Proper way to stretch your way into a split?

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by chocobebe, Apr 10, 2011.

  1. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

    I try to get to vinyasa on tues mornings sometimes...and hot whenever possible...and I love it for that ver reason, it is non-competitive :)...I need to find some locations to make it a more regular part of my life

  2. Sorry if I wasn't clear - I know I need to be warmed up before stretching - my question was, am I supposed to perform that stretch with my muscles tensed, not relaxed?
  3. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    i was thinking about your situation over the weekend, particularly how you were trying to disassociate/disengage your quads from the stretch and the consequences/implications of this.

    bear in mind, i'm just sharing my thoughts as one fellow dancer/stretcher to another -- i assume you regard yourself as the authority on what you need or don't need. but what came to mind is the following:

    1. muscles shouldn't be disengaged/disassociated from their primary purpose, or a domino effect of other problems will result. for example, you would be teaching your quads that it is *appropriate* to "misbehave", rather than teach them how to cooperate with the other components of your body as they are supposed to. this led me to consider that...

    2. your issue may not (just) be the quads & hamstrings themselves, per se, but perhaps the inner and outer lines of your legs. if one line is tight (for example, the outer musculature of your thigh), the other line (for example, the inner musculature that runs from your groin to your knee) will remain weak, and *they* will be unable to "cooperate" with the rest and do their part...resulting in the quads & hammies possibly going into over-duty.

    you may want to consider strengthening your inner leg line and stretching your outer leg line. and if you could find a resistance stretching practitioner in your area to work with on a regular basis, they could help you fine tune where the imbalances are and help you get all the pieces working together more cooperatively.

    i have worked particularly in this area of my own body to create more balance. it can be a tough one that effects darn near all your movement...
  4. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    fasc is correct -- there are different schools of thought & types of stretching.

    my own recommendation is to try them & compare...
  5. Samina - thanks for putting so much thought into it!

    I very much get your point about how disengaging muscles that should be engaged in an action is a bad thing. But sometimes I really get the impression that, in an ideal world, you need to isolate the muscle you want to stretch - that sometimes you get undesirable knock-on effects in other muscles by stretching?

    My thought on the 'foot on a step and touch toe' stretch, is that I felt the quads engaging to hold the knee down and keep the leg straight, and I realised if I hold the knee down with my hand, the quad isn't required.

    I am only going to the effort of trying to avoid using my quads for the short term, working on this idea that they have got over-developed on that side.

    I also get your point about balancing the sides of the leg - I have had tight ITB previously, and had physio to work on that. Really I need to get to physio again - I am just having a few weeks trying stuff myself first, as I don't really have time to go at the moment.

    Thanks for all your thoughts!:)
  6. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    it's challenging to puzzle these things out, i know! :)

    let me close with just a few other comments & observations that came to me since i last posted -- i have just returned from a bar method class where i noticed a few things, as did the instructor in some comments she made to me during the practice. and they pertain directly to our discussion, and to the thread in general.

    first: by using the techniques i've been describing, my quads have become longer and more streamlined, my hamstrings have become very rapidly more flexible, and my knees -- which would previously object to being lifted high and slowly straightened -- happily enable my legs to lift higher and straighter than anyone in the class in certain exercises...although i'm still one of the chubbier students, lolz.

    in addition, although about a month and a half ago i could not go down into a full split on either side, i now can go all the way down with perfectly square hips (a very big deal), with no "easing into it" required on one side, and only a little adjustment required on the other.

    the background to this is that i started a program back in december to get back into "dance shape", and baselined at that point with tremendous stiffness. even my side-stretches were tremendously restricted. but using the technique of active stretching and controlled pulses, my body has unlocked ridiculously quickly.

