Stretching Part 3 - Ballistic, Dynamic & Static Stretching: Which is Most Effective?

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”
     Author Unknown

Truth Number 1 – Dancers must be flexible.
Truth Number 2 – In order to increase and maintain flexibility, dancers must stretch.

So….what is the most effective stretching method for a dancer to use?  Is it ballistic stretching, static stretching, dynamic stretching or some combination of different methods?

Ballistic stretching is characterized by bouncing movements.  The problem with ballistic stretching is that the movement never allows the muscle to pause in a lengthened position.  The constant bouncing moves the muscle between a contracted position and a lengthened position quickly and abruptly.  As the muscle lengthens quickly, the body activates the stretch-reflex.  This reflex is a safety mechanism that protects the body from injury.  The muscle sends a message that it is being forcefully lengthened.  As a result, the reflex mechanism begins to contract the muscle in an effort to prevent tearing.  This lack of lengthening, therefore, does not effectively stretch the muscle or increase flexibility.

Dynamic stretching is a type of stretching that keeps the body constantly moving.  A lot of dynamic stretching exercises are already built into a ballet barre.  These exercises gradually increase in range of motion until the muscle has reached its maximum length.  A gradual fondu exercise that begins with an extension to tendu and progresses to a full extension en l’air would be an example of a dynamic stretch.  Research studies conducted within the last decade show that dynamic stretches increase flexibility and in some cases even improve muscular strength and agility.

Static stretches are very familiar to dancers.  Static stretches are held for certain amounts of time like splits or barre stretches.  Research has shown that for static stretches to be effective at increasing flexibility, they must be held for 30-60 seconds.  These stretches are just as effective at increasing flexibility as dynamic stretches, but they also have an immediate negative effect on muscular strength, power and endurance.  This negative effect has been shown to be present for up to an hour after the stretch is performed.  Executing this type of stretch during class could have a negative effect on exercises like grand battement and jumps.

            Flexibility is a necessity for dancers and all of the research states that both dynamic and static stretching are effective at increasing and maintaining that flexibility.  However, research also indicates that in order for a dancer to have the necessary strength and power to execute center work, dynamic stretches should be done at the beginning of class and static stretches should be saved for after class and rehearsal and used as a cool-down.

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