
      • Try yoga or pilates as they are designed to improve the body’s range of motion. Train Like a Ballerina has multiple yoga for dancers full classes on the platform for beginner to advanced.
      • Professional ballerina or not consulting a physiotherapist will help you with deep tissue massages and pain-relieving techniques which can aid in increasing flexibility faster.