Flexibility training techniques

When looking to improve your flexibility it is very beneficial to understand the different techniques involved, which ones are proven more beneficial, and how to apply them to your flexibility routine.

Rachel Hamrick

An educated dancer is a healthy one! Don't let injury set you back. You might not see an injury right away, but frequent muscle misuse can result in incorrect form, causing an injury years down the line.

Ballistic stretching

The oldest technique is the ballistic stretch, which consists of repetitive bouncing movements and uses a swinging momentum of the trunk or limb, forcing the limb into an extended range of motion when the muscle has not relaxed enough to enter it.

The trouble with ballistic stretching is that it is not well controlled and the end position is not held, so it is easy to over extend and risk injury. These movements should only be performed when the dancer/athlete is well warmed up or they could potentially cause an injury to muscle tissue, tendon or muscle connective tissue.

This type of stretching should be performed with caution and has been virtually abandoned by almost all experts in the field due to safety concerns.

Dynamic stretching

Dynamic stretching incorporates movements that mimic a specific sport or exercise in an exaggerated yet controlled manner; often include during the warm-up or in preparation for a sports event.

As an example of dynamic stretching for ballet, a controlled développé to the front or side dynamically stretches the hamstrings as it reaches maximal height.

This type of stretching is best for getting the body ready for an activity and used as a warm up. These stretches should be performed slowly to start and gradually increase the speed and power of the movement.

Passive stretching

Passive stretching is a technique in which you are relaxed 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. 

Static stretching

Static stretching involves holding a position and elongating the muscle to its tolerance. That is, you stretch to the farthest point and hold the stretch.

Once in the stretch position, remain in that position for 30 seconds, then relax. Each stretch should be repeated three to four times.Static stretches should never create a sharp or painful feeling. As one relaxes into the stretch, there may be a very slight lengthening of the muscle (stress-relaxation),but there is no rapid limb movement as in ballistic stretch. The stretching force is often created by gravity acting on the body. This force is applied in a slow and steady manner, and it is important to continue regular breathing throughout the stretch. 

Active stretching

Active stretching is one of the methods of stretching most used by today's dancers, athletes, athletic trainers, coaches, and professionals. This type of stretch requires muscle activation with no use of momentum to move into a deeper range of motion. With active stretching you are able to increase flexibility safely while simultaneously strengthening the muscles. This is crucial for movements in ballet because the goal is to have the strength necessary to hold the limbs in an extreme range of motion and be able to move through these positions with ease and control.

When engaging an active stretch a common technique proven beneficial is 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.