"Usually when people are stretching, something is bent; the leg is bent, the back is rounded," said Donna Flagg, a dancer and instructor with the Joffrey Ballet School in New York. "But bent is not stretched."
In ballet, everything is about opposition — you're pulling one point away from another point, like stretching a rubber band, said Flagg, who developed a ballet-inspired stretching class called Lastics. That's why dancers' bodies are long and lean, their movements look alive and suspended, and they're the most flexible beings in the business.
When people try to dive into stretching positions to show how high they can kick their leg or how close they can get their nose to their knee, it defeats the purpose, Flagg said.
"It's about maintaining the form, which may mean not going as far," Flagg said. "And don't mislead yourself to think that because you're touching your toe or have your knee to your face, that you're stretched. You want length."
To help get your body bending more like the Sugar Plum Fairy — or her equally flexible Nutcracker Prince — dancers from the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago (not affiliated with the Joffrey Ballet School in New York) demonstrated some of their favorite stretches. Don't be intimidated by their Gumby-like extensions, and don't get hurt trying to match the pros; what matters most is form.
What it stretches: Hamstrings
How to do it: Kneel on one knee and put your other leg in front of you, keeping that leg straight and your hips square and facing forward. Flex your front foot. If you're very tight and are feeling enough of a stretch like that, stay upright. If you can, lean forward, keeping your back and knee straight, and put your hands to the floor. If you still have more stretch in you, grab your foot and pull it toward you, keeping your back and knee straight. Repeat with the other leg.
What it stretches: Chest
How to do it: Stand up straight next to a barre or something you can hold onto, raise one arm up, lift your torso and arch backward. Your legs and butt should be tight, and be sure to pull in your abdominals to maintain strength and control.
What it stretches: Hips, quadriceps, spine
How to do it: Get down on one knee, and bend your other leg so that it's in front of you at a 90-degree angle, making sure that front knee is directly above your heel. Tuck in your rear and push your hips forward, keeping your hips square and that front knee over your heel, so you can feel the stretch in your hip and the front of your thigh. For a deeper quadricep stretch, grab your back foot and bring it toward your butt. Finally, if you can, twist your body toward your back leg to stretch your spine. Repeat on the other side.
What it stretches: Outer hamstring, lower back
How to do it: Raise your leg to the front and put your foot on a barre, with your leg turned out. The key is to keep your hips down and square, so aim for a lower level if you find your hip lifting; if you lift one hip, you're allowing the muscle to slacken and you're not getting a full stretch. Flex your foot. If you can, lean your upper body toward your leg (with back straight and hips down) to stretch your lower back.
Link this story to your website:
Copy the above code and paste it into your webpage, blog or forum