Why you should stop performing traditional stretches - now!
My students: “Miss Sarah we reeeeeaaaaalllly want to be able to do the splits & kick our legs up high, could you teach us how to do it please?”
My students: “Yay!”
Me: “Once we assess your range then we’ll start with your breathing..”
Did you do a double take as well? Did you check to see if that was a typo? Breathing? To be able to do the splits?
For decades we were told that in order to be flexible, you had to stretch your muscles. If you couldn't touch your toes or do the splits well you just had "short, tight muscles" & if you sat in static stretches & pushed yourself down into the splits every day, eventually your muscles would get longer & you would achieve your flexibility goals.
❌ Please do not do this, it’s now 2022 & we know better ❌
My generation stretched. Excessively. Aggressively. But unfortunately, it wasn’t our muscles that got stretched.
By sitting in these static stretches, we stretched nerves (nerves don’t like to be stretched). We stretched ligaments (same deal). We compressed bone on bone (are you seeing the pattern here?)
These days we have clicky hips (if we’re lucky - some needed replacement hips) we have damaged spines, we have dodgy knees & ankles, we have joint stability issues..the list is endless.
Why? Because “pushing in the direction you want to go is the slowest & most dangerous way of getting there” - Lisa Howell, Dance Physiotherapist.
We now know:
❌ Traditional stretches like sit & reach, sitting in second position or pushing down into the splits are not effective at improving your range - ESPECIALLY when you experience any type of pain. This pain is not your “muscle stretching & we just have to breathe through it for a couple of minutes while the muscle lengthens then the pain will go away” it is your body telling you there is something ELSE restricting you from going any further
❌ Traditional stretches should only be used to assess your mobility & figure out WHERE & WHAT type of restriction you are experiencing. Is it bone on bone? Neural? Fascial? Muscular restriction is very, very rarely the reason you can’t go any further.
❌ Traditional stretches may get you the desired result..after much pain & distress to your body, you may eventually get down in the splits, get your leg up to your head..but at what cost? You may be “in the splits” thanks to some over stretching of your ligaments (remember, they’re not designed to stretch) but are your hips square or is your pelvis displaced & sitting at an angle on the floor next to you? Has the head of your femur popped out of the acetabulum? You may get your leg up to your head but what does your supporting leg look like? Is it bent with your knee & ankle rolling in? Did you have to hunch your back & twist your spine to get it up there?
One thing has not changed after all of these years: achieving the front splits is still #endgame for many, many young dancers. It's all they talk about. Unfortunately, social media is now around to glorify & intensify this dream - young, impressionable children can now see dancers all over the world putting their bodies in not just the splits, but extreme mobility positions with just the click of a button. They show their teacher & what does the teacher say? "Well if you want to be able to do that, you have to stretch!" Yes, sadly, they're still being told to stretch.
But if we don’t stretch, how are we supposed to improve our range?
You assess your current range with a series of tests, identify the location & type of restrictions, then resolve them safely & sensibly using a deep understanding of human anatomy. The spinal roll down assessment alone will provide you with loads of information about a dancer’s skeletal, fascial & neural mobility, as well as the status of the muscles in their neck, back, hips & legs.
Our conditioning class begins with breathing. Yes, breathing. It’s step one. Effective, natural breathing influences flexibility in a variety of ways:
✅ A calm, even cycle of breath helps regulate & down tune the nervous system
✅ Optimal movement of the diaphragm & it's relationship to the pelvic floor help improve spontaneous deep core control
✅ The mobilisation of the head of the ribs helps improve spinal mobility, resolve natural tension & improve fascial mobility down the back line
The 6D breathing exercise improved one of our dancers sit & reach range by 10cm in just one session. No sustained stretching, no pushing & holding whilst in pain..just learning to breathe properly.