Dance and flexibility – the two modalities are synonymous. Whether you want to attempt a split, rock a high kick, or simply improve your range of motion - stretching helps to get you there. The more flexibility you possess, the better your extent of movement, which allows you to access more muscles, have an effective workout, and decrease your chances of injury.
Not everyone is naturally flexible -- and yes, while genetics do play a role, overall flexibility is a skill you can work on daily. We sat down with Vanessa Chu, founder of Stretch*d, for an exclusive Q+A on everything you need to know about how to improve flexibility and on stretching your DanceBody.
Before jumping into a DanceBody cardio class, what is the best way to warm up your feet?
Vanessa: Great question. The feet are often the most neglected part of the body, yet literally make up the foundation of most physical activities - especially for DanceBody!
Our suggestion is to start with some gentle dynamic movement of the feet to warm up every muscle and joint. The feet have 26 bones, so it’s a complicated appendage! We suggest movements in all directions to stretch the muscles along all sides, including the calf muscles. This includes simple toe raises, and light jumps.
Are there “best practices” for your joints (knees and ankles) when jumping?
Your knees and ankles are complicated joints that are working extra hard to stabilize your movements when you lift and land during jumping. These areas are also the most prone to injury during weight bearing exercises, such as dance cardio.
We suggest dynamic stretches that warm up the muscles surrounding these joints - the quads, hamstrings, calf and foot muscles. Dynamic stretches are a great way to help pump blood flow into these muscles in order to prevent injury. Here are a few to try:
- Inner Ankle / Outer Ankle
- Ankle & Shin
After a DanceBody cardio class, what stretch do you recommend to increase flexibility?
It’s hard to pick just one stretch, but I’d go with our Stretch*d Squad stretch for your quadriceps. These are the large muscle groups that are responsible for explosive movements and also get tight from prolonged sitting. Tight hip flexors are extremely common and also may contribute to low back pain.
Other than stretching, what helps improve flexibility?
Foam rolling is super helpful to improve flexibility. It helps break up muscle adhesions and loosen up fascia, which can contribute to muscle tightness and decreased mobility. Staying hydrated is also important to keep those muscles prepped and loose.
Can you explain the difference between static and dynamic stretching?
Static stretching is when you hold stretches for a long time - what most people are used to. Static stretching requires weight bearing, which puts stress and tension on the joints. This isn’t appropriate for everyone, particularly people with injuries or sensitive joints. We believe that dynamic stretching is more appropriate for most people.
Active or dynamic stretching is movement based. The Stretch*d Method is based on active isolated stretching. This means we ask you to activate one muscle group in order to stretch the opposite muscle (i.e. activating the quads in order to get to the hamstrings). This requires 2-3 second holds of each stretch, with a reset in between to allow the muscles to relax. We do multiple reps (up to 10-12) to gently build flexibility with each repetition. The movement also makes this both a great warm up to boost blood flow pre workout and a great cool down to flush out all the lactic acid, etc, that makes you sore post workout.
To learn more about the way we stretch, we also launched a program called Stretch*d Academy.
How does stretching help your body recover from movement?
Stretching helps to lengthen the muscles and keep them loose and healthy. The active nature of our stretches helps with circulation to flush out all the lactic acid and other toxins that build up during a workout and make you sore. We can’t stress enough how important it is to stretch post workout to help with recovery. Even if you don’t get to it immediately after your workout, it’s better to do it sometime that day than not at all.
(Find great post-workout stretches on DanceBody LIVE HERE)
When is the best time to stretch, morning or night?
Stretching any time of day is great! Whatever works best for your routine. Like any habit, consistency is key. If you build a pre-bedtime stretch into your routine, this is a great way to help reduce tension from the day and also allow your nervous system to relax.
Is flexibility genetic or can it actually be increased?
It’s true that some of us are more “flexibility challenged” as we like to say. This can be from our body type to our activities as a kid. This flexibility definitely decreases over time, unfortunately. This makes it even more important to keep up a strong stretching routine. Staying flexible and mobile as you get older helps with mobility, balance and strength. Regular stretching can definitely help build flexibility and maintain it over time, so it’s never too late!
What stretches do you recommend for active prenatal moms?
We recommend stretching frequently for expecting moms as there is even more muscle tension in parts of the body that you’re not used to. The hip flexors, back and lower extremities can be particular areas of tightness due to the extra weight you’re carrying. We recommend a bolster or a strap as props to help ease into these stretches.
We offer a specialized 40-minute Prenatal stretch where our certified Stretch*rs give a full body stretch with extra TLC to these common areas of discomfort. Offered in Flatiron, Upper East Side and Rye Brook locations.
Note: During pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin is produced causing ligaments in the pelvis to soften. This has a particular effect on the hip, shoulder, feet, and ankle joints. This results in hyper mobility, so even though you may feel you can stretch deeper during pregnancy, try not to over-do it and remember your body has the ability to move with more range of motion during this time.
Thank you so much Vanessa for shedding light on flexibility and the importance of stretching before and after your DanceBody workouts!