Recently the Adult Beginner received this question:
I had a question about at-home flexibility stretches. you and your readers have some good insights and suggestions. perhaps this could be a new post. so here’s the deal, i was a cheerleader type in school and back then, so so stretchy. i didn’t have to put much effort to get my leg waaaay over there. but now, this adult beginner’s body is stiff. doing the splits used to be so simple. how did this happen? since i never learned how to become flexible i don’t know where to start. any suggestions?
Good question right?
I have no idea why people ask me this kind of thing!
Is it not Super-Obvious that I know Nothing About Nothing!!!
But you know, it’s like that lesson you learn on your First Real Job: you don’t have to know all the answers, you just have to know the right person to ask.
Also, forget new post, this question is interview worthy!
Enter Jen of 180 Degrees Of Movement. I have always really liked that her blog has such a specific focus.
Not just ballet, Ballet Flexibility. Aw yeah.
Wish she would post more often!
But I wish everyone would post more often, so apparently that is just a personal problem.
Here is a link to her first post entitled, “What’s Up With This Blog,” which will tell you what’s up with her blog.
Go have a look.
Are you back? Ok!
Jen knows a thing or two about working toward increased flexibility, and she was not terrified by all my crazy questions!
Here we go:
(I’m in bold)
Ok, so on the one hand you’ve got people like the reader above: Used to be flexible; trying to get that stretchiness back. And then on the other hand you’ve got people like me, who were never very flexible and are trying to improve from zero. Which were you when you started your blog?
I guess that I’m more flexible than many people, but this is only because of dance. I’ve never been naturally bendy. Never been a rubber band. Even when I first started dancing when I was younger I was not very flexible. And aren’t you supposed to be more flexible when you’re younger? I’ve always envied those girls though. So I guess I’m not starting from total 0, but I am trying to improve.
What do you advise? Same approach to gaining flexibility for the formerly bendy and the never bendy? Different approach?
I think it’s the same approach in that you have to start slow whether you are starting from scratch or re-starting. Either way, your muscles are not as bendy as they have the potential to be. The difference comes in knowing the limitations of your own body. Know when you’ve reached your limit so that you don’t injure yourself. If you used to be really flexible like the reader who posted the question, then you will be able to go farther than someone who was never naturally flexible. I think the problem that the reader is having is that she doesn’t quite know how to deal with her older body. You know, being stiff, being crackly, being sore. Kids can do all sorts of crazy stuff with their bodies without being really warmed up, especially the kids who are really naturally flexible. As adults, we have to be properly warmed up before our muscles will let us get in a good stretch. It’s not easy for us to stretch before class, we have to stretch during class and/or after class. What I would suggest to her is to make sure to do a warm up before she attempts to stretch, whether it’s a jog or a class or whatever. Then, she’ll need to work up to her old stretching self. Maybe set a goal for herself. Like, I’m going to work on stretch x, y and z during or after every class. At first, stretches x, y and z may be really frustrating, but if she keeps at them consistently she’ll improve. Consistency is key here.
Consistency, my old foe. So, looks like from your blog you practice at home in addition to classes? Do you warm up? How do you warm up?
If I stretch at home it’s either directly after class or with some kind of warm up before. Yes, I definitely warm up before I stretch no matter where I am. I hate walking into a class where the first thing the instructor has you do is stretch. YUCK! At home, my favorite warm up is Pilates. When I was in college I took a Pilates class for a couple of semesters with a really excellent instructor. She made us keep a Pilates notebook with all of the exercises (including drawings and special notes for each exercise). I still have it, so I just go through that notebook. Not all of the exercises all the time though, cause there are quite a few.
What is your favorite stretch? What stretch do you think is totally over-rated? Totally under-rated?
