Whatever your stretching goal, you must be warm before you stretch. Stretching doesn’t make you warm, movement does and the body needs movement to get ready to dance. That’s one of the reasons we do marching, because it gets the blood flowing and raises the body’s temperature. How often do we see physie girls come into the hall from the cold outside and flop down into the splits to stretch. This isn’t safe and stretching like this before class or a competition can actually lead to injury.
There are three key things to remember when you stretch. First, you must never be in pain. If you feel pain, back off a little on the stretch until it’s comfortable. Second, remember to breathe! Breathing helps your muscles relax and stretch further. Long, slow breaths are best.
And thirdly, don’t hold your stretches for more than 60 seconds at a time. So, if you’re watching TV, that’s two ads, then it’s time to change positions!
There is no evidence to suggest that stretching before an event will make you less sore. But it certainly helps you loosen up your joints and muscles, gets blood flowing and, importantly, helps you to have an accurate mental awareness of the limits of your range of motion. And that’s really important so that you don’t go past your limits in the heat of the moment when you are competing.
There is no guarantee that stretching prior to an event will prevent all injuries. But being thoroughly warm and knowing your limits will. And if you work on your strength and stability and on stretching the counter muscles (e.g. hip flexors and abductors) you can decrease your risk of injury too.
So, to recap:
- Always warm up before you stretch
- Dynamic (moving) stretches before physie
- Static (still) stretches after physie
- Never hold a stretch for more than 60 seconds
- Never stretch through pain
- Remember to relax and breathe!