Ballet Stretches for Beginners

So, you’re ready to stretch yourself to the top. That is awesome! You probably know what the word stretch means, but do you really know what it means? Don’t worry, we’ll explain exactly what it entails. The true definition is often misunderstood and the fact is there are several definitions which further complicate the matter. When it comes to stretching in terms of fitness and physical health:

Stretching is the process of positioning specific parts of the body into a placement that will lengthen or elongate the muscles as well as the soft tissues in the area.
Whew, that is a mouthful.
The main types of stretching in dance, gymnastics, and athletics are static and dynamic.

STATIC STRETCHES

Static stretching exercises are ones that involve no movement. They take place from a stretched position. The pose is held for a certain amount of time and in a specific way.

DYNAMIC STRETCHES

Dynamic stretching exercises are done with movement such as jumping, swinging, and skipping. These are the exercises you want to do first because they get your blood flowing and your body ready for the big stuff.

Jumping jacks are a good example of dynamic stretches. You are stretching your body, but adding movement to the action.

ACTIVE AND PASSIVE STRETCHING

To add more to the mix, there are also active and passive stretching exercises. Although every stretch is either static or dynamic, and those are either active or passive, there are further variations like MET (Muscle Energy Techniques), ballistic stretching, and PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation), stretching to name a few.

We’ll get into some dynamic stretching exercises and will also focus on static stretches that fall into the passive category.

These are done with a ballet stretch band which is a type of resistance band specially designed for those who are stretching for classic ballet, contemporary dance, gymnastics, martial arts, or athletics.

THE BENEFITS OF STRETCHING

What’s the big deal about stretching?

Stretching is important for a number of reasons. If it wasn’t, we’d probably all skip it for the most part and get right to the fun part like a good, hard workout, performance, or competition. That wouldn’t be smart at all. Here’s why.

What is the first thing a baby, or even a dog, does when he or she wakes up? They stretch. That’s because it is such an important action and it comes almost instinctively.

WHAT DOES STRETCHING DO?

  • IMPROVES FLEXIBILITY: Stretching improves flexibility which can certainly boost your performance when it comes to ballet, dance, and/or gymnastics.

 

  • REDUCES RISK OF INJURY: Stretching helps your risk of injury because it enables your joints to work at their full range of motion and also allows your muscles to work at their maximum capacity.

 

  • INCREASES BLOOD FLOW: Blood flow is increased in the muscles and soft tissues in the area you are stretching. That’s not all…

There are some additional benefits of stretching. It’s a fact stretching can help reduce pain. It also increases energy, enhances posture, and improves coordination. To top it off, stretching, like exercise, simply makes you feel better all the way around.

STRETCHING AND BALLET

Ballet is said to be the foundation of all forms of dance. It is also the most physically demanding and the most disciplined, as well. Most agree ballet is an art, not a sport. It is a display of creative expression that is breathtaking to watch. It is extremely difficult to do.

There are favored physiques adopted in ballet, although some of these concepts are changing.

Typically, the average height of a female ballerina is about five foot three inches to five foot eight inches and they weigh between 85 to 130 pounds.

Male dancers are generally around five foot eight inches to six foot two inches tall and weigh about 135 to 165 pounds. Whether a male or female, ballet requires a relatively small person to be very, very strong.

A dancer must have super strong quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, gluteal, calf, feet, back, and core muscles. They must also have plenty of upper body strength.

When it comes to ballet, stretching is extremely important. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) required stretch and flexibility training to be implemented before each and every classical ballet technique class. There were far too many ballerinas ending up with serious injuries.

The CDC said although such suggestions had been issued before, they had largely gone ignored. Ballet training requires the most stable, balanced, and integrated relationship between the spine and the extremities, it explained.

The organization went on to say the lack of proper stretch and flexibility training was resulting in injuries and postural alignment deformities which could last a lifetime. That is how important stretching is when it comes to ballet.

 

STRETCHING AND GYMNASTICS

Khabir Uddin Mughal, who is a writer for Sportelogy Magazine, believes gymnastics is the most difficult sport.

If you’ve ever participated in gymnastics, you may agree. There’s nothing easy about turning your body into a living pretzel.

Gymnastics, like ballet, is beautiful to watch, but can be extremely difficult to perform. It’s certainly not a sport for the faint of heart.

Typically, a gymnast must possess nine times his or her body weight in strength. When running the twenty-five meters to the vault, women reach sixteen or more miles per hour and men over twenty.

A gymnast must be able to tumble and vault up to thirteen feet for women and sixteen feet for men. In addition, the ability to balance, rotate, and spiral are a must.

A gymnast concentrates on the upper torso, core muscles, hip muscles, leg muscles, and arm muscles. It takes each of those areas being in tip-top shape to do what a gymnast does.

In order to achieve such a tall feat, you can imagine the hours of strenuous exercise required, not to mention the strain placed on the body during performances and meets. To help ensure injuries are avoided and performance is at its peak, both training and stretching are a must do.

 

STRETCHING FOR OTHER ATHLETES

Most sports and other physical activities benefit from stretching. Football, baseball, soccer, snow and water skiing, diving, swimming, and even horseback riding are best done after dynamic stretching.

Building flexibility through stretch bands is a great way to build strength, ensuring your muscles and soft tissues are well prepared for a good workout and a stellar performance, as well.

THE ART OF STRETCHING

Mobility is the ability to get around freely and with ease. It is everything to a performer of the arts, as well as to those in sports.

Flexibility is being able to bend without breaking. Mobility and flexibility go hand-in-hand. One helps the other.

Neither comes without a price, though. You have to work at it to be mobile and flexible enough to perform or compete.

