Stretching, Assessment, Pinkie Balls & Hamstrings

I received some great questions from Lynn and have imbedded my responses below.

Hi Deborah,

I have a few questions and was wondering the best way to go.  I have the Essential anatomy course for dancers and just started to dig into it a little bit because I bought it in the summer and just had my first baby in December so its been crazy.  Congratulations!!! I really want to learn more and more about anatomy and dancers. I never took anatomy at all and it has just been all my dance education along the way from anything I do know.  So thank you for doing this.  Its just hard because there is so so much information and I want to be able to answer a question if a kid asks me.  So I do things in small stages.  But was wondering I came from the erra of bouncing in stretching and then we moved in the static stretching.  Now I do understand dynamic because I do warm most of my classes with a jumping and getting things moving but then we usually go into stretches and based on what you were saying I was wondering if you have something like a sample of a class run down to get the kids warmed up properly for the 20min or so and then we go into technique, center work and across floor or center combos depends on the class.

Try warming them up in a cardiovascular fashion, jumping jacks, running, galloping, etc.  for about 5 minutes (which you are already doing) …. no stretching…. then go into class whether that is barre or modern warmup.  

Save time for stretching at the end of the class and go through some that everybody needs, and then give them time to choose a stretch that they need extra time with and make sure they do that stretch on a daily basis.  I often have my students pick a muscle group and commit to stretching that one group every day for 30 days – and if possible multiple times a day.  

What I have observed is that students are more engaged because they have increased their oxygen levels which helps to turn on their mental focusing, and are more apt to say they had a good class on the days we do some form of brief cardio warmup.  A favorite with my college students is to put on a popular song and tell them to dance like they were at the disco! (One of the on campus places bands come to play is called the ‘Sco’) 

I also want to make sure all my teachers are well educated and making sure the kids don’t get injured.  I have had Knee, ankle , other things with some dancers so I try my best to search out for information.  I am looking for ways to get kids more flexible and stronger and create that balance but I just find that there a certain kids that just are tight and just are in the same place they were last year?  We have tried harder stretches and holding and over splits and I think based on what you are saying we need to go in a different direction.  I am the type of learner that needs to see things and would love to be able to get some exercises or guidence on how to structure dynamic stretches and a class layout?

Personally, I like assessing dancers at the beginning and end of a semester – measuring their flexibility and writing it down – that way they know whether or not they are improving in their stretching efforts.  If they aren’t seeing improvement from what they are doing then yes – I think they need to change up their strategies.  For some students it is essential they do short brief stretching sequences on a daily or multiple times a day.  I like a lot of the effective stretches on the chair because it means they can briefly stretch during their school day and not draw too much attention to themselves.  I’m hoping you found some value and perhaps some new perspectives in the stretching video report – make sure to let me know if you have any questions about the report.  We all have variable influences to our flexibility and yes there are some students who will potentially never achieve the flexibility that they really want because they are dictated to by structure, shorter tendons, etc.  That being said – I’ve never worked with someone who was unable to make some improvement if they committed to a process.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick or easy fix to flexibility.
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My second question is where can I get those balls?  I would love to have them and sell them at the studio.  If I start using them I want the kids to be able to get them at home, and I can leave mine at the studio.
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You can purchase them from me but first look for dense rubber balls at places like the toy sections in department stores, pet stores, even drug stores to see if you can find some that will work.  I have a Ben Franklin’s in town that I asked to carry them, and that’s where my students get them.  Don’t get the hollow balls, they immediately squish.  Tennis balls will work okay but I find they slide on painted walls and lose their oomph rather quickly. 
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My last question is about a 15 year old hamstring injury. I have gone to physical therapy and I feel like I have tried everything. I even did not do much for 9 months and still the injury is the same. When I start to stretch it just is not right.  It started as a glut, hamstring connector injury so now both hamstrings are so tight and they both are injured but one generally pulls when I do any type of hamstring , splits ,heel and many other stretches. I used to love to stretch and now I just dread it because its not comfortable anymore. I have tried massage to work it out and that hasn’t helped either.  I was told maybe to ice the area but just not sure where to go with this injury…I would do anything if I can heal it and be able to stretch again.  I just turned 40 but don’t want to get tighter as I get older!
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Lynn, I would look above and below the hamstring and see if there is fascial tightness that is influencing your recovery.  Massage can be helpful – but I think it really needs to be myofascial massage to address this chronic problem, not just deep tissue.  You are too young to be held back in your stretching efforts.  So… try doing the pinkie ball work on the bottom of the foot and check out if the hamstring feels different – or try massaging the very top of the neck/base of the head and again see if the hamstring feels different when you hang over.  If it does you know you are being influenced by the posterior line of fascia and could broaden your stretching efforts.  I have a video clip on the influence of fascia on stretching that you can view here.  If you find that using the pinkie ball on the middle back, or releasing tension at the top of the neck make any difference in how the hamstring feels then next step would be to find a good myofascial therapist.  
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I don’t know where you are in the world but I am a great admirer of  Tom Myer’s work and you might see if there are therapists who have been trained by him by checking out his practitioner list by clicking here.   I receive no benefit from sending people to his site – I just think he does really good work in training massage therapists in myofascial treatment!
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Thanks for any information you can provide you seem to be a wealth of information and I thought it would not hurt to ask for ideas. Thanks again!
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Thank you, Lynn!  I’m pleased that you have received value and good suggestions from the Dancing Smart News!
Warmest regards,
Deborah
“Education is the key to injury prevention”
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