I have a few favorite, staple stretches. I like to do a standing roll down and just hang there and then roll up. I usually do that one a few times in a row. I also love a good quad stretch or a calf/Achilles stretch. When it’s chilly out my poor feet get quite stiff, so I stretch them out a lot. And, I’ve lately started taking a nice long stretch into the side splits after barre or after class. I’m finding as I get older that there are fewer and fewer stretches that are over-rated. Sob. So I’ll just tell you some stretches that I hate. I hate downward facing dog. Yoga peeps say that it’s supposed to be a relaxing stretch, but I find it to be incredibly uncomfortable no matter how warm I am. I also hate pretty much any other stretch where I have to work my muscles to hold a position when I’m supposed to be stretching those same muscles. Who’s brilliant idea was that? Yeah, it’s anatomically impossible to use and hold a muscle in a position and stretch it at the same time. You’ll just end up hurting yourself if you do that. As for under-rated stretches, I think that dance classes need more arm and shoulder stretching, or really any stretching in the upper body. We actually use our upper bodies a lot in ballet; so why not stretch them? Plus, I swam competitively for quite a few years and it just feels wrong to go without stretching my arms and shoulders.
What about gadgets? I see there’s a post about the flexi-stretcher on your blog. Any funny stories? Ever shoot a theraband across the room like a giant rubber band?
I’m discovering through all this that, with the exception of the theraband, stretching gadgets are over-rated. Funny stories? I almost fell on my face the first time I tried the flexi-stretcher. My husband got a good laugh out of that one. I’ve definitely snapped the theraband more than a few times, and also had one break while I was using it. Apparently those things wear out eventually and then break . . . while you’re in the middle of a stretch. I’ve always wanted to try those Pilates tables, but never had the opportunity. Seems interesting, but definitely only useful if you are a more advanced stretcher.
Oh man, my husband also would get a good laugh out of that one.
How has your flexibility improved since starting your blog? Any surprises? Like, needing to improve something unexpected like pinky-toe flexibility to free up the shoulder?
Let’s see, well my side splits are better. My back flexibility is definitely better. My legs are more flexible in certain ways, like if I left my leg to the side it goes higher now. Not too many surprises really. More just, reminders, like how strength is also important with flexibility. And that core strength is key to being able to use your flexibility in ballet. Stuff like that. Also I guess that the more you stretch in different ways, the more muscles you discover that need to be stretched. Everything in your body is connected. Stretching just your hamstrings is not going to get you into the splits and stretching just your quads is not going to get you into a perfect penche. So yeah, in some small way your pinky-toe is connected to your shoulder. Although not directly.
How about the splits? Adult Beginners are fascinated with splits, how do we get there, is it even possible, blah blah blah. Splits seem to be a big far off dream-goal for adults, like pointe, and pirouettes. Any advice? Daily something-or-other to work toward splits? How do you work toward splits/ improve your already awesome splits?
Well I’m sorry to report that my splits are not already awesome. They have actually never been awesome. I have to work really hard on them all the time in order to do them. The thing with the splits (in any direction) is that it’s not just your legs that have to be all warm and stretchy, your hips and the muscles in your pelvic floor also have to be really warm and stretchy. Not to mention your booty and your lower back. That’s a lot to work on. I’ve never, never, ever been able to do full side splits (although they are getting better), but I think that also has a lot to do with how naturally turned-out you are in addition to how stretchy and warm your muscles are. On the other hand (as in, not me), there is this woman who I dance with (who is over 60) who can do the splits in all directions. She’s never been a professional dancer or anything, she just works on them all the time and she has a tad bit more natural flexibility. As for a daily split-practice, do the splits. Warmed-up, of course. If I haven’t done the splits in, say, a week, I probably won’t be able to do them the next time I try them. That’s just because I haven’t been working on them.
Ok, i have to admit I’ve never even thought about all the parts that have to be warmed up and stretchy for splits. No wonder they’re so dang hard.
What’s prettiest: 180 degree penché, 180 degree jeté, or 180 degree developé to the front?
180 degree jete I think. Not over 180 degrees though; I don’t think that over-split jetes are all that pretty. It’s just not as nice of a line, IMO.
And there you have it, Gentle Reader!
Jen, thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure interviewing you, and I wish you lots and lots and lots of nice straight 180 degree split-jetés!
PS, hey Gentle Reader, if you wanna ask Jen a question, I bet she’ll answer it. She’s pretty cool like that.