Stretching like a ballerina?
July 24, 2011 2:33 PM   Subscribe

How can I become as limber as a ballerina, without actually being one?

I've always wanted to be able to stretch better, reach my toes, kick my leg high up in front of me, bend over backwards, do the splits, and over all be more....pliant? than I am. I took ballet classes when I was a young girl, but I was never able to do some things, probably because I didn't stretch well or as often as I should have.

I'm 23. Is it too late for me to have, not just a rather fit body, but a flexible one? I know I won't be to do some of those crazy stretches overnight, or even in a month, but I also don't know how I would get there.

I can kick my leg to the side and to the back higher than my waist, though I can't hold it there. I'm maybe an inch or so from reaching my toes sitting down, but more like 3 to 4 inches when I bend over standing up. I would say I'm at an average stretch ability right now. I only have myself and gym equipment to assist me.
There is no way I can take any sort of yoga or martial arts class what so ever - I've already looked into it, but it's just not possible with my schedule or location.

Can anyone help me out?
posted by DisreputableDog to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
yoga videos?
posted by sully75 at 2:36 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, you can dramatically increase how stretchy/limber/pliant you are. Can you do a home DVD of pilates or yoga instead?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:37 PM on July 24, 2011

Try the New York City Ballet Workout DVD. It addresses stretching and the core strength necessary to hold ballet poses. I have found that the key to building flexibility is consistency--you will see better results if you stretch every day.

Libraries sometimes have the DVD, if money is a factor.
posted by corey flood at 2:39 PM on July 24, 2011 [9 favorites]

I came in to recommend the NYC Ballet Workout too.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:41 PM on July 24, 2011

I think you need to take a dedicated stretch class for that kind of dramatic increase. If you can't get to one, there may be DVDs, but I haven't found one yet.

The main reason people stretch for years without making progress is because they have a fixed idea about how far they can stretch.
posted by tel3path at 2:44 PM on July 24, 2011

Definitely yoga. A solid practice -- meaning repetition + time -- will dramatically improve your flexibility. There are jillions of videos out there. Rodney Yee does some really great ones. There are also websites like Yoga Today which offer an array of online classes for a monthly fee.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:18 PM on July 24, 2011

You could try Callanetics. Start with the book to get an idea of her philosophy, etc.
posted by flex at 3:46 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Relax Into Stretch: Instant Flexibility Through Mastering Muscle Tension (book and DVD available with DVD trailer here; also available as a set with the advanced DVD Forced Relaxation) by Pavel Tsatsouline. From the intro:
Your muscles are already long enough to enable you to do the most spectacular gymnastic or karate techniques. They just don't know it yet. All you need to do is teach your muscles how to relax into stretch, and pick up the slack.
posted by Lexica at 3:57 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Look up Taekwondo stretches too. As a martial art, Taekwondo focuses on high kicks and on spinning kicks, so their stretches focus a lot on the hamstrings, inner thighs, and hip flexors. A lot of martial arts stretches are partner stretches, so if you can, you should find a stretching buddy.
posted by colfax at 3:59 PM on July 24, 2011

Also, for extra fun and/or suffering, when you do basic stretches like sitting on the floor and touching your toes, keep your back straight the entire time (i.e. don't curl over your legs, keep your lower back stiff).

Here was the daily stretching progression we did when I was at Taekwondo, shortened to the relevant bits:

Ankle, knee, hip circles (see website).

Bend down and touch your toes.

(all of the next stretches done sitting down)

Do the butterfly stretch alone. Do the butterfly stretch again, with someone pushing lightly down on your knees from behind you.

Do the hurdler's stretch (sitting down, one leg straight out, one tucked into your crotch) alone. Do hurdler's stretch with someone pushing lightly down on your back. The back pusher should put their hands on your lower back--to help keep it straight--and only push as far as you are comfortable with. I.e. very lightly to begin with, and never really heavy pressure.

Legs out in front, reach for your toes. Repeat with someone pushing on your back.

Spread your legs out as wide as you can, with legs still straight. Reach for your left foot, reach for the right foot, reach down the middle. Keeping your heels where they are, put one hand flat on the floor in front of your crotch, one hand flat on the floor behind your butt, and scooch your hips forward a bit, still keeping your heels where they are. Repeat left, right, center. Scooch forward again. Repeat left, right, center. Someone pushing on your back is (or is not) optional.

Stand up, go stand next to a bar (usually at about hip height in a do jang). Put your back to it, reach behind you to hold on, and lift one leg straight up, keeping your hips square to your feet and your leg straight. Your partner supports your knee and ankle and pushes your leg up until you say stop. Repeat with other leg.
posted by colfax at 4:26 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


In fact, one of my best dance instructors (a former Rockette) when I was 10 to 14 yrs old did warm-ups that were primarily yoga based + isolations a la Bob Fosse.

