Flexibility Myths vs. Facts
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Everyone in the dance world wants to be more flexible. I constantly see dancers who desire the aesthetic of having a flexible body. It's important to note the common myths about flexibility in the dance community (and general population to be honest). These tips are to help you rethink your flexibility plan!
Myth #1: Holding your stretches for a longer time will make you more flexible.
When you Google, "how to get more flexible," the first result that pops up says to start and end the day with static stretches. For those of you who don't know, static stretching is our typical dance class stretching protocol... Get into a position, and hold the stretch for anywhere from 10 seconds to 5 minutes. Let me the first to tell you that this is NOT going to improve your flexibility if your body is not properly warm and if your muscles aren't activated. Static stretching should be done at the end of class or at the end of a workout, but unfortunately, the dance world is accustomed to these static stretches during the class warm up.
When you hold stretches for a longer period of time, yes- your muscles are more lengthened. However, this actually inhibits the muscles' ability to contract efficiently. Holding static stretches should not be done for more than 30-45 seconds. It has been found that increasing this time to 60 seconds or increasing the frequency of the stretches has no significant improvement on range of motion when testing the hamstrings flexibility (Bandy et al. 1997). Keep this in mind next time you're in class!
Myth #2: You have to stretch everyday in order to get more flexible.
This is a tough one to implement because dancers have always been told to do this if they wanted to achieve skills such as their front splits, middle splits, etc. Even I was told this when I was younger! Here's why it's not the best advice:
Much like Myth #1, increasing the frequency of your stretching (1-3x per day) doesn't do much to improve your range of motion. When our bodies are dancing 4-7x a week (depending on your level and schedule), we are putting our bodies under so much stress and leaving very little time to recover. If you're stretching every single day on top of dance classes, it's probably too much for your body to handle regardless of what your mental determination and perfectionism might tell you.
Allowing the muscles time to recover and rebuild muscle fibers will help your muscles become stronger and actually improve your dancing! Interfering with that process leaves your muscles constantly trying to catch up and recover, which might cause more harm than good.
Myth #3: Having hypermobile joints means that you're a better dancer.
NOPE. Let's talk about this one. Hypermobility is described as excessive range of motion in a joint. In the dance industry, hypermobility has been previously praised for aesthetic reasons, especially in the ballet world and now in the competition world. Your body may just have hypermobile knees, or it may be hypermobile in your shoulders, elbows, knees, wrists, etc. It's a sliding scale.
Hypermobility has been linked to fatigue in the general population (Day et al. 2011), and most dancers who experience hypermobility are unaware of how to use their bodies proprioceptively and support their bones without "locking" or extending their joints to its' full range of motion. Usually with a hypermobile joint, the muscles surrounding that joint are naturally more flexible.
While there are may dancers who have hypermobile joints and many who don't, it does not necessarily mean that these individuals are superior or "better" at dance. They may have certain abilities with which others struggle, but everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Everyone learns at a different pace. If you find yourself aspiring to have hypermobile joints, I invite you to reassess your reasons and think of your body as a toolkit. Your body has SO many tools. You might have a tool that another dancer doesn't have. YOU are unique and your body can do amazing things!
These myths may be surprising based on your experience in the dance world. I challenge you to integrate these new practices into your dancing and see how much it benefits your body and mind in the future.
Hypermobility and flexibility can be assessed and discussed with 1:1 training sessions. To inquire about personal dance training sessions with Kendall, please click here.
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Bandy, W. D., Irion, J. M., & Briggler, M. (1997). The Effect of Time and Frequency of Static Stretching on Flexibility of the Hamstring Muscles. Physical Therapy, 77(10).
Day, H., Koutedakis, Y., & Wyon, M. A. (2011). Hypermobility and Dance: A Review. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 32(07), 485–489.