Are you dreaming of being a prima ballerina? Wonderful! But before you grand jeté off into the sunset, it's imperative that you prepare your body for movement by stretching it out. By elongating those ligaments, you'll warm up your muscles, allow yourself greater flexibility, and most importantly, avoid injury! That's worth a few minutes, right? Let's get started with some basic stretching techniques.
First of all, forget everything you've heard about how long you "should" hold a stretch--the truth is, you should hold it until the initial tension you feel in your muscles when you begin the stretch disappears. If you're looking for a place to start, try to shoot for a 30-second hold, but don't sweat it (get it?) if you can't do it right away--the more times you perform your ballet stretching exercises and routine, the better you'll get at it. Keep in mind that stretches will be even easier and more beneficial for your body if you precede them with a five minute warm-up walk or jog, skate, dance, elliptical workout or whatever you prefer to get your blood moving.
These ballet stretches will relax all of the major muscle groups you usually use in ballet--in fact, you joggers may recognize them, as they're commonly used by runners. While you're performing them, try to focus on maintaining excellent posture, and keeping your hips and feet turned out. These stretching techniques will help you warm up or cool down for practice. The ballet stretching exercises below are specifically useful for the muscles worked in ballet. Stretching properly can improve your form on stage, too. To learn other techniques that will vastly improve your performance, I highly recommend The Ballet Bible.
Here's how to do ballet stretches.
- Calf Stretch: Stand with your feet side-by-side. Place your hands on your hips, and extend your right leg back behind your body. Your left leg should be bent, your right leg should be straight, and both feet should be pointed straight ahead. Allow your body to fall forward slowly, while keeping your feet flat at all times. Hold it as long as you can, and then switch legs and repeat.
- Hamstring Stretch: Sit on the floor, extend your legs straight out in front of you, and point your toes. Then, bend forward at the waist and reach for your toes. Hold this position (keeping your nose pressed to your knees) for about thirty seconds, and then flex your feet, holding the stretch. Hold this for as long as you can.
- Quad Stretch: While standing, reach your right hand behind your body and grab your right ankle, so you're standing like a stork. Slowly pull your ankle up toward your head (ensuring that your heel is always facing your buns) and hold it as high as you can. Switch legs, and repeat. Take care not to over-arch your back while performing this stretch.
- Split Stretch: While sitting, straddle your legs out as far on either side of you as possible. Bending from the waist, stretch your body over your left leg, move slowly to the center space between your legs, and then slowly over to your right leg.
- Relevé Stretch: Stand in second position (feet shoulder width apart, turned out from the hip), and slowly raise your body upward until you're balancing on the balls of your feet. Hold those beautiful ballet arms over your head, and balance as long as you can.