Ballroom Dance > Proper way to stretch your way into a split?

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

  1. Just reporting back on my bar method experience so far...

    It seems that bar method really hasn't taken off here in the UK - I think there are only about 3 providers in the entire country. Fortunately one of them is only about 30 mins from me, so I have been to a couple of classes.

    The classes provide a full body workout using strength building and stretching techniques, aimed towards conditioning for dance. Actual use of the barre makes up a fairly small proportion, maybe a quarter, of the hour class, and then it is only used to hold onto for support, not for leg stretches, which I was hoping for.

    All the stretches are either dynamic, or using the muscle contraction/PNF approach, which is what I did want to pursue for faster progress and additional safety.

    I can feel this is definitely going to improve my strength all over, and I will have the opportunity to improve flexibility by pushing myself during certain exercises once my strength is increased enough to provide the support. At the moment each session is quite punishing, but once I have gotten used to it I will start pushing my leg extensions etc.

    What is slightly annoying is the teacher likes doing the straddle stretch to finish (sitting down, spread your legs as wide as poss, lean forward from the hips), and I am not flexible enough yet to be able to lean forward at all. In the effort of trying to keep up in class I managed to strain my lower back last time. It is ok now, and I have learned my lesson, next time I will just use the correct muscles (abs, hammies, quads) to do what I can and not give in to trying to keep up with the teacher. But it seems a bit of a tricky stretch to include when you have a group of varied flexibility.
  2. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    you're pretty fortunate to have a bar method so near you! it's still taking off here in the states, as well, so many people don't have one near them.

    sounds like you're off to a good start. stop trying to keep up with your neighbor, so you don't injure yourself again. :)

    you're the expert about what your body can do and is ready for.

    and fwiw, from speaking with those who have been going for a couple years, as well as the seems to have the ability to take everyone to their edge, no matter how long they've been going. good luck gettin past the grueling phase...i surely am nowhere near it, lolz. this morning's class was brutal. but am with's having such a good, dance-specific benefit.

    i wish i had started this regimen 6 years ago when i first started dancing. but then...these places didn't exist back then.

    in our class, they spend about 30 seconds on the straddle stretch... i wish it were more like 10 minutes.
  3. musicbrain

    musicbrain Member

    Another thing to consider that hasn't been mentioned yet is that muscles aren't the only thing that limit a person's flexibility. Very often it's the connective tissue (ligaments, tendons, fascia) that is the bigger problem. Active stretching, PNF (relax-contract-relax), or pulsing WILL NOT increase the length of connective tissue - they will only lengthen with long, sustained static stretches. Hot yoga/yin yoga is very good for this. Also, use of balls/foam rollers or getting regular massages can help relax and lengthen the fascia.

    Be careful not to overstretch your ligaments (the ones located very close to the joints) - they won't shorten again, and if they're too long they won't support the joint properly and can lead to sprains. Fascia, on the other hand, will shorten. If, for example, you sit at a computer all day for 40 years of your life, the fascia in your hips and legs will gradually tighten in whatever configuration you sit.

    I'm still working on the flexibility thing myself, and am by no means an expert (or a medical professional - I bow to your superior knowledge if you are!) But there are plenty of good resources on stretching that can help you find the answers that will work best for your body.
  4. smidra86

    smidra86 Active Member

    That was really informative and definitely helped me understand a lot as to why possibly my splits have started to become equal, etc.
  5. I was just wondering - does anyone who can do the splits know - are there any 'test positions' that can tell you if the specific muscles required to achieve the splits are flexible enough already?

    For example, if I can touch my toes, does that mean my hamstrings are flexible enough?

    If in a lunge I can get a straight line from the back of my raised (front) knee to the front of my back knee (on the floor), does that mean my hip flexors are flexible enough?

    If I could know which muscles already stretch long enough, I would then concentrate working on those that won't.
  6. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    yes, the original hurdler's stretch on the floor. it's like a split, but with the front leg straight and the back/side leg bent, with toes pointing back. your ability to move the bent leg back and straighten it is the perfect gauge to show you your level of flexibility for the splits.

    and since it's done predominantly on one hip, it can help you ease into a split as your flexibility increases, with shifting into square hips over the split being the last achievement.

    this original hurdler's stretch and the straddle stretch are the only stretches i ever did when i was younger to improve my splits...and they are still what i use when i'm down on the floor.
  7. Silmarwen

    Silmarwen Member

    I've always been taught to do it the opposite way. With your back leg straight and your front leg bent and slowly straightening. For me this is much more comfortable because it keeps excess pressure off of my back knee.
  8. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member

  9. Thanks guys, but what I was getting at was - can I isolate the individual muscles in certain positions, such as my example above, so that I can tell if say, my hamstrings are already as flexible as they need to be to achieve splits?

