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Dancer Blog: Flexibility and Strength

Welcome back to the Dancer Blog! This week, we’re going to be wrapping up our three part mini-series on stretching and flexibility! To do that, I want to talk about how strength plays into flexibility and how both are essential for a long and healthy dance career!

When I was starting out in the dance industry there was a common notion that, generally speaking, a dancer either focused on being strong or they focused on being flexible. The general trend being that for men, the bigger emphasis was on strength and for women, the bigger emphasis was on flexibility. While things have changed over the years and while, even as a child this was more of a generalization rather than a hard and fast rule, I believe that this kind of thought stems from the fact that when most people think of flexibility and strength, they are thinking in broad terms. What I mean by this is that when we think about flexibility; we tend to think of high battements and slender physiques. When we think about strength; we tend to think of one arm présage lifts and muscular physiques.

The problem here is that we are ignoring the important balance that exists between flexibility and strength. It needs to be understood that flexibility without strength isn’t flexibility at all: it’s instability. Likewise, strength without flexibility isn’t really strength: it’s immobility. Only by finding a balance between the two can we achieve what we are after. Think of it like a sliding scale. Yes, you may desire to be more flexible than strong, but in order to have flexibility that can be safely utilized you need the strength to be able to stabilize that flexibility. Like we discussed in the first part of this series, Oversplits Are Causing More Harm Than Good, if you over stretch a joint, this can lead to derangement of that joint’s capsule. This then leads to injury due to the joint now moving in ways it wasn’t designed to.

The same is true of flexibility in the absence of strength. When we stretch we change the elasticity of our muscles. This is what allows them to become longer and longer over time, thus increasing our range of motion. However, when you increase your range of motion you also decrease how stable that area is. This is where strength comes into play. We need our muscles to be strong so as to provide stability to flexible areas. In dance, this is why we lengthen and sustain as we lower our battements. This is why we slowly develop our hips and legs as we développé. We are working out the muscle groups that are supporting and stabilizing our flexibility so that when we access our flexibility, we do not injure ourselves.

But doesn’t increasing strength also create tightness? Doesn’t that tightness limit my flexibility? Yes and no. Like we discussed in my Stretching vs. Warming Up blog (Check it out if you missed it) there is a big difference between static stretching and dynamic stretching. Likewise, there is also a big difference between muscle building, and muscle conditioning. For example, engaging your muscles and paying attention to how you’re developing your leg into a penché will strengthen said muscles while additionally accessing your flexibility. This is because you are actually contracting the involved muscles while they lengthen.

Yes that’s right, your muscles can actually contract WHILE lengthening! This is called ECCENTRIC muscle contraction and it’s key to building stable flexibility. This is opposed to CONCENTRIC muscle contraction where the muscle shortens while contracting.

I’ve talked a good bit now about how flexibility needs strength in order to stabilize itself but I also want to touch on the opposite side of that coin with how strength needs flexibility to mobilize itself. For this, I am talking about the dancers who want to increase their size and overall ability to generate force. Often, when we body build we tend to have a tunnel vision on increasing our mass. While this is generally a male dancer issue, there are also female dancers who do this and in both cases the biggest problem is that they tend to downplay the importance of stretching.

When working to build muscle we often focus on weight lifting exercises. Specifically, we tend to focus on the concentric contraction portion of weight lifting more than the eccentric portion. This style of training DOES shorten the muscle fibers and lead to reduced flexibility and increased tightness. This is why it is important to understand that even if your goal is to increase mass, you still need to incorporate stretching into your regimen, specifically static stretching. This is because without flexibility your muscles lose their elasticity and become more prone to injury. Imagine a really small but thick rubber band. It’s strong when it comes to holding things together, but stretching it too far and it snaps.

This is why balance is so, so, SO important when talking about flexibility and strength. Too much of either leaves you susceptible to injury. Having too much flexibility without the strength to stabilize opens yourself up to sprains, derangement and dislocation. Having too much strength without the flexibility to mobilize opens yourself up to strains, tears and ruptures. While it may be your intention to bias yourself towards either flexibility or strength we must always temper that bias with its opposite. Flexibility requires eccentric stability so it can function the way we want it to and strength requires static mobility so that it can move the way we want it to.

OK! That’s a whole lot of information and also the conclusion to our three part mini-series on stretching and flexibility. I really tried to tie it all together in this conclusion to give it a nice little bow on top. I hope you all had fun reading these and in the future I definitely intend on doing more mini-series like this but for the present, I think we’re going to go back to one offs for a little while. I know I’ve said it before but I really love talking about dance! It’s a huge part of who I am and as a healthcare provider I love working with dancers to help them become the best athlete and artist they can be. So if you or a dancer you love needs care and wants to be treated by a provider who understands their needs and goals, call and set up an appointment today!

I’m really hoping to grow this dance community here at Pinnacle Hill Chiropractic into something special and that means interacting with my readers! So if you have any questions or topics you would like me to address here on the Dancer Blog comment below and let me know! Also if you want to help this community grow faster, please like and share this blog on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Alright time for our weekly shout out! This week we have company dancer Kayleigh Danowski and guest performer Justin Koertgen photographed performing the Arabian section from the New York State Ballet Companies Nutcracker. NYSB is a friend of the practice as well as one of my old companies! Founded and directed by Katherine Johnson NYSB is an amazing ballet company located right here in Fairport. Fun fact, I was one of the original dancers back when the company first formed and it’s great to see how much the company has grown since then! Help us support our hometown heroes and check them out at New York State Ballet! And tune in next week when we discuss how healthcare providers need to stop telling dancers to stop dancing anytime they get injured. Until next time!

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