I’ve been dancing for the past fourteen years and ever since I first started class at four years old, every single dance teacher I have ever worked with has engrained the importance of stretching into my head. I was told I should stretch every morning before school, beginning of each dance class, on breaks between class, and a cool down stretch at the end. In dance especially, stretching is incredibly important, yet in recent years studies have shown how stretching too much could possibly be harmful.
Jennifer Gamboa, president of Body Dynamics, Inc., shared her concern with how dances stretched and the impact that has on their bodies. There are two types of stretching: static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretching is assuming a position and holding it with some other part of your body or slowly moving muscles until they start to hurt and staying in that stretch. Gamboa states that, “Static stretching before classes decreases strength, speed, agility, and useful range of motion” (Dance Magazine). The muscle fibers are not as strong and decreases the ability to produce speed which could easily lead to a dancer landing incorrectly or possibly causing an injury. Dynamic stretching, according to Gamboa, involves movement of only low intensity with a broad range of motions. Supposedly the larger moments, such as leg brushes, arm circles, or even walking/biking; are recommended to get the blood moving before class. Gamboa states that static stretching is bad because of how often the dancers do it in between center and barre work, or in between breaks.
Now from the perspective of stretching in general with other exercise, Alexandra Sifferlin wrote an article for Time Magazine about how stretching may not help before exercise. This article includes the findings of two recent studies which support the idea of limiting stretching before physical activity. One of these studies published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, “concluded that if you stretch before you lift weights, you may find yourself weaker and wobblier than you expect during your workout” (NCBI). Researchers at the University of Zagreb looked over 104 studies of individuals who practiced static stretching as their only warm up. They found that this stretching reduced muscle strength by 5.5%. They also looked at men who lifted barbells while completing basic squats and compared those who stretched before and those who did not and found that the men that stretched lifted 8.3% less weight than those who didn’t (Time). Too much stretching can cause muscles to lose flexibility when they are overworked.
The need for stretching is very different in dancers and those in other physical activities. Dancers need more stretching beforehand than individuals in other physical activities, where physical trainers recommend more of a light warm up. Yet it seems as though dancers should be particular about how often they complete static stretching, even though Gamboa does not produce scientific evidence for her opinion on how often they should do this. Yet along with the studies found in Time Magazine, it does seem as if dance teachers and trainers need to look into adjusting the stretching and the amount of stretching they recommend to dancers.