    The hurdler stretch requires flexibility from the same muscles you would require flexibility from to do the splits. So while it is a sort of half-way position to the splits, it doesn't tell me which of the specific muscles are tight, I just know it is one or more of a number of muscles that are tight.

    I don't want to continue trying to increase flexibility in any individual muscle beyond what is required for the splits.
  10. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    that's a great hip opener, but IME it is drastically more strenuous for the hips & knees. i would never use that as an aid to splits, or recommend it for that, because it is harder to control as you move into position. and it strains my body...i can't relax into it as i can the other way.

    the hurdle stretch is a natural for splits you go deeper into it, you naturally move into splits.
  11. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    sorry, not following you, TwT. the hurdler stretch does exactly that, so am not sure what else you need.

    when you do the hurdler, you will quickly see how close your current flexibility will allow you to get into the splits.
  12. Angelo

    Angelo Member

    I don't know if this will answer your question, but the website stadion(dot com) has a test to see if you have the requisite mobility to acheive a split. go to the home page and follow the "Test your Flexibility" link.
  13. Miss Silly

    Miss Silly Well-Known Member

    I kind of skimmed most of this thread (sorry! I'm a newb to the forum and there is a considerable amount of reading i'm tryign to do LOL ;-P) but i thought i'd just jump in and add a few thoughts.

    I've spend years as a competitive fitness athlete and working on our flexibility and splits (both static and dynamic flexibility) is definitely a huge focus. From a functional perspective, it would be a good idea to do some work with dynamic flexibility (high kicks, for example). When an athlete can do the splits in a seated position, it doesn't necessarily translate to being able to 'throw' your leg in that position from say, standing, jumping, or in an areal gymnastics move. It's definitely recommended, however, to have a good static stretch before attempting dynamic ones. ;)

    Also, (and it took me years and a lot of physiotherapy to figure this one out LOL) sometimes what prevents us from doing the splits isn't actually our hamstring flexibility. At times, it could actually be a tight iliopsoas that prevents you from reaching 180 degrees. Say you're doing your right split (with right leg forward, hips square), it could be the "top" of your left leg that's not flexible rather than your right hamstring.

    (i just tried to put in a url here but i don't have enough posts yet LOL)

    And another consideration---muscle adhesion and myofascial adhesion. For various reasons (sometimes training induced, sometimes as a result of injury or scar tissue, etc), different muscles can "stick" to eachother, or skin or other soft tissue can basically become "glued" together. Things ideally should move like two pieces of paper gliding against eachother with no restrictions. If you crumple up one piece, then the two aren't sliding nicely. It will pull or compromise the movement. Or if you put something sticky on one piece, then obviously you'll also have some problems. When muscles, ligaments & tendons don't track quite right, then this could have a chain-effect of problems. One of them being an impingement on your flexibility. A good example of how sort-of bizarre this concept can be, is this example: Doing a seated forward bend with your head tucked in (like a diver's pike position) could be compromised by "stuck" faschia on the back or neck.

    Crazy eh?

    And your question about positions... yes. Doing that "forward bend" seated vs doing it standing (touch-your-toes style) will recruit different sets of muscles depending on stability requirements and gravity.

    Hope this helps :D
  14. GGinrhinestones

    GGinrhinestones Well-Known Member

    Wow, great post Miss Silly! And welcome to DF! This is great information, about some of those "other things" that get in the way. Any suggestions for how to work through some of these issues - how do you deal with "stuck" muscles and tendons, for example?
  15. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    nope, not crazy at all... :)

    there are some rolfing and resistance stretching fans on the site here that have talked extensively about these things.

    it's nice to hear more along those lines.
  16. Welcome Miss Silly, great post!

    That's sort of what I was getting at actually, in terms of isolating which muscles are restricting me the most.

    I think I will work on the premise that once I can get my palms flat on the floor doing the forward bend, I will assume my hamstrings are probably as long as they're going to get and focus on the hip flexors and adductors for a while...