It was only years later when I took up yoga that I realized how much brilliant she was than I originally thought.

posted by jbenben at 5:10 PM on July 24, 2011

Stretching Scientifically is considered the bible by many I know.

I'd never seen the aforementioned Pavel Tsatsouline one, but he really knows his shit.

I would warn against looking up taekwondo stretches. I say this as a former taekwondo instructor: most taekwondo instructors don't really know what they're doing. They're teaching stretches their instructor learned from his instructor who learned them from his instructor. They do get results, but many are outdated, out of step with modern sports science and can do damage in the long run.
posted by retrograde at 5:20 PM on July 24, 2011

The NYC Ballet DVD & Book referenced by corey flood are fantastic for a basic introduction to ballet stretches.

If you'd really like to increase your flexibility, plan on at least 30 minutes of hard-core stretching (holding each stretch, sans bouncing, for 1 min.) once a day, ideally twice a day. No need to invest in a barre unless money is no object; most kitchen counters and dining room tables are the perfect height.

The most effective stretch for leg flexibility (hamstrings & hips):

1. Stand about a leg's length away from your low coffee table (if you're very stiff) or your kitchen counter (if you're moderately flexible). Place one foot onto the surface, so that the back of your heel is touching the table/counter & your toes are pointed at the ceiling. Both legs (the stretched leg + your standing leg) should be totally straight.

2. Turn both your torso & your standing leg towards the toes of your stretched leg. Bend forward at the waist until you feel a stretch; hold for 30 seconds. Gently push forward just a tiny bit, and hold this for a few moments.

3. Without moving your 'stretching' leg, turn your standing leg & torso to point forward. Keeping your torso facing forward, bend sideways at the waist towards your stretching leg toes. Bring the arm opposite your stretching leg over your head, reaching towards the stretched leg/toes.

4. BONUS: work that hip flexor! Keep your 'stretching' leg on the table/counter, and carefully turn your standing leg/toes + torso away from your stretched leg as far as you can, being very careful to keep the knee and toes of your supporting leg pointing in the same direction. (If your stretched leg points west, you'd want to aim the rest of your body east. (If you can't turn the whole way, that's fine, just go as far as you can without over-rotating at the knee - never turn your toes further than your knee.) You'll likely find that as you turn, your torso will start to lean forward. After you've rotated, gently stand up as straight as you can, lifting your arms over your head if you can.

5. Slowly lower your stretched leg and repeat with the other side.
posted by muirne81 at 7:43 PM on July 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

p.s. If you're interested in working calf/arch/foot flexibility, sit on the floor with your back against a wall, legs fully extended in front of you with knees touching. Hold a pair of thick tights/pantyhose (feet in one hand, control top in the other) so that the "knees" of the hose are on the outside of the balls of your feet. Pull back on the hose, stretching your toes back. Inch your hands forward on the hose & pulling harder for a really deep stretch. Then, gently press the balls of your feet forward against the tension, pointing your toes. (Careful; if your feet aren't flexible, pushing too hard will lead to foot cramps.) Repeat the stretch/point a few times.
posted by muirne81 at 7:56 PM on July 24, 2011

To interject a question (if I may), I know the understanding of how best to stretch without weakening muscles has changed in the last ten years. Do these approaches incorporate that knowledge?
posted by canine epigram at 5:13 AM on July 25, 2011

@ canine epigram - the latter calf/arch/foot stretch is isometric. The hamstring/hip stretch is a static stretch. Dynamic stretching is great, but since the op is looking for flexibility & not a solo with the ABT, as long as he/she takes care to keep everything in alignment (knees and toes, knees and toes, knees and toes!) he/she won't notice a difference.
posted by muirne81 at 8:27 AM on July 25, 2011

Response by poster: muirne81, could you explain your response to canine epigram? You lost me there with the "ABT" etc, and it seems rather relevant. Thanks!

Everyone, I've also been checking out/getting for cheap some of the DVDs and books you've been recommending. Of course, I always like as much info as possible, so still hoping more people respond to this, but I've been doing really extensive research on not just stretching, but the kind of stretching that dancers and gymnasts are liable to use.

I dunno whose answers to pick as the best yet. They're all rather awesome.
posted by DisreputableDog at 4:06 PM on July 25, 2011

@ DisreputableDog - ABT is the American Ballet Theatre.
posted by muirne81 at 4:41 PM on July 25, 2011

p.s. In tandem with stretching, definitely work to strengthen your core (abs). A strong core is easily half of the "kick and hold your leg in the stratosphere" equation.
posted by muirne81 at 4:48 PM on July 25, 2011

« Older Novel about Harvard research lab?   |   Heave ho, mateys. Help me cycle across water. Lake... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.