Stretching improperly can do as much damage as not stretching at all, while proper stretching can bring a ton of positive results.

Concentrating on the area you are stretching is very important. Think about it. Visualize it. Become one with the body and you will reach new heights.

When you do stretching techniques the right way, you are going to improve your game. It’s a given. It will make you more efficient, powerful, and you will have sustained endurance.

Stretching helps prevent injuries and can even help repair them, too. When done with skill and passion, you will be amazed what stretching can do for you. Stretching can help take you to the top.

WHAT DO STATIC STRETCHING EXERCISES DO FOR YOU?

MAKES YOU MORE FLEXIBLE

Static stretching actually makes your tension receptors less sensitive, so your muscles are able to relax, which in turn allows them to be stretched to a longer length.

RELEASES STRESS AND TENSION WITHIN THE MUSCLES

Static stretches are really effective for relieving your muscles of the stress and tension that builds up during a dance class, performance, gymnastic routine, or workout. Your muscles tend to be warm after strenuous activity, making it easier to stretch.

FOCUS MATTERS

Static stretches focus on range of motion and flexibility. They are done nice and easy. It’s a good idea to breathe deeply to allow oxygen to flow to the muscles, which is more important than you may think. It all begins with a thing called cellular respiration which is the process your muscles use when they generate Adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

ATP is a high-energy molecule that supplies your body with energy. It is your body’s fuel. ATP molecules can be thought of as batteries for your body.

Your body gets oxygen when you breathe air. Then, it travels through the bloodstream where some of it goes immediately to your muscles to be used right away. Some, however, is stored by myoglobin which is a compound within your body which uses oxygen to break down glucose (blood sugar).

Glucose is used to create fuel for your muscles, called ATP. That is the reason it’s important to breathe deeply when you are doing your stretches. It fuels your muscles.

Holding your stretches for ten to sixty seconds is optimal. There are many philosophies and opinions on exactly how long to hold them. Some say ten seconds done six times is best. Others say thirty seconds held two times is best. It is up to you.

HOW FAR SHOULD I STRETCH?

  • Depends on…
  • Your age (children and seniors should be especially careful)
  • How tired your muscles are
  • Presence of scar tissue
  • The temperature of your muscles
  • If you are dehydrated
  • Your activity before the stretch
  • Collagen and elastin content of your body (natural substances that help the body stretch and go back into place)
  • Medical conditions (Diabetes, smoking, and connective tissue conditions)

WHAT IS A GREAT STRETCH?

Static stretching at its best is when you can feel your muscles stretch, but there is no pain. “No pain, no gain,” does not apply when doing static stretches.

If you feel pain, you have pushed too far and run the risk of injuring your muscles, and then what? You’ll be sitting out dance classes, unable to make a gymnastics meet, or hanging out on the sidelines while the rest of the cheerleaders lead your team on. It can’t be stressed enough to let your muscles do their thing without stretching them too hard or for too long.

STATIC STRETCHES

  • Holding the middle or side splits
  • Touching your toes and holding
  • Lying on your back, pulling leg to chest and holding
  • Sitting on the floor, leaning forward to touch the floor and then holding.

Static stretching isn’t meant to be hard or to hurt. Rather, it is a very important way of letting your body come back together properly after a hard workout or performance and to increase your flexibility.

Stretching After your workout

After a strenuous workout, and especially after a performance, sometimes the last thing you want to do is to stretch out again. You stretched before your workout. Isn’t that good enough?

It’s easy to skip the after stretches and get on home to your homework, your date, or whatever it is you have next on your busy list of things to do. However, before you do, please remember, “It’s not over until it’s over.” You won’t regret taking some time to cool down. This is where you really increase your flexibility.

WHY STRETCH AFTER A WORKOUT?

There are a number of reasons to stretch after a workout and there is science behind it all. Here’s what happens when you cool down: Your body recovers from the impact of major, quick movements. You allow your core body temperature to lower slowly. Your blood pressure is also allowed to decrease. Lactic acid is worked out of the muscles so they do not get as sore. Adrenaline begins to ebb from fight or flight mode.

FOCUS DURING YOUR COOL DOWN:

Slow Your Breathing and Lower Your Heart Rate

When your body is in exercise mode, everything is working harder, especially your lungs and heart. They are desperately trying to deliver more blood and oxygen to your muscles and other parts of your body. This works out great while you are exerting energy and moving your arms, legs, and other parts of your body, but once the action slows, reduce your breathing.

  1. Slowing Your Movement Down As you transition from your workout to your cool down, do it gradually. You don’t want to shock your body by going from a full-throttle workout or performance to doing nothing at all. Decrease your activity little by little and end up with cooldown static stretches.
  2.  Hydration Dehydration can make you really sick and can actually be fatal. During a strenuous workout, your body requires more hydration than it does when you are not exercising, so be sure to drink plenty of water. You will also find being hydrated gives you energy which you certainly need after a workout and it will also keep your muscles from cramping up and reduces soreness.
  3. Increase Flexibility When your muscles are warm, they will stretch further. This is the perfect time to extend your muscles and increase your flexibility with static stretching.

KEY ELEMENTS OF A GREAT COOL DOWN

Longer holds
Gentle movements
Refresh and refuel

USING STRETCH BANDS TO COOL DOWN

One of the best ways to cool down is to do static stretching. Ballet stretch bands are excellent to use for static cool down stretches.

Stretch bands help your muscles stretch. Since static stretches are passive or done without movement, the bands encourage your muscles to stretch through a process called resistance. Using a band adds a gentle tug to a normal stretch, which makes the exercise more effective.