    my side stretches enable me to lay the side of my torso directly onto my straddled or raised leg, with my straight arm glued to the side of my head (that's pretty extreme compared to where i started and, well, frankly, compared to anyone else in my class). i can do a wide straddle and lay my chest on the ground again, with a flat back. and my legs are noticeabley longer and leaner...not counting the recalcitrant chub that has yet to melt off. :tongue:

    you must choose whatever approach you think will work for you. i just wanted to reiterate with some concrete evidence how well active stretching with small controlled pulsing works. it's very gentle but very powerful. and i've used it since my teen years to acquire some extreme flexibility, and to heal hamstring & groin injuries.
  7. nikkitta

    nikkitta Well-Known Member

    <--- jealous of Samina, and inspired to revisit my rubbery childhood...
    Never should have taken it for granted.
  8. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    i feel the same way, nikkita...i am a far cry from rubbery, that's for sure. but with the changes i've seen in a short amount of time, coupled with the resolution of many glitches in my body during the course of my dance hiatus, i'm hopeful i might still get a wee bit closer to "rubbery". :)
  9. teotjunk

    teotjunk Member

    PNF stretching
  10. Wow Samina, that's brilliant!:cool:

    Can I just ask, since you started your program in December, how long were you spending stretching each day to achieve all this?
  11. Aura

    Aura Active Member

    Forgive me, but I don't have very much in-depth knowledge when it comes to stretching. What is the importance of activating a certain muscle during a stretch, like say during a straddle or that hip flexor stretch (which I have been doing. Thanks sam!)?
  12. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    Very, very little (almost nothing) outside of classes I took. I did a couple weeks of pilates reformer group classes (not mat pilates, but using the machine) and gyrotic private sessions just to wake things up and "launch".

    Then I did a couple months of alternating hot yoga and bar method in the mornings before work. And then a little over a month ago I bagged the hot yoga (for the time being) to do only bar method, 4-5 sessions a week. It was only at that time that I started bring the optional split stretch into my practice because although stretching is included in every class, not much time is allotted to it -- it is incorporated into the workout and you move through it very quickly.

    I did not practice splits or do straddle or hurdler stretches at home...all progress was made using the active stretch principles used in the bar method (they don't call it as such, but that's what it is), and bringing my own "controlled pulsing" into every stretch in the class.

    I'm still very tight for my natural level of flexibility, but this progress has definitely been remarkable, IMO.
  13. While it is still very impressive in that time - you did take a lot of classes!

    Also, how far off were you to start with?
    There is not being able to go down into a full split by a few cm - or by 30+ cm, which is where I am!

    I do appreciate that because I haven't got the time to take daily hot yoga and/or bar work lessons, I have to expect to take longer to progress when I can only do a few stretches at home in the evenings.

    But I have been doing this for about 2 years, with very little to show for it! I can touch my toes now, where as to start with my hands only reached half way down my shins, but a lot of that was due to realising I needed to pivot at the hip and keep a flat back, not sort of 'hang' off my upper spine! I don't think my splits are any nearer than when I started...:(

    I just keep getting these annoying side issues (sprained ankle, weirdy quads) to stop my progress!:rolleyes:

    Sorry, moan over!

    Still well done Samina! :applause:
  14. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    Sure thing, Aura, no probs. Probly a few answers to that question -- I'll share whatever comes to mind at the moment. I'll see if I can find a good link to research that shows why particular use of resistance stretching (one kind of active & dynamic stretching) has been shown to give more power and strength to athletes. But in my own experience...

    You only know your true flexibility in a certain area when you're stretching an active muscle involved in the stretch. Theoretically, you want to be able to put your flexibility to *use*, not just regard it academically, and activating your muscle puts it in work mode, which in my experience conveys the information in the muscle fibers very differently than in static stretching. IME, active stretching creates more nuanced, "alive" and sensitive/responsive muscles, whereas static stretching is sloppy and doesn't develop the same responsiveness & control.

    There is no contraction in static stretching -- just a one-way stretch, like sustained pulling on a rubber band. Eventually that rubber band is going to deteriorate its ability to contract, and therefore it will lose all its power. This is one of the reasons I love controlled pulsing during active stretches -- it gently pulls & contracts, alternately challenging the muscles to lengthen and then use its strength & power to retract.

