New on the Blog- Stretching by Janine Bryant

Guidelines for Stretching

– Warm up first. Never stretch a cold muscle!
– By warming up first, the delivery of oxygen and nutrients are increased thus preparing muscles for strenuous activity.
– Warming up should not be too tiring, but just enough to begin perspiring.
– Usually a light jog for 5-7 minutes is sufficient.

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Stretching by Guest Blogger and SiDI Provider Janine Bryant

Guidelines for Stretching

– Warm up first. Never stretch a cold muscle!
– By warming up first, the delivery of oxygen and nutrients are increased thus preparing muscles for strenuous activity.
– Warming up should not be too tiring, but just enough to begin perspiring.
– Usually a light jog for 5-7 minutes is sufficient.

This tip connects the idea of aging well and dance career longevity to current studio practices. The idea that, what we do now in the dance studio directly affects how our bodies age and perform later, is one that I often talk about within the bounds of my own research on aging and range of motion (ROM).

Perhaps one of the most controversial subjects for dancers and those who train them is the subject of stretching. Which types of stretching to do and when, during an active day, is a conversation happening across the sports industry offering multiple perspectives that often conflict.
For dancers, most of us have developed as artist-athletes without adequate information on this subject. Many can recall entering the dance studio, dropping the huge bags and plopping down on the floor into the widest second position the legs could make and forcing chests down. This practice and others like it still occur in studios everywhere. However, there is a growing hunger, thankfully, for more adequate and up-to-date information being driven by new and old generations of dancers alike who are also scholars and athletes.

While increasing ROM is sometimes considered a task for younger dancers, the idea of increasing or simply maintaining ROM as a dancer ages is sometimes abandoned because the pain of stretching is too great. Further, dancers who have sustained serious injuries due to overworking and overstretching during their active careers will find it difficult to participate in a stretching program, especially if those stretching activities only include the traditional ‘hold and stretch’ movements, more aptly known as static stretching. Complicating things further is the fact that many dancers are have ‘hypermobility syndrome’, which can increase the need for strength training in addition to a stretch program to ensure adequate musculoskeletal balance. The order is tall but dancers, who are by nature high achievers, are up to the task!

All of this begs the questions: What types of stretching are there and which ones are the most effective for increasing and maintaining ROM? And, more importantly, why is stretching a cold muscle bad? These are great questions, the answer for which every dancer old and young would benefit from knowing.

First, let’s take a look at the different types of stretching:
Some of these terms are commonly confused and misused.

Static Stretching

Static stretching means a stretch is held in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, usually somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds. Static stretching is the most common form of stretching found in general fitness and is considered safe and effective for improving overall flexibility. However, many experts consider static stretching much less beneficial than dynamic stretching for improving range of motion for functional movement, including sports and activities for daily living.

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching means a stretch is performed by moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly, usually 10 to 12 times. (for dancers, leg swings, fall and recovery activities, etc.) Although dynamic stretching requires more thoughtful coordination than static stretching (because of the movement involved), it is gaining favor among athletes, coaches, trainers, and physical therapists because of its apparent benefits in improving functional range of motion and mobility in sports and activities for daily living.
Note that dynamic stretching should not be confused with old-fashioned ballistic stretching (remember the bouncing toe touches from PE classes?). Dynamic stretching is controlled, smooth, and deliberate, whereas ballistic stretching is uncontrolled, erratic, and jerky. Although there are unique benefits to ballistic stretches, they should be done only under the supervision of a professional because, for most people, the risks of ballistic stretching far outweigh the benefits.

Passive Stretching

Passive stretching means you’re using some sort of outside assistance to help you achieve a stretch. This assistance could be your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. With passive stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the external force to hold you in place. You don’t usually have to work very hard to do a passive stretch, but there is always the risk that the external force will be stronger than you are flexible, which could cause injury.

Active Stretching

Active stretching means you’re stretching a muscle by actively contracting the muscle in opposition to the one you’re stretching. You do not use your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. With active stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the opposing muscle to initiate the stretch. Active stretching can be challenging because of the muscular force required to generate the stretch but is generally considered lower risk because you are controlling the stretch force with your own strength rather than an external force.

