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Stretching Tips from Deb Vogel at the Body Series

Updated: Mar 28, 2021

Hello Dancing Smart readers!

There are many ways to address the tension or tightness we might feel - and the most common way is to stretch. Dancers stretch but sometimes get frustrated because they don't feel their efforts are paying off. They may temporarily feel looser, but the next day feel as tight as ever. They tell themselves they just need to stretch harder - or longer - or harder and longer! My point is not to slam stretching efforts but offer another to explore when it seems like it isn't giving us the results we want. How can we wake up the brain/muscle connection and get the tension level of our muscles to release so then we can stretch more effectively? One way it to move a joint and muscles incrementally, always working within a comfort range, never going into strain or pain. Try this. Sit on the floor with your legs stretched in front of you. Flex your feet and chose which calf feels tighter. Then work with the calf that feels tighter and slowly flex and extend the ankle. Don't worry about adding the toes into the point or flex. You may feel like you are hardly moving – only a few inches in each direction may be enough. It should feel totally comfortable, and very, very smooth. If you get to the point of feeling a stretch in either the front or back of the calf – pull back to just beginning to feel the stretch! Repeat this slow and small extension and flexion of the ankle about 5more times. Try using a visualization of oiling the joint, or melting the tension in the muscles like butter. Then go back and fully flex both feet. Did you increase your stretch? If it did increase your flexibility it did so in a coordinated fashion. You weren't targeting just the calf muscle by doing this motion – as you do in the typical calf stretch –you asked all the muscles around the joint to coordinate their action smoothly and easily – and you didn't even need to go full range. In fact you shouldn't go full range at first because our practiced patterns usually involve excessive tension. After all, dancers are some of the hardest working people on the planet! So what's my intent with this exercise? If you are frustrated by your 'stretching' efforts – look to decrease your body's overall tension set point. Do it through slow, methodical movement. Try doing demi plies that are 5 times as slow and pay very close attention to exactly when you begin to feel the pull of the calf muscle at the ankle, and don't go any farther or create tension in the front of the ankle as you are descending or rising. Can you move smoothly throughout the whole movement? What other information do you gain from your body when doing a demi plié this slowly? Are there other areas of the body feeding tension into the legs? Explore, breath easily and deeply, and enjoy the wonderful sensations of movement – who knows – maybe you'll even increase your flexibility by waking up your sensory-motor amnesia!To edit your content, click Manage Blog. From the Dashboard, you can edit posts and also add brand new posts with ease.

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