You may think to stretch before a run or a step aerobics class, but stretching for dance? Fitness dance workouts and artistic dance classes are the epitome of the joy of physical movement, so it’s easy to forget that all that fun also challenges your body. But proper warm-ups and cool-downs that incorporate stretches that target the muscles you focus on in class can help protect you from injury, increase flexibility, improve posture and balance, and even progress your technique.
Before Your Dance Workout: Warm-Up Stretches
By stimulating your cardiorespiratory and neuromuscular systems with a pre-dance warm-up, you will enjoy better range of motion and a more comfortable, efficient execution of dance moves. The main goal of your warm-up is to wake up specific muscles you’ll use in your session, specifically those in your lower back, hips, core and legs, and gradually introducing movements you’ll do in your routine.
To begin your warm-up, do some big arm circles, half-squats and a few kicks, and then dance in place. After doing a couple of minutes of these preparatory movements, perform the dance stretches below for 30 seconds each. You’ll save longer stretches for your cool-down, when your body and muscles are warm.
Plié Stretch (targets hips, legs, buttocks, upper back) Stand with your feet wider than your shoulders, turning your knees out. Lower your hips until your knees bend 90 degrees. Place your left hand on your left knee and begin to roll your right shoulder toward your left knee, curling your torso across your body. Hold for 30 seconds or so and gradually return to your start position. Switch sides and repeat slowly in the other direction.
Forward Fold (targets lower back, legs) Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, slightly bend your knees and reach down an inch at a time until your fingertips reach the floor (or as close as you get without straining). Hold for a few seconds, then roll back up gradually and repeat several times.
Side Reach (targets arms, obliques, core) Stand with your legs hip-width apart, and slowly reach your right arm overhead, tilting to the left until you feel the stretch along your right side. Slide your left hand down toward your left knee. Hold this position for 30 seconds, and then return to center before switching to the left side. Repeat several times.
After Your Dance Workout: Cool-Down Stretches
Just as a warm-up prepares your body for dancing, a cool-down will safely lower your heart rate and help you catch your breath so you can recover. It will also keep your muscles limber and loose, which minimizes post-workout aches, pains and tightness. Do a five- to 10-minute cool-down during which you decrease the intensity of your dance movements; slowing down the music can help.
Finish your workout with these stretches. You can also repeat the standing warm-up stretches you did when you started, if you like. Be sure to move onto the floor for deeper stretching of the lower-body and the muscles most affected by dancing. Hold the floor stretches below for 60 seconds or longer.
Thread the Needle (targets hips, buttocks, legs) Lie on your back and cross your right ankle over your left knee, and then straighten your left leg. Grasp your left hamstring with both hands and draw your left knee toward your chest. While you hold the stretch, rotate your ankles in both directions and point/flex your feet. Switch sides and repeat.
Hamstring Stretch (targets hamstrings, hips, lower legs) Lie on your back and lift your legs toward the ceiling. Slowly straighten both your legs, flex your feet and reach for your toes.
Hip Stretch (targets hips, buttocks) Lie on your back with your legs together and your knees bent 90 degrees. Allow your bent legs to then fall to your right side. Gently push your left hand against the top of your left leg to deepen the stretch and breathe deeply. Return to center and switch sides.