Active Stretching for Optimal Results

Two common stretching techniques are passive and active stretching.

Passive vs. Active

Passive Stretching

  • Also known as relaxed stretching.
  • involves a partner or external force applying additional pressure to increase the intensity of a stretch with no muscle activation relying on the force of gravity.
  • This type of slow, relaxed stretching is useful in relieving spasms in muscles after an injury.
  • Performing a split is an example of a passive stretch.

Active Stretching

  • The key to effective stretching with the Flexistretcher is engaging an active stretch based on proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF).
  • The PNF stretching techniques employs the concept that the muscle relaxation part of the stretch is fundamental to effectively enhancing flexibility and deepen the stretch.
  • A popular PNF technique is the contract-relax, where the muscle is stretched, contracted, relaxed, and stretched further.
Cow Face Pose

By using the methods of active stretching while using your Flexistretcher, you are simultaneously strengthening the muscles while improving mobility. In ballet this is an extremely beneficial way to work because you are able to improve strength with a more targeted focus. Developing the necessary strength to perform fundamental movements required in ballet such as an arabesque or développé à la seconde is equally as important as flexibility to execute properly. 

Muscular Imbalances can Lead to Injury

Muscular imbalances can lead to compensating and incorrect form which can result in injury. The repetitive nature of ballet and most sports can cause certain muscle groups to work way more than others leading to a muscular imbalance. This type of work can inhibit a dancer or athlete from attaining peak performance if a weakness or tightness is never addressed.

A Common area of muscular imbalance for dancers tend to be the muscles of the hip:

1. Tight hip flexors

2. Imbalance between deep external rotators vs inward rotators

3. Tight and weak hip abductors:  The ability to externally rotate or turn out the hip is fundamental to ballet

Supplemental hip strengthening is important because dance requires the strength to hold the legs in high ranges of motions that are not utilized in normal day activities.  One might choose to only strengthen a certain area required for a certain movement, however for the elite-level dancer a more balanced set of exercises is necessary for perform the advanced movements correctly and avoid injury. Make sure to address each of the muscle groups of the hip; the hip flexors, extensors, internal rotators, external rotation, hip abductors, and adductors.

In order to keep your body in peak performance ... be aware of these common muscular imbalances and make sure to work on them in your daily strength and stretch routines.
Some exercises to practice for the hip are: 

  • Hip Flexor Stretch
  • Monster walk to strengthen Hip Abductors
  • External rotation hip abductor exercise

The Mighty Psoas

Taking a look at Jacqui Greene Haas’s Dance Anatomy offers great insight into the workings of the psoas muscle in relation to dance-specific movements.

The iliopsoas consists of a group of three muscles. The iliacus, the psoas major, and the psoas minor which are located in the inner part of the abdomen attaching at the bottom of the thoracic spine(T12) and along the lumbar spine(through L4) and pass down over the front of the hip joint, attaching at the top of the femur(thigh bone). The main action of the iliopsoas is to flex the thigh at the hip joint and is key for dancers to lift the knee above 90 degrees and hold the leg at above average heights.  

One topic discussed in his work is that of the important iliopsoas muscle. Weakness and tightness of the iliopsoas can result in mis-alignments of the lower back and pelvis, which then affect the legs and stability of the spine.  

Since the iliopsoas originates on the anterior aspect of the lower-spine vertebrae, when it is tight it pulls the lower spine resulting in a tilting of the front pelvis forward. Dancing in this anterior pelvic tilt and lower back arch creates an inactivity of the abdominals and adductors.

A weak or tight psoas muscle can "snap" which is  a common occurrence in dancers.  Snapping hip syndrome occurs when the iliopsoas tendon moves over the head of the femur.  This is common in extreme leg movements such as a grand battement or developpe a la seconde. Hass states that “Maintaining strength with turnout throughout an entire range of motion allows the iliopsoas to function in a position that reduces the snapping. Maintaining the flexibility can also help keep the tendon from snapping.”

Here are two exercises to help strengthen and stretch this important muscle!

Try this great psoas stretch: 

Psoas Stretch

Here is a great abdominal exercise to help strengthen the psoas:

Psoas Strengthener

Hold the Flexistretcher pulled to a slight tension directly over your chest. Keep your arms held in this fixed position. Scissor your legs hitting the top leg into the center of the strap and switch legs. Lower your arms if your leg is unable to reach the strap. Repeat 15-20 times.

 

The Value of the Adductors for All Athletes

Cow Face Pose with Flexistretcher

Different arenas and actions, but the same muscles, react to achieve an injury free success in all athletic movements: the co-contraction of the hip adductors and hip abductors.

Studies have shown that the lower body has an important role in increasing the speed of the throwing motion of baseball pitching. Maintaining mobility in the hip is important for baseball players to be able to take larger strides.  For example, one of the most common problems with pitchers is lack of hip mobility, which can have detrimental effects on mechanics, velocity, and long term arm health.

The hip adductors are responsible for stabilizing the pelvis and moving the leg towards the midline of the body (adduction).   In dance, the adductors are activated when the legs are drawn together, especially in jumps that have leg beats in the air.  

Maintaining a balance between the hip abductors and the hip adductors is a mechanism that ensures pelvic security and stability." -Jacqui Greene, Dance Anatomy

The balance between the muscles of the hips allows for the body to react quickly in jumps, runs, or kicks in addition to more complicated movement patterns that arise in choreographies.

 

How to Prevent Hip Adductor Injury

Hip adductor injuries occur most commonly when there is a forced push-off (side-to-side motion). High forces occur in the adductor tendons when the athlete must shift direction suddenly in the opposite direction. As a result, the adductor muscles contract to generate opposing forces. By incorporating these practices into your training, you can avoid hip injuries and up your performance potential: 

    • Spend some time warming up:  A warm up works by slowly increasing heart rate and blood flow in the body in order to prepare the body for class and/or rehearsal. A good warm up is important before engaging in any form of athletic activity to prevent injury. 

 

    • Implement a Flexibility Training Program: This is necessary to maintain a healthy range of movement and allow the body to move freely within the movement patterns that are asked of it. 

 

    • Cross train with Yoga: Many yoga poses are hip openers that stretch the groins and adductors, which allow for greater range of motion.  A consistent yoga practice will help you prevent injury while increasing flexibility in the hips.  We recommend this yoga practice that you can do at home with your Flexistretcher.