Ever since I was 8 years old, I understood the importance of stretching. As a dancer, athlete and performer, I can say without a doubt that stretching plays one of the biggest roles in my success. In ballet class, we’d spend the entire time active stretching at the barre. We would stretch before and after every class. After so many years, I became hard-wired to “active/dynamic stretch” to prep for dancing, then stretch after dancing to recover and get rid of toxins and lactic acid build up. It was ingrained and automatic, and one of the best healthy habits that I’ve held onto.
Stretching is not just sitting in a position and holding it there until you want to cry. It starts with observing what’s tight or achy, then researching various ways to lengthen and stretch the muscles in different ways. Lastly, and most importantly, there’s breathing.
BREATHE AS YOU STRETCH
Learning how to breathe before, during and coming out of a stretch is what people neglect the most. Use your breath to increase the intensity of your stretches. Move into your stretch on an exhale. Every time you inhale, hold the stretch. On each exhale, try to go further into the stretch, without forcing or tightening your muscles. Basically, sometimes there’s a point in a stretch where your body reflexes out of it, focus on breathing out and through that to retrain your muscles to tolerate more flexibility. The appropriate time to be in a stretch is actually two minutes!
THE BENEFITS OF STRETCHING
Being limber helps your body have more range of motion so that you can assume new and different positions without the risk of tearing or straining something. My boyfriend is a professional skateboarder and has no prior knowledge of stretching and how it can help prevent injuries. So I’ve taught him to loosen areas where he’s been really tight — and he had no idea! It was really cool to coach him through loosening his hips and to see how much it has helped him.
As a professional dancer, we don’t have guided warmups before auditions, rehearsals or even live performances. Our bodies have to be 100% ready when we step on stage. There’s a lot of prep before a performance so we can do our ultimate best each time without getting injured.
HOW I STRETCH
I love coming home after a long eight-hour rehearsal and stretch out the day. I’ll just plop down on the floor with a foam roller and some lacrosse balls and close my eyes. I’m not that talented at meditating, so I use stretching to help me calm my mind. I’ll find my breath and wring out any residual stress. It’s like a mental cleanse before hopping into bed then starting a new day.
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Stretching isn’t just for those who are really active. It helps everyone. Even on a 9–5 workday when you don’t leave your desk once and you’re too tired to go to the gym, you go home and stretch! Stretch while reading or while watching TV. After sitting in that chair all day your back needs to be lengthened, your shoulders and chest opened from hunching over, your hips loosened and wrists unlocked. You will feel like a new human, trust me.
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