10 Back Flexibility Stretches for Dancers

The stretches that took me from “I can’t do a wheel pose without help” … to… “Yeah, I can put my head between my feet.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 4.25.24 PMAs a dancer, back flexibility is always a topic of discussion. Unsurprisingly, when you type into Google “back flexibility” the first question that autofills is “back flexibility stretches for dancers.”

This has been an area of focus and success for me – with achieving the illusive “head-to-feet” in January of 2016.

back flexibility

10 Stretches: How I Got My Head-to-Feet

  • Disclaimer: I am not an expert on flexibility. However, these are all stretches I learned from certified personal trainers, yoga instructors, and contortionists.
  • Warm Up: Spend 10-15 minutes warming up. You can do chest circles, shoulder rolls, cat/cow poses.
  • Be mindful: Your spine is important, take special care and rest days.
  • Questions? I’ve hyperlinked to video tutorials from professionals for most poses.

1. Cat/Cow Pose (Howcast, 2012)

Inhale into Cat Pose, exhale as you round your back for Cow Pose. Rotate between both poses 3 times.

Cat Cow Pose

2. Downward Dog (Yoga with Adriene, 2012)

Press into the ground with your hands and draw your hips back. Hold for 3-5 breaths.

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3. Cobra Pose (Yoga with Adriene, 2013)

Inhale as you press up. Focus on lengthening your spine. Gently twist side to side to warm up your low back.

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4. Cobra Kicks

Once in cobra, I like to bend each leg. Bend each leg two times and hold for 3-5 breaths. Then, press your hips back for Puppy Dog.

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5. Puppy Dog Pose (Ekhart Yoga, 2010)

Keep your hips over your knee as you drop your chest down. Hold for 3-5 breaths.

Puppy Dog Pose

6. Camel Pose Rotations

Using a gentle rotation to grab both ankles, lead with the arm in the direction you plan to go. Sweep out the opposite direction. Repeat 3 times in each direction.

 

7. Camel Pose (BeFiT, 2013)

Gently reach back for your ankles or feet. Hold for 3-5 breaths. Repeat 3 times.

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8. Wheel Pose (DOYOUYOGA.com, 2013)

Press up into wheel pose. Hold for 3-5 breaths. See video tutorial for proper form.

Wheel Pose

9. Plow Pose

Keep arms and palms down to your sides, pike both legs to roll overhead. See video for leg variations. As you unroll, pike legs together and unroll one vertebrae at a time.

 

10. Feet to Head: Lower Down from Camel Pose

Work on lowering down with your back muscles. If this feels too challenging, practice with walking your hands down a wall. Feeling bendy?  Reach overhead for the ground and walk hands in towards your feet.

 

How often to stretch?

I do the stretches listed above for 20-40 minutes three days a week. 

Happy bending!


Melissa Barker

P.S., This is the 3rd post in my series on flexibility, for more see  5 Secrets to Flexibility Training and 15 Stretches for Splits.


Read more from the Digital Drinkers 

15 Stretches for Splits, and Tips for Sharing Your Practice | 5 Secrets to Flexibility Training, and Building a Following | Surviving a Beer Fest    |     Investing In A Home, Part 1      |     The Portland Trail Blazers Brand      |   Training For My First 1/2 Marathon

 


References

Howcast. “How to Do a Cat Cow Pose for Energy | Yoga.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 23 June 2012. Web. 14 July 2016.

Yoga with Adriene. “Downward Dog – Downward Facing Dog Yoga Pose.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 12 December 2012. Web. 14 July 2016.

Yoga with Adriene. “Cobra Pose – Yoga With Adriene.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 16 January 2013. Web. 14 July 2016.

Ekhart Yoga. “Yoga, the Puppy Dog Pose.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 1 March 2010. Web. 14 July 2016.

BeFiT. “Jillian Michaels: Yoga Camel Pose” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 24 March 2013. Web. 14 July 2016.

DOYOUYOGA.com. “How To Do Wheel Pose – Yoga Pros on Yoga Poses.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 29 June 2013. Web. 14 July 2016.

15 Stretches for Splits, and Tips for Sharing Your Practice

In response to my first post 5 Secrets to Flexibility Training, and Building a Following I received a lot of questions about what stretches I did to get my splits. So, here you have it!

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15 Stretches: How I Got My Splits in 65 Days

  • Disclaimer: I am not an expert on flexibility. However, these are all stretches I learned from certified personal trainers, yoga instructors, and contortionists and the order that I did them for 65 days.
  • Warm Up: Spend 10-15 minutes warming up. Do not stretch“cold.”
  • Questions? I’ve hyperlinked to video tutorials from professionals for most poses.

