Stretching is an essential part of your class. But how can you be sure your techniques are correct? It is recommended that you stretch your students before and after your class. Stretching is important to increase flexibility, balance and technique throughout your student's dancing career.
But in some cases, stretching can actually cause more harm than good to the student, especially if it is done too often or too hard. You need to teach your students the importance of safe stretching techniques from an early age. Techniques they will remain a constant in their life. Here are some techniques and strategies that will help you teach safe and healthy stretching habits that will help your students reach the peak of their performance.
Never stretch a cold muscle.
If you begin stretching a class that hasn't been warmed up beforehand, there could be injuries or strains. Being completely warmed-up is essential for healthy stretching. A basic warm-up will raise the body temperature and make the muscles more flexible. It will be easier for the tissue to stretch and less likely for it to tear.
Begin your class with basic warm-up exercises that will get their blood flowing. Good examples are light prances or exaggerated marching steps. Have your students slowly raise and lower each leg and continue alternating. Add a slow and soft arm swinging motion to increase the overall movement. Remind your students that the goal is to lift their legs to a level where they feel their body temperature begin to increase. Not too high or too low.
After warming up, start with dynamic stretches.
Dynamic stretches are long moving stretches that go in and out of the student's range rather than settling into one stretch and holding it. Simple movements such as hip rotations and arm rotations are advisable. This is a lot safer than settling into a stretch, overstretching the body and then dancing, where the body is doing short bursts of activity.
Incorporate a balanced stretching routine with your students. A common mistake is for a dancer to stretch a muscle that is already flexible. If you plan to improve your student's high kick, then the tendency may be to just stretch the hamstrings. But strengthening muscles like the quads and hip flexor is equally important. Isolate one muscle and stretch this in and out of your students flexibility range before moving on.
End your lesson with holding stretches.
Focus on increasing flexibility towards the end of the class. Never rush your students through these stretches. The stretch should be held for at least thirty seconds to gain any benefit and bouncing in these positions will have no positive effects. The body should be very warm at this point, so static stretches such as the splits will have the most benefit. The end of a class is the point where the muscles will lengthen.
There may be a tendency for your more experienced students to push to their maximum stretch immediately. This is a bad habit and one you should advise against. The best way to build flexibility and strength is to hold a stretch at mid range: at the point where your student first starts to feel resistance.
Never overstretch your students.
Your student can become overstretched, especially if they have a very loose body type. Help your students find a healthy balance between flexibility, strength and stability. If you notice a student is naturally flexible, still stretch them, but also add in muscle strengthening exercises. If a young, supple dancer becomes over stretched, they may loose their ability to jump and hold their positions.
Ensure pure technique.
An injury can occur from a student not performing pure stretching methods. For example, if a student is at the barre performing a hamstring stretch, their hips may not be square and they will be rounding their back further and cheating the stretch. Your student will not be stretching the hamstring, but the tissue around it. Non-pure techniques will use the wrong muscles and cross different joints. Remind your students to arch their back gently when stretching the back of the legs and to tuck the pelvis under when stretching the front.
Teach the correct breathing techniques.
It is important to teach your beginning students the correct method of breathing that will make stretching more effective and less stressful. Inhale through the nose, pulling air into the diaphragm and not the chest and then exhale through the mouth as you go deeper into the stretch. This is the common method used by instructors. Some instructors are also incorporating the Pilates breathing method with their class stretch routines.
Follow these techniques and tips and you should have a happier and healthier class. Remember, try and divide your attention effectively between your students and assess their individual stretching techniques. Give the necessary advice and corrections and try to make sure none of your students are overstretching or using poor technique. Your student's safety is your main concern in your dance class.