    Also, activating a muscle stabilizes it, giving you control and safety within the stretch. And you do not need to "warm up" when you do active stretching, because the action inherently warms & protects the muscle as you are working it. I have never hurt myself when doing this kind of stretching. You are also training your muscles how to keep you safe when you are moving (dancing, in this context) because -- if you can't keep yourself safe & controlled in a small, limited range isolated movement, how on earth can you stay safe when you are endeavoring to be free and uncontrolled in your movement on the dance floor? :)

    By comparison, I severely injured myself in a ballistic stretch in high school -- in a cheerleading pep rally, I did a round-off into a split without having warmed up. Talk about ballistic. Tore my groin muscle, ended my cheerleading career at 15. :tongue: But...by 19 I had completely worked through the dense scar tissue from the injury by using active stretching with controlled pulses.

    Given that the prevailing wisdom in the mainstream is still static, non-dynamic stretching, that I was using this different technique 30 years ago had no point of reference in my life -- no one talked about it or knew about it. All I knew is that it worked and felt WONDERFUL to do. The more you do it, the more wonderful it feels, and I'm beginning to hit that point, now.

    Had another bar method class today and I was positively *bouncy* with energy, power and resilience coming out of stretches. That's a big turning point for me.

    ETA: I know I'm very chatty on this subject but... it is definitely one of my favorite subjects. :)
  15. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    Also, FWIW, best technique ever to build into lengthy stretch sessions & rapidly improve flexibility: do "rounds" of stretching rather than moving from one stretch to another in a linear fashion.

    Stretch a muscle one way, then stretch its opposite (counter-stretch), do another stretch, and another counterstretch, and then return to the first stretch and repeat. Do a few rounds, going deeper and "playing the edge" each time, going for *pleasure*, never pain.

    These rounds are brilliant. Do it to good pulsing music and spend at least an hour on the floor if you have the time.
  16. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    true, this involved work, but also during an extremely busy time in my life. i scheduled regular 5:30 or 6am classes before work, would show up, do whatever was in the class, and did almost nothing physical the rest of the day...except walk the dog and a few dance drills. :) i don't have much in the way of funds available for personal endeavors right now, so i went for the cheap "unlimited monthly" plans, and because the classes were all prepaid using valuable funds, i definitely had an investment in showing up, lolz.

    that might be something to consider if your time & responsibilities right now are similarly demanding.

    well, there are two answers to this. the first is that i was "the worst ever, for me" -- the stiffest hips i've ever had, ever, and my pathetic side stretches really told the tale.

    however...this sort of thing is relative, so you have to take that into context for your own body. not everybody is built for easy splits, right? i mean, there are dancers who have danced their whole lives who have less flexibility than what i may have right now, even though for me i started "old lady stiff". you can use whatever you have and make it work for you, make it beautiful no matter what your innate constitution allows.

    as for the actual splits themselves... i wouldn't even try them with any seriousness for a couple months because i knew i would injure myself if i did. i was too stiff to have any control. mebbe i would have been six inches above the ground if i tried, with sloppy bent legs? nowhere near a split.

    but a family of exercises similar to what i described for you helped me tremendously. that was what made the change...not lengthy "trying to do the splits" stretching sessions.

    i feel your pain, i do. i know the frustration of trying to puzzle through these challenges.

    is there a bar method center near you? it might be worth checking out. there are men who come to the class (a few) and all of them are cearly into cutting edge fitness, which is why they landed there (as compared to their buddies who are probly still pumping iron, lolz).
  17. Aura

    Aura Active Member

    Thank you for replying, samina. It sounds quite complex (despite the fact I'm a Bio major :tongue:), but it seems as if you're saying that activating, that is contracting, and relaxing your muscles during a stretch is good. Please correct me if I'm wrong. I can almost taste those splits.
  18. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    you got it. :)
  19. Thanks for all the great suggestions Samina and everyone else :)

    I'm looking into the bar method classes - there is one I might be able to squeeze in once a week - not as often as I would like, but better than nothing, and I should be able to get some informed advice on my stretching.
  20. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    sounds good, TwT. :)

    fwiw, i have never known a bar method instructor to speak at any length about stretching, per se, but they do know why the particular methods they use are used, and why they induce greater flexibility, among other things. i'm sure they can be a valuable resource for you. do report back if you find they have been helpful.

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