3 Types Of Stretching: Which Is Best For Adult Ballet Students?

by | Mar 19, 2015 | Ballet For Adults, Beginners, Mind/Body Health

Learning the best way to stretch for ballet class can be confusing since there are so many different opinions on the subject. Your peers may swear by a certain method, when your teacher or other experts claim another way is best. Consider the benefits and risks of three categories of stretching to reach a logical and safe conclusion.

1. Static

Static

The 411:

Static stretching means you hold a position for at least 30 seconds. For instance, if you wanted to stretch your hamstrings, you could sit on the floor with your legs directly in front of you, lean forward, and hold. You might start to feel slight pain or discomfort. The objective of this type of stretching is to desensitize your tension receptors until the muscle relaxes. While it is the most common form of stretching, it is not always the most effective.

The Bottom Line:

Before class, you don’t want to force your muscles into demanding positions i.e. don’t attempt the splits before you even do pliés. Since you haven’t engaged in any physical activity yet, your muscles are “cold”, or not as pliable. Practicing a mild static stretch before you get to the barre is not going to put you on the critical list. However, the best time to practice static stretching would be after barre work, when your body is sufficiently warmed up and can handle a more challenging stretch.

2. Dynamic

dynamic

The 411:

Dynamic stretching, a more popular mode of stretching, allows your muscle to reach its potential through gentle, controlled arm and leg swings. This properly prepares the body for more dramatic range of motion in the actual exercise. However, this is not an excuse to go overboard and practice grand battements before barre work. The whole point is to take it easy on your muscles and joints so they can better handle the demands of class.

The Bottom Line:

Before class, try doing a few repetitions of en cloche at the barre. Relax your hips and let your leg lightly swing forward and back, and side to side. Practice hip-openers, by lifting your knee towards your stomach and out towards your side. Gently twist your torso and do some arm circles. You can even warm up your spine with mild cambré; stand with your back to the barre, feet in first position, and slowly bend forward from the waist, leading with your chest, until your head is completely dropped and relaxed. Slowly return to upright position, one vertebrae at a time, and repeat.

3. Ballistic

ballistic

The 411:

Ballistic stretching is the riskiest and most ineffective form of stretching. It requires you to use bouncing or jerky movements to push past your range of motion. For example, you may try to get your chest to touch your leg in a straddle stretch by bouncing your upper body towards your leg. While static stretching at the right time can assist you in safely moving past your limits, ballistic stretching can cause injury since it doesn’t allow you to adjust to the stretch. It effectually snaps you in and out of a stretch.

The Bottom Line:

Avoid it. Do not attempt to use repeated force or gravity to reach your goals. Your body should always be engaged in appropriate activation of muscle groups.

There is great debate over which way is the best way to stretch. Use good judgement and listen to your body. If you feel sharp pain or pinching, you’re probably doing something wrong, and need to change your course. Some say you shouldn’t stretch before class at all, and this is not true. Just as you would mark choreography before performing full-out, you wouldn’t jump into intense barre work without giving your body some kind of heads-up. Whether you practice mild dynamic stretches, or brief static stretching, find your groove and make class a success!

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image credit: Quinn Dombrowski
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(2, Feature)
image credit: Martin Kisza
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image credit: Angelina Koh
Creative Commons license Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
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