Stretching is a very important part of physie, just as important as getting your technique right and practising your routines. If you never stretch, you will never increase your range of motion and you run the risk of injury when performing by over-extending your muscles.
But when and how should we stretch?
That depends on the purpose of your stretching. Do you want to increase your long-term extension in particular positions (like the splits)? Or do you want to improve your performance (strength, power and speed) at class or in a competition? Whatever your goal, stretching requires a plan and these two goals require very different stretching plans.
There are many kinds of stretching but the two main ones are static stretching and dynamic.
Static stretching is where you take a position at the end of your range of motion that targets a particular muscle and hold the position (like sitting in astride with your head to the floor and holding it). Dynamic stretching is where the end points of each stretch are not held – there is continuous, controlled movement to increase the range of motion. (Examples are leg swings, trunk rotations, arm circles and lunging). Ballistic stretching is a version of dynamic stretching with quick, forceful movements beyond the range of motion and it is not considered safe practice.
If you are warming up prior to a class or competition this is not the time for static stretches. You should be doing dynamic stretches. Static stretches (over 45 seconds) can actually decrease strength, power and speed for up to 2 hours. This is not what you want just before competing. And research has shown that up to 88% of muscle strains in dancers occur during slow stretch training. (US National Library of Medicine). So it’s really important not to stretch too hard or for too long. If you want to increase long-term flexibility then static stretches are best but they should be done after class when your muscles are thoroughly warm and pliable and are less prone to injury when fully extended.