Dancers can display breathtaking feats of flexibility as they perform splits, kick their feet above their heads or simply flow gracefully from one movement to the next. Whether your goal is to become a ballerina or you just want to improve your fitness, emulating a dancer’s flexibility training can help you look and feel better in your daily life. Stretching is the key to flexibility, but it isn’t the sole component of an overall flexibility program.
Warm Up Properly
Warming up before a workout increases your blood flow, literally warms your muscles and prepares your body for stretching or other flexibility exercises. A good warm up may also help you reduce injuries and post-exercise muscle soreness. At a minimum, do five minutes of light aerobic exercise before any flexibility workout, even if you’re only going to stretch. You can then add some dynamic stretching by doing body-weight moves such as squats, lunges and jumping jacks.
Stretch Your Muscles
Stretching at least twice each week -- after you’ve warmed up -- is the best way to improve your flexibility. For dancers, it’s important to stretch all of your major muscle groups, from your neck down to your feet. One of San Francisco Corps de Ballet dancer Shannon Marie Rugani’s favorite total-body stretches is the “all-rounder.” Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and then bend forward from the waist, keeping your back straight. Reach down and place your palms on the floor in front of your feet. Walk your hands forward until you’re in a pike position with your arms extended past your head. Lift your right heel and flex your right knee to stretch your right leg and then repeat the move with your left leg. Walk your hands back to your feet and then rise smoothly to the starting position.
Perform Yoga Poses
Yoga poses offer a variety of benefits for dancers, including improved flexibility. Recommended yoga postures for dancers, according to the Paso Dance Studios, include the Sun Salutation as part of a dynamic warm up and seated asanas for your cool-down. For the core of your flexibility workout, try Bound Angle Pose for your back, Big Toe Pose for the backs of your legs, Tree Pose for the front of your body, Extended Triangle Pose for your legs and Wide-Legged Forward Bend for your lower back, calves and chest.
Incorporate Flexibility Into Strength Training
Strength-training exercises can also play a role in your flexibility routine. Perform body-weight exercises or use a very light weight load and move through a full range of motion as you perform compound exercises, which involve more than one joint. Squatting deeply, for example, can improve the flexibility of your hips. Athletic trainer and author Stacey Nemour recommends wearing ankle weights during exercise to improve flexibility, but only if you can do each activity with the correct form.