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Safely Increasing Range of Motion or Never, EVER Stretch a Cold Muscle

by Janine Bryant for the Dance Journal

In this next installment, we will connect the idea of aging well and dance career longevity to current studio practices. The idea that, what we do now in the dance studio directly affects how our bodies age and perform later, is one that I often talk about within the bounds of my own research on aging and range of motion (ROM).

Perhaps one of the most controversial subjects for dancers and those who train them is the subject of stretching. Which types of stretching to do and when, during an active day, is a conversation happening across the sports industry offering multiple perspectives that often conflict.

For dancers, most of us have developed as artist-athletes without adequate information on this subject. Many can recall entering the dance studio, dropping the huge bags and plopping down on the floor into the widest second position the legs could make and forcing chests down. This practice and others like it still occur in studios everywhere. However, there is a growing hunger, thankfully, for more adequate and up-to-date information being driven by new and old generations of dancers alike who are also scholars and athletes.

While increasing ROM is sometimes considered a task for younger dancers, the idea of increasing or simply maintaining ROM as a dancer ages is sometimes abandoned because the pain of stretching is too great. Further, dancers who have sustained serious injuries due to overworking and overstretching during their active careers will find it difficult to participate in a stretching program, especially if those stretching activities only include the traditional ‘hold and stretch’ movements, more aptly known as static stretching. Complicating things further is the fact that many dancers are have ‘hypermobility syndrome’, which can increase the need for strength training in addition to a stretch program to ensure adequate musculoskeletal balance. The order is tall but dancers, who are by nature high achievers, are up to the task!

All of this begs the questions: What types of stretching are there and which ones are the most effective for increasing and maintaining ROM? And, more importantly, why is stretching a cold muscle bad? These are great questions, the answer for which every dancer old and young would benefit from knowing.

First, let’s take a look at the different types of stretching:

Some of these terms are commonly confused and misused.

Static Stretching
Static stretching means a stretch is held in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, usually somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds. Static stretching is the most common form of stretching found in general fitness and is considered safe and effective for improving overall flexibility. However, many experts consider static stretching much less beneficial than dynamic stretching for improving range of motion for functional movement, including sports and activities for daily living.

Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching means a stretch is performed by moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly, usually 10 to 12 times. (for dancers, leg swings, fall and recovery activities, etc.) Although dynamic stretching requires more thoughtful coordination than static stretching (because of the movement involved), it is gaining favor among athletes, coaches, trainers, and physical therapists because of its apparent benefits in improving functional range of motion and mobility in sports and activities for daily living.

Note that dynamic stretching should not be confused with old-fashioned ballistic stretching (remember the bouncing toe touches from PE classes?). Dynamic stretching is controlled, smooth, and deliberate, whereas ballistic stretching is uncontrolled, erratic, and jerky. Although there are unique benefits to ballistic stretches, they should be done only under the supervision of a professional because, for most people, the risks of ballistic stretching far outweigh the benefits.

Passive Stretching
Passive stretching means you’re using some sort of outside assistance to help you achieve a stretch. This assistance could be your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. With passive stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the external force to hold you in place. You don’t usually have to work very hard to do a passive stretch, but there is always the risk that the external force will be stronger than you are flexible, which could cause injury.

Active Stretching
Active stretching means you’re stretching a muscle by actively contracting the muscle in opposition to the one you’re stretching. You do not use your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. With active stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the opposing muscle to initiate the stretch. Active stretching can be challenging because of the muscular force required to generate the stretch but is generally considered lower risk because you are controlling the stretch force with your own strength rather than an external force.


Every stretch is static or dynamic and passive or active, as illustrated in the examples shown in table 1.1 above.

You might hear or read about other techniques and terms used in stretching (especially by coaches and athletes), such as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching. PNF techniques attempt to alter neural input thereby influencing muscle extensibility to improve flexibility. One common version, contract/relax, utilizes a 10-second contraction of the muscle followed by 10-seconds of relaxation, during which the same muscle is passively stretched. This procedure is generally executed three times and a static stretch of 30 seconds or more is added at the end. PNF techniques can be particularly useful for dancers having difficulty improving their flexitility.{2}

Most of the stretches you see and do are likely static-passive stretches. Static-passive stretches are the most common stretches and the easiest to perform. If executed with good technique, these stretches are effective in improving flexibility and range of motion.

However, most experts now agree that although static-passive stretches have many benefits, it’s best to do more dynamic-active stretches. Because dynamic-active stretches require you to use and build your own strength while moving through the stretch, they are more helpful for improving functional movements used in everyday life and in sports. In addition, because dynamic-active stretches are movement oriented, these stretches can help generate heat, which can make the muscles more pliable. Finally, evidence suggests that because dynamic-active stretches require muscle activation and contraction, the muscles being stretched are triggered to relax even more than they might during a static-passive stretch, thereby reducing the risk of injury while increasing the functional benefit.

