Stretching Safely

 While these dancers are all doing the same stretch, notice that some dancers' knees are higher or lower and the feet are placed at varying distances from the body.  Variation is crucial in healthy stretching.

While these dancers are all doing the same stretch, notice that some dancers' knees are higher or lower and the feet are placed at varying distances from the body.  Variation is crucial in healthy stretching.

Social media posts today weighed in on video of a cheer coach forcing a young woman into a split as she cried for help.  Equally troubling were the many comments attempting to normalize this behavior.  Things to know:  1.  Forcing a body into a position such as this does not result in stretching but instead in tearing and damage, 2. No teacher or coach has the right to mentally or physically force another person into an unhealthy situation, 3. This is abuse -- not coaching.

Stretching is a positive practice, and one that should be observed by dancers on a regular basis, however, it's important to remember that stretching is a process of slow and steady improvement over a prolonged period. 

5 Simple Rules for Safe Stretching

1 - Gentle stretching can be used as a warm-up, but you should not force yourself into any stretch, especially when you aren't warmed up. 

2 - The best time to stretch is when your body is warm.  As obvious as this seems, you should not push a stretch when your body is cold.

3 - There is a difference between discomfort and pain.  Discomfort during stretching is relatively normal.  You should not be in pain.

4 - Stretching is most effective when practiced consistently.  Forcing your body into a position is often counter-productive.  You will be lucky if you don't noticeably injure yourself by forcing your body beyond its limits.  Even if you don't show signs of injury on the outside, your body will have to recover on the inside and this may even cause you to feel tighter.  Repeating a variety of stretches over a prolonged period and with consistency is the best path to more flexibility.

5 - Over-stretching may be visually appealing to some, but it leads to less stability in the joint.  Hyper-extension has become the norm in dance, gymnastics, and cheer leading.  Some dancers have natural hyper-extension that they must work diligently to control in a weight bearing position.  While it may be coveted by some, hyper-extension in a weight-bearing joint must be controlled to manage stability and to avoid future injury.  If you're not hyper extended, you should not force your joint past a normal range of motion. 

A personal note to young dancers, gymnasts, cheer leaders, and any other athletes who might read this post.  No credible teacher or coach would engage in forced stretching of a student like that seen in the video, nor would they show lack of concern when a student asks to stop, nor force a student's joint past a healthy range of motion.  If you're concerned for your safety, seek help from a parent, guardian, faculty member, studio owner, or other trustworthy adult.

Jennifer LawrenceComment