Stretching Techinque

Every stretch is static or dynamic and passive or active, as illustrated in the examples shown in table 1.1 above.
You might hear or read about other techniques and terms used in stretching (especially by coaches and athletes), such as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching. PNF techniques attempt to alter neural input thereby influencing muscle extensibility to improve flexibility. One common version, contract/relax, utilizes a 10-second contraction of the muscle followed by 10-seconds of relaxation, during which the same muscle is passively stretched. This procedure is generally executed three times and a static stretch of 30 seconds or more is added at the end. PNF techniques can be particularly useful for dancers having difficulty improving their flexitility.{2}

Most of the stretches you see and do are likely static-passive stretches. Static-passive stretches are the most common stretches and the easiest to perform. If executed with good technique, these stretches are effective in improving flexibility and range of motion.
However, most experts now agree that although static-passive stretches have many benefits, it’s best to do more dynamic-active stretches. Because dynamic-active stretches require you to use and build your own strength while moving through the stretch, they are more helpful for improving functional movements used in everyday life and in sports. In addition, because dynamic-active stretches are movement oriented, these stretches can help generate heat, which can make the muscles more pliable. Finally, evidence suggests that because dynamic-active stretches require muscle activation and contraction, the muscles being stretched are triggered to relax even more than they might during a static-passive stretch, thereby reducing the risk of injury while increasing the functional benefit.

This does not mean you should avoid or minimize static-passive stretching. Just be aware that there appear to be quite a few advantages and benefits to dynamic-active stretching and that you should include these types of stretches as often as is comfortably and conveniently possible for you. {1}

Experts are also recommending that dynamic stretches be performed BEFORE the first plie in class or prior to a performance and that static active and static passive stretching is best for recovery at the end of the dance day. Stretching cold muscles predisposes dancer-athletes to power loss and injury. Solomon et al suggest a warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before starting flexibility training. The resultant elevation in body temperature will make stretching more effective and comfortable and reduce the possibility of injury. Room temperature should be warm and focus on correct form and alignment stressed, as benefits of any exercise are greatly diminished when performed improperly as risk of injury increases. {2}

Other things to consider: Dancers who are naturally flexible should be monitored closely during stretching activities for form and hypermobility tendencies. Dancers desiring to simply maintain ROM could also benefit from bone-building resistance training alongside ROM flexibility training. Dancers in the midst of an active performance career need to time their flexibility programs wisely during their dance day with consideration for room temperature, strength preservation and injury prevention.

Until next time, friends, dance healthy, long, strong, and warm up before stretching!

Janine Bryant

1. Blahnik, J., Full Body Flexibility, Second Edition, Human Kinetics, 2011.
2. Solomon, R., Solomon, J.,Minton, S.C., Preventing Dance Injuries, Second Edition, Human Kinetics, 2005.

New App Helps Dancers Locate Specialist Healthcare and Advice

Dance Longer Dance Stronger announces the launch of a new app designed especially to enable performers to locate – at the touch of a button – a range of specialist healthcare and reliable resources, right across the UK.

The Performers Health Hub app brings together the most up-to-date information about dance specific healthcare, both private and NHS, together with reliable, evidence-based resources in an easy to use format.

The app has been developed in response to the high injury rate among dancers and the lack of time available due to the nature of their work, to conduct thorough research in locating top quality healthcare.

Around 80% of all dancers will suffer an injury each year through training, rehearsal of performance* or as a result of fatigue and overwork, insufficient warming-up or cooling-down, recurring injury or not being able to respond to the early warning signs of injury**.

Due to the nature of their work, and the demands of their complex schedules, dancers, teachers and choreographers can find it extremely challenging to find the sufficient time needed in order to locate reliable, dance specialist care and resources. This can lead to many dancers abandoning the search altogether and working through an injury.

This is where the Performers Health Hub comes in.

Homepage

The app will house up-to-date information about specialist healthcare, and reliable, evidence-based resources on a range of health topics including fitness, first-aid for dancers, nutrition and hypermobility, and will take the user to the information they need via a few simple questions.

Director of Dance Longer Dance Stronger Claire Farmer comments: ‘By housing this vital information in one place, the app removes the need to spend precious time searching the internet and attempting to establish the quality and reliability of the information available there. Dancers can quickly find dance specialist healthcare practitioners and clinical services, providing the expert knowledge that can help dancers then return to the studio quicker.’

Resources on the Performers Health Hub are drawn from a consortium of organisations at the forefront of dance medicine and science research and advocacy including National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science, One Dance UK, Safe in Dance International and British Association for Performing Arts Medicine and will be continually updated as research progresses.

We are already looking to the future for the Performers Health Hub, with plans to add USA specific healthcare over the next 6 – 8 months and add further countries in future, allowing performers to refer to one app when on tour. To download the app please visit the Apple or Google stores.

Disclaimer: The information on this app is not intended to diagnose an injury. If you are concerned about an injury please always consult a registered healthcare professional. To query any of the information highlighted in this app please contact the organisation or author directly.

For more information contact: Claire Farmer MSc info@dancelongerdancestronger.com

www.dancelongerdancestronger.com
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Twitter: @dancestronger

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