When it comes to stretching, it’s best to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Stretching exercises are some of the most beneficial things you can do for your overall performance, but they can also be the most destructive.
Who wants to spend the time and effort doing something that causes more harm than good? No one does.
Please keep in mind, the purpose of this Article is not to be critical. Performing artists and athletes are usually under a lot of pressure from instructors and coaches. They are also very critical about themselves.
If you are hard on yourself, give yourself a break. While the demands you put on your body can be the driving force to greatness, they can also hold you back. This article is designed to help you, not hurt you. Remember, it’s all about progress, not perfection. No dancer, gymnast, or athlete is perfect. We can strive for improvement, though. In doing so, here are some common mistakes you will want to avoid when stretching:
NOT PROPERLY WARMING UP
Cold muscles don’t stretch well. Like that previously mentioned uncooked spaghetti noodle can easily break when bent, so can cold muscles.
Cold muscles that then get worked tend to be susceptible to injury. If you have thought stretching was the warm up, don’t feel bad. It’s a common misconception, but at least you know the truth now. Warming up before stretching is a must do.
NOT FOLLOWING A STRETCHING ROUTINE
Sometimes we run short on time or simply get so used to doing the same things over and over that we all get careless. It’s a natural thing. However, at the same time, it can also be dangerous.
Have you ever gotten into your workout, kicked your leg up on the ballet barre only to realize, you didn’t stretch your hamstrings?
Or, maybe you jumped down into the splits and remembered you hadn’t done any middle split stretches. I don’t have to tell you how that would work out.
The key is to follow a laid out plan each and every time you are going to put stress on your body. Your regime should include warming up and then stretching all of the muscles you will be using. If you do your routine often, you will avoid accidentally skipping a stretch.
NOT STRETCHING OFTEN ENOUGH
So, you warmed up, stretched, worked out, and then cooled down. That is awesome and exactly what you should do.
However, as you know, many in the performing arts and sports world tend to take training to the limit. You are back for yet another workout or maybe even a performance. Surely, you don’t have to take the time to do the routine all over again. Or do you?
The bad news is yes, you do. But, the bad news is also the good news. By warming up and doing your stretching exercises again, you are double ready. You can go into your performance, workout, or competition knowing you are fully prepared to do your ultimate best.
Then, don’t forget to cool down again when you finish. Hey, if doing what you do was easy, everyone would do it. They don’t, but you do.
PUTTING TOO MUCH WEIGHT ON YOUR JOINTS AND JOINT CAPSULES
Your joints are amazing things. They have joint capsules which surround them much like an envelope.
The joint capsules have two layers. One is the outer fibrous layer, which is a fibrous membrane that forms the joint capsule and houses the synovial layer. The synovial layer is the inner membrane. The synovial membranes hold and secrete synovial fluid to protect the joint. The joint capsules provide both active and passive stability. They help your body to balance and not cave in when doing something like standing, jumping, and lifting.
It is important not to put too much weight on your joints and joint capsules or you will damage them. Then, you are in real trouble. Some dance routines, especially ice-dancing routines, require one dancer to lift another. This movement could put too much weight on the joints. It also requires a lot of preparation and consideration before attempting. You can also put too much resistance on your joints when stretching.
PUTTING TOO MUCH PRESSURE ON YOUR LIGAMENTS
When you stretch, the idea is to elongate your muscles. However, in doing so, your ligaments can become stretched out, which is known as excessive ligament looseness or ligamentous laxity.
As you may have guessed, this is not a good thing. The condition can compress your nerves which causes discomfort and pain and can also result in walking, standing, or moving abnormally.
To avoid this, be sure not to hold your joints in any position that puts too much pressure or weight on them when you are stretching.
NOT STRETCHING WITH SLOW, SMOOTH MOVEMENTS
Stretching is to be done with no movement (static) or with slow, smooth, controlled movements (dynamic). If you are being too rough in your stretching, such as moving too haphazardly or too fast, you risk hurting yourself to the point where you are sidelined. Never force a stretch. Never do it to the point of pain. Pay close attention to your range of motion to make sure it’s within your body’s comfort zone. Do these things and you will be fine.
NOT STRETCHING TO FULL EXTENSION
It’s important to stretch to your full extension. It’s understandable to be cautious after reading how overstretching can be dangerous, but getting into a complete stretch is equally as important.
An incorrect, partial stretch can be damaging, too. In order to avoid this, simply control your speed through your entire range of motion so you feel the stretching, but it is not painful.
Go a bit further each time being sure to complete the stretch, but never pushing it to the point of pain or discomfort.
FLEXIBILITY IS NOT WHAT YOU MIGHT THINK… THAT MISCONCEPTION IS A MISTAKE
A lot of people who get into ballet, dance, gymnastics, or cheerleading do so because they are flexible. Their bodies simply bend easily. You may be one of those types. If so, fantastic. It gives you an upper edge when doing such activities as the splits, tumbling, and balance beam. Beware, though. Being flexible does not mean you don’t need to stretch. Nor does it mean you need to stretch less.
Remember, it’s a long stretch to the top… we’ll help you get there. Inch by inch, precept by precept. Everything you are doing is taking you forward. Even making mistakes. After all, if you’re not making a few mistakes along the way, chances are you’re still in your comfort zone.