This does not mean you should avoid or minimize static-passive stretching. Just be aware that there appear to be quite a few advantages and benefits to dynamic-active stretching and that you should include these types of stretches as often as is comfortably and conveniently possible for you. {1}

Experts are also recommending that dynamic stretches be performed BEFORE the first plie in class or prior to a performance and that static active and static passive stretching is best for recovery at the end of the dance day. Stretching cold muscles predisposes dancer-athletes to power loss and injury. Solomon et al suggest a warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before starting flexibility training. The resultant elevation in body temperature will make stretching more effective and comfortable and reduce the possibility of injury. Room temperature should be warm and focus on correct form and alignment stressed, as benefits of any exercise are greatly diminished when performed improperly as risk of injury increases. {2}

Other things to consider: Dancers who are naturally flexible should be monitored closely during stretching activities for form and hypermobility tendencies. Dancers desiring to simply maintain ROM could also benefit from bone-building resistance training alongside ROM flexibility training. Dancers in the midst of an active performance career need to time their flexibility programs wisely during their dance day with consideration for room temperature, strength preservation and injury prevention.

Until next time, friends, dance healthy, long, strong, and warm up before stretching!

Janine Bryant
Acting Chair of Dance and Theater
Eastern University
St. Davids, Pa.

  1. Blahnik, J., Full Body Flexibility, Second Edition, Human Kinetics, 2011.
  2. Solomon, R., Solomon, J.,Minton, S.C., Preventing Dance Injuries, Second Edition, Human Kinetics, 2005.

- Janine Bryant

Janine Bryant, Director of the Eastern University Dance Program, or 'Prof B.', as her students call her, teaches courses for Dance, Kinesiology and the Loeb School of Education, as well as the Campolo College of Graduate Studies. She has been teaching technique and choreographing classical and contemporary ballets for more than thirty years.

Janine received her B.F.A. in Modern Dance from the University of the Arts in 1986 where she studied with Pat Thomas, Judith Jamison, Milton Meyers, and Ruth Andrien to name a few. In the early 1980's, Janine was a scholarship student at the Martha Graham School under Martha Graham, Diane Gray, Kevin Keenan, Yuriko, Pearl Lang, Peggy Lyman, Ethel Winter, Jacqueline Bulglisi, Don Foreman, Marianne Bachmann, and Armgard Von Barteleben. While in New York, Janine danced with the Pearl Lang Dance Company and appeared in the cast of Ms. Lang's "The Beloved", filmed at Brooklyn College. Janine also worked with Lynne Lesniak and Dancers, an offshoot of the Alwin Nikolai Company.

In addition to her studies at the Graham School in New York, Janine received a scholarship to the Peridance Center where she studied with Igal Perry, Miguel Moore and Zvi Gottheiner. Independently, Janine studied under Finis Jhung, David Howard and Madame Gabriella Darvash (Kirov technique). She also worked with Kathy Grant in New York to learn the Pilates method. During this time, and as a member of Philadelphia Dance Theatre, Janine was chosen to dance the solo role of Doris Humphrey's, "The Call and Breath of Fire", and was personally coached by Ernestine Stodelle for the role.

In the fall of 1990, Janine was one of two Americans accepted to The Royal Academy of Dancing, London, where she earned her Elementary Executant Certification and her Pre-Elementary Teaching Certification. Both of these prestigious certifications are recognized in 52 countries worldwide. In 1991, Janine founded The Professional School (TPS) in Turnersville, NJ, and directed the school through 2002. TPS was a technique-based studio training many of high school seniors to win college scholarships. Several TPS graduates won the University of the Arts' Presidential Merit Scholarship worth $20,000. Janine has been a frequent guest lecturer at The University of the Arts and also received their prestigious Silver Star Alumni Award in 1996. The Silver Star Alumni award has been bestowed upon nearly 100 graduates of the University's College of Art and Design and College of Performing Arts. The honorees are selected because they are role models and represent educational and artistic excellence that the University's faculty works hard to achieve.

Janine was a visiting guest artist for the Black Rock Dance Company in Reno, Nevada, where she created new works and taught master classes. In addition to her regular instructional post at Eastern University, Janine was recently added to the Summer Intensive faculty of DeSales University.

Janine is an active member of the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science and was recently added to their Peer Review Board, Poster Judging Committee and Education Committee. Janine also is a member of PAMA (Performing Arts Medicine Association) and is currently earning her PhD (ABD) in Dance Medicine and Science from The University of Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom. Janine is excited to be a syndicated writer for The Dance Journal. The column aims to focus on training protocols, injury prevention and general information on dancer wellness. In addition, the column will provide a resource page for dancers who wish to seek medical care, specialty training or somatic therapies from local physicians and practitioners. Janine is passionate about teaching solid technique grounded in sound anatomic and biomechanical principles at a university level.

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