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How to Stretch at Home

For the advanced or pre-professional dancer, getting flexible isn’t just a good thing — it’s a necessity. If you’re stuck with a 90-degree arabesque and extensions that won’t go that extra inch, don’t give up! Try this simple, quick, and effective stretching routine. Just fifteen minutes a day of consistent work at home can take your dancing up a notch so you can wow your teachers!

Warm Up

Stretching without warming up is dangerous and can lead to torn muscles. Get your blood flowing by doing a set of Pilates one hundreds:

  • Start lying on your back, arms straight up to the ceiling, and knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Inhale, and as you exhale, straighten your legs and lower them to a challenging angle (so you can feel your abs working). Bring your arms straight down so they’re parallel to the floor, with your shoulders engaged and sliding down your back.
  • Pump your arms in short, quick strokes, skimming the floor with your fingertips every time. Take one quick inhale for every pump of your arms, alternating between five inhales and five exhales.
  • Do one hundred pumps with your arms.
  • Slowly and with control, roll down onto your back and breathe normally, hugging your knees into your chest.

Start the Stretching

Begin your stretching gently, sitting in the butterfly pose and gently pushing your knees open. With your hips on the floor, lean forward and try to place your forehead on the floor. You should feel a nice, deep stretch in your hips — great for your turnout!

Follow the butterfly stretch with a forward bend. Sit in the pike position, back upright and legs straight out in front of you. Slowly reach toward your toes, keeping a long spine. Try to place your chest on your knees and your head on your feet. Hold this stretch and breathe, going as deep as you can. This will lengthen out your hamstrings and improve extension.

Stand Tall

After you start to loosen up, get on your feet to take things up a notch:

  • With your left hand on a barre (or other steady surface, such as a countertop), stand in first position.
  • Take your right heel in your right hand, keep your right leg straight, and plié with your left leg as you raise it as high as you can. Try to keep your back as straight as possible.
  • When you feel comfortable in the stretch, straighten the left leg and hold it. This will increase the height of your extension devant.
  • Keeping your final position from the previous stretch, carry your right leg to the side, with your left leg straight. Try to level your hips as much as possible, and think of “rolling under” your working leg to achieve maximum turnout.
  • Lift your leg as high as possible, toward your head. If you can raise it high enough, switch hands, pulling your right leg higher with your left hand.
  • After you feel a deep stretch for at least 30 seconds, gently release the leg and try to hold it at that height. This will increase your extension a la séconde.
  • Repeat the entire series on your other leg.
Hot Tip: Wall Flower

If you want an even deeper stretch in your hamstrings, try getting between two walls or a doorframe. Place your working leg devant against the wall, and grab the edges with your arms. Then try to scoot your supporting leg as close as you can, so that you reach an eventual standing split. Repeat with the leg a la second, and then rotate to work your penché.

Take it Back

Stay standing for this next stretch. This will lengthen your hamstrings while giving you a suppler spine — both of which will make for a gorgeous arabesque and penché:

  • Stand facing your barre or countertop.
  • Place your left hand on the supporting surface/barre.
  • Bend your right leg behind you in a turned-out attitude derriere. Then place your right hand just below your knee, on your shin.
  • Lift your right leg, pushing it higher and straighter, using your right arm to assist. Keep your back as upright as possible (using the surface for support).
  • Work toward a fully-straightened back leg, lifting it into a 180-degree penché.
  • Eventually you’ll be able to let go and hold your penché perfectly!

Drop It Low

I am always doing things I can't do. That's how I get to do them.

Pablo Picasso
Keep in mind that the splits, while aesthetically lovely in jumps, are a stretch. Ultimately, the idea is not to get there and stop, but to keep pushing yourself. If you’ve hit 180-degree splits comfortably, try these next exercises with one foot raised an inch or two on a book or pillow:

  • Sit in your splits (either leg in front) for at least ninety seconds, pushing deeper and deeper. You should feel the most intense stretch at the end, when you push yourself the most.
  • Repeat on the other leg.
  • Sit in your middle splits, back straight, for one minute.
  • With legs as far apart as possible, crawl forward, moving your stomach to the floor. Make sure your hips roll down in one motion, with neither side going first.
  • Lie on the floor for one minute.
  • Alternate between lying and sitting up in the splits. Take five seconds per position, and repeat twelve times.
  • Make sure your body moves in one motion between positions. Never let one side go first, as this will decrease the effectiveness of the stretch and can lead to injury.

Get Upside Down

To get gooey and gorgeous cambrés, take your next cues from yoga and go for the spine-stretching Camel Pose.

  • For Camel Pose, start kneeling, with your knees hip-width apart, and feet flexed such that your toes lie flat on the floor, perpendicular to your heels.
  • Place your palms on your lower back.
  • Pushing your hips forward with your hands, cambré back as far as you can. If you’re comfortable with it, place your hands on the backs of your heels. Make sure to keep your hips forward.
  • Hold this position as long as you can. Then slowly and gently place your hands on your lower back, and roll up evenly.

Unwind Your Spine

Before you throw in the towel, calm your body and mind with some slow and easy stretching. Stand in fifth position sous sus and take a gentle rond de corps, feeling the stretch in your sides, back, and hamstrings. Since your body is warm, you’ll benefit from the stretches, but you’ll also be able to take deep breaths and relax in the fluidity of the movement.

Drink Up!

After all the stretching, make sure to drink plenty of water. Your muscles need hydration, especially after being worked so hard! Now that you’re done, give yourself a (gentle) pat on the back — you’ve earned it!

It's tough to get the flexibility ballet requires out of class alone. Learn how to stretch effectively at home with this guide on all things flexible!
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