    GGinrhinestones - re the sticking muscles, my one experience of this was when I was recovering from a sprained ankle. My physio said I should regularly massage the healing ligament, or it might stick to surrounding tissues as it healed. I gave it a gentle massage for a minute or so most days and nothing got stuck, fortunately.
  17. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

    fwiw, TwT, this may have nothing to with your ability to do the splits. you have have long arms & tight hammies, or short arms & loose hammies. honestly, getting your palms on the floor challenges only a piece of what you must ask of your body to do splits.

    for example...what about your groin muscles? getting down on the floor an stretching increasingly into splits from a hurdle stretch will help you assess/evolve your groin muscles & hip flexibility as well.

    "get rolfed". :tongue:

    it will help release any stuck fascia, TwT.
  18. Thanks! I assume this is referring to foam rollers? I have got one, and I do use it!

    Thanks Samina, I am working on the groin and hip muscles as well. The palms down thing is just the next achievable milestone I am aiming at with my hamstrings, then evaluate from there.
  19. samina

    samina Well-Known Member

  20. Miss Silly

    Miss Silly Well-Known Member

    Thank you so much for the warm welcome guys!!! You can bet i'll be doing some trolling on this forum and learning lots from everyone! I'm glad i was able to contribute a little.

    Rolfing is great---it is intense. It's very deep soft tissue work and (not to scare you ....LOL) but i have a fairly high pain tolerance and i let out quite a few shouts during the treatment LOL. I only did a few sessions with one rolfer (?LOL) so i'm curious to compare him with someone else. Maybe the guy i went to was just particularly intense. Who knows.

    But something less severe would be massage therapy. Finding a great massage therapist that you really like can sometimes mean visiting a few before you settle with one therapist. And i don't mean "fluffy spa massage" (although that's a nice treat too LOL they just don't go quite as deep). If you have a chronic issue especially, it's really worth setting up a series of sessions that will work on the problem spot until it's in a state where you can do more of a maintenance program with it, or hopefully, be able to eventually manage the issue on your own. The drawback to this of course is money. Up in Canada, the rates are set so it doesn't matter who you go do (and some extended health plans include X amount of sessions a year). Of course you can even go in for just one session and ask for "homework" and they're usually great for helping you devise a home do-it-yourself program to work on problem areas.

    If you're a bit strapped for cash, by all means try and do some stuff on your own and i definitely encourage the use of foam rollers and even tennis balls (i have to use a tennis ball in the cheek of my bum almost daily LOL). There are tons of stuff you can do with these simple (and cheap) things that really can go a long way. A classic example is rolling sideways on a roller for your IT band. I did this experiment with my BF who had exceptionally tight IT's (he complained a lot LOL) and i made him roll on the roller every day for a week as an experiment. It was remarkable how much of a difference this simple daily 5-10 min of rolling on foam accomplished.

    I bet with a few searches you can find some physiotherapy sites that would have great examples for various body parts or tight places. I can't post links yet... i need to post more hahahah so maybe i'll come back to this. But don't be afraid to experiment a little. My massage therapist warned me about when working on the bum, just to make sure you don't pinch the sciatic nerve. She said that i would likely feel it right away like a tingling sensation rather than muscle soreness. Aside from that, it's unlikely you will damage yourself since you are in control of the application and your own pain will prevent you from doing anything really bad. Although there are always exceptions LOL so do be a little careful. I have a LOT of problems with my psoas major. It's part of the whole hip-flexor combo that runs kinda from your tibia bone in your leg to one of your vertibrae. It's a deep muscle and very difficult to get to... some yoga stretches/poses help, and i also take my TV remote control and kind of work it into the side of my stomach and then lean against a wall with it basically like a stick going through the side of my abdomen. It looks pretty strange LOL but for some reason the shape and the hardness of the remote control makes the best tool for this. I don't really recommend people doing this unless they have a really good idea of where they're putting the remote (LMAO) but what I hope to demonstrate is more the freedom to think a little outside of the box. As dancers, you all will likely have exceptional awareness of your body and connection to it so i feel safe throwing that out there LOL.

    One more thing with DIY suggetion... sometimes depending on where the faschia is stuck, you can do this technique on yourself where you kind of like, pinch or roll the skin above the muscle. I'm not sure i can explain it very well. I might have to come back to this one too after a youtube search... essentially it feels kind of "krinkly" as it separates. It's weird. LOL. Sorry this explanation isn't great, and of course, some areas you won't be able to reach on your own.

    And also (as TwT's mentioned) doing a little bit of self-massage (or 'friction work') on areas are helpful. Or even better if you can coerce your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/mom to do it for you hahaha.

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