StEPS: Creating a Safe Stretching Routine for Young Dancers

Safe Stretching for Dancers

Creating a Safe Stretching Routine for Young Dancers Under 18

For young dancers, stretching is not just a warm-up or cool-down activity; it's a crucial element of their training that enhances flexibility, prevents injury, and improves overall performance. However, ensuring that stretching routines are safe and age-appropriate is vital, especially for dancers under 18. Here, we'll explore what a safe stretching routine looks like for young dancers, incorporating expert advice and the latest best practices.

Welcome to Beyond the StEPS

Understanding the Basics of Stretching

Stretching can be categorized into several types, but the most common for dancers are dynamic stretching and static stretching.

  • Dynamic stretching involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both. This type of stretching is ideal at the start of a class to warm up the muscles and prepare them for more intensive activity.
  • Static stretching is more about holding a position for a specific period. This type of stretching is beneficial after workouts to increase flexibility and cool down the muscles.

Age-Appropriate Stretching Guidelines

For dancers under 18, it is crucial to consider their physical development when designing a stretching routine. Younger bodies are still growing, and their connective tissues are more vulnerable to stress.

  • Pre-Puberty: Focus should be on gentle dynamic stretches to promote coordination and motor skills. Avoid intense or prolonged static stretches.
  • Post-Puberty: Incorporate more static stretches to improve flexibility, but caution is still necessary to prevent overstretching and injuries.

Components of a Safe Stretching Routine

A well-rounded stretching routine for young dancers should include the following components:

  1. Warm-Up: Begin with 5-10 minutes of light cardiovascular activity like jogging, jumping jacks, or skipping. This increase in heart rate and body temperature makes muscles more pliable and less prone to injury.
  2. Dynamic Stretching: Integrate dynamic stretches such as leg swings, arm circles, and gentle twists. These movements should mimic the actions that will be performed during dance practice, preparing the body for specific motions.
  3. Technique Focused Stretches: Use stretches that are specific to the dance style. For instance, ballet dancers may focus more on hip openers and leg stretches, while hip-hop dancers might need more torso and back flexibility.
  4. Static Stretching: Post-practice, engage in static stretching focusing on major muscle groups used during dance. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds, avoiding any pain. Young dancers should be taught to stretch to the point of mild discomfort, not pain.
  5. Cool Down: End the session with a cool down, allowing the heart rate to gradually decrease and muscles to relax after static stretching.

Monitoring and Adjustment

  • Supervision: Young dancers should be supervised by adults who can ensure that they perform stretches correctly and do not push their bodies into painful ranges of motion.
  • Feedback: Encourage dancers to provide feedback on how they feel during and after stretching to adjust routines as necessary.

Additional Tips for Safety

  • Hydration: Encourage dancers to stay hydrated before, during, and after dancing and stretching.
  • Regular Breaks: Include regular breaks during practice to prevent overuse injuries.
  • Education on Body Awareness: Teach young dancers about the importance of listening to their bodies. Understanding the difference between good pain (mild discomfort indicating an effective stretch) and bad pain (sharp or severe pain) is crucial.

A safe stretching routine for young dancers under 18 involves more than just the physical act of stretching. It requires an understanding of a young dancer’s developmental stage, careful planning of the routine, adult supervision, and an ongoing dialogue with the dancers about their bodies' responses to the stretches. This holistic approach not only enhances performance but also instills lifelong habits for healthy movement.

Continue your Education for yourself and your students with the StEPS Initiative Course!

About the StEPS Initiative Course

This course started in part with our charity event we created to save dance studios. Then we decided to keep it a free resource for the dance community. You can learn all about it below.

As part of our commitment to education and creating a safe space for all dancers, we are excited to introduce the StEPS Initiative Course. This has been curated by Apolla and donated from experts and professionals in each topic. 

Our goal in creating this course is to give dance teachers continuing education/professional development, give dancers the power of education, and provide parents the knowledge to see red flags. Each section has actionable items that can unite dance studios focused on equity and creating a safe space for every dancer. This course gives evidence-based information, some perspective & qualitative information, dance history, and further resources that can help you learn something new that helps progress and strengthen your studio OR solidify what you already have in place. There is something for everyone! 

This course is free for EVERYONE (Apolla has covered the cost and the presenters have donated the course content). These are meant to be introductions and actionable items for you. We know this is not a silver bullet to fix every issue or topic that needs to be addressed in dance. Each topic is deep and broad on its own. However, we aim for this to be the first step for some of us in these topics and even serves as a small catalyst for change in our industry. You will see there are also many resources that can allow you to expand your journey further in any of the subjects. With all that 2020 has thrown at all of us, we are determined to heal through listening, grow from adversity through action, and rise up by bringing everyone together. In the end, we will create a space open wide for the new generation of artists and athletes to ring in the new decade stronger and safer than ever!

Watch our Beyond the StEPS Episode on: “What does a safe stretching routine look like for young dancers under 18 yrs?” With our hosts Bri and Melissa, and special guests from “Two Dance Moms” podcast!

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