1) Downward Dog (Yoga with Adriene, 2012)

Press into the ground with your hands and draw your hips back. Hold for 3-5 breaths.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 12.03.44 PM

2) Cobra Pose (Yoga with Adriene, 2013)

Press into Cobra Pose from Downward Dog. Hold for 3-5 breaths.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 12.05.55 PM

3) Downward Dog Leg Extensions

Raise each leg, while maintaining Downward Dog form and pulse the leg 10 times. Then, pull the extended leg forward for Pigeon.

downward dog, leg extended

4) Pigeon Pose (Yoga with Adriene, 2013)

Keep your ankle bent to protect your knee and draw your hips forward to keep them squared forward. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

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5) Warrior One Pose (Yoga with Adriene, 2012)

Keep your hips squarely forward, while tucking your pelvis (avoid just sinking into this stretch). Hold for 30-60 seconds. Drop the back knee to get into a Runner’s Lunge.

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6) Runner’s Lunge

Do not sink into this stretch. Press your hip forward for your back leg. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Then, draw your hips back for the Hamstring Stretch.

runners lunge

7) Hamstring Stretch

Fold forward with a flat back and front foot flexed. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

forward runner lunge

8) Lizard Pose (Yoga by Candace, 2014)

Press forward and drop both elbows to the inside of the forward leg. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

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9) Seated Modified Hurdler Stretch (Strong Runner, 2012)

Hold for 3-5 breaths, reach a little further. Repeat 3 times on each side.

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10) Frog Stretch (ehowhealth, 2012)

Hold this pose for 30-60 seconds. Keep your hips in line with both knees.

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11) Pancake or Straddle Stretch (GMB Fitness, 2014)

Hold for 3-5 breaths and reach a little further. Repeat 3 times on each side.

forward fold

12) Side Reach in Pancake or Straddle Stretch.

Add a side reach. Rotate your torso to the sky and look up, while reaching with the opposite hand as leg. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

other side reach

13) Wall Lunge (Charlotte PoleFit, 2016)

Feel free to use yoga blocks to help with balance. Similar to the Runner’s Lunge with the added resistance of the wall. Hold for 30-60 second intervals.

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14) PNF Hamstring Stretch (Brian Abelson, 2012)

You’ll need a theraband or friend to create resistance. Watch the hyperlinked video for best practices. Hold for 30 seconds, relax and repeat 3-5 times on each side.

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15) Try Your Split

Quick tip: Put on calming music and focus on your breathing. Try to get out of a place of fear. Listen to your body and never push past extreme pain to get your split.

From your Runner’s Lunge, slowly slide forward into your best split. Hold for 5 deep breaths or 30 seconds, and repeat 3 times on both sides. Feeling bendy? Try to roll through to the other side, like this:

How often to stretch?

I did the stretches listed above for 20-40 minutes daily for 65 days until I got my first split. To maintain that flexibility, I stretch a minimum of 4 days a week for 20 minutes. That said, I am not a naturally flexible person so it may take you less or more to maintain.

Tips for Sharing Your Practice

Before creating this post, I sought out advice on developing “How-To” posts. As an instructor, I am used to verbally queuing students. Writing about my own flexibility practice has proved to be much more challenging. Ali Luke (@aliventures), author and blogger, shares great tips in “How to Write a How-To Post: 7 Simple Steps” for creating a written tutorial:

  • Step #1: Pick a Good Topic and Goal
  • Step #2: Work Out the Steps from Start to End
  • Step #3: Write the Introduction
  • Step #4: Write Instructions for Each Step
  • Step #5: Add a Conclusion and Call to Action
  • Step #6: Tweak the Title
  • Step #7: Edit Your Post

Step 4 really resonated with me. As I began writing this post, I found myself just listening poses. Being both a student and instructor, I know that is not actionable. I think this blog does a great job of identifying not only the steps of how to create a tutorial but how to make it engaging. Following her steps made writing this post much easier for me, I encourage to check out her blog here.

Share Your Practice!

Our community is build on sharing. Having success with a new pose, strength, or flexibility? I encourage you to share your journey too and use the seven tips from Ali Luke.

Happy bending!

Melissa Barker


Read more from the Digital Drinkers 

Surviving a Beer Fest    |     Investing In A Home, Part 1      |     The Portland Trail Blazers Brand      |   Training For My First 1/2 Marathon


References

Luke Ali (2011, December 12). How to Write a How-To Post: 7 Simple Steps. Retrieved July 14, 2016, from: http://www.dailyblogtips.com/how-to-write-a-how-to-post-7-simple-steps/

Yoga with Adriene. “Downward Dog – Downward Facing Dog Yoga Pose.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 12 December 2012. Web. 14 July 2016.

Yoga with Adriene. “Cobra Pose – Yoga With Adriene.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 16 January 2013. Web. 14 July 2016.

Yoga with Adriene. “Pigeon Pose – Yoga With Adriene.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 24 April 2013. Web. 14 July 2016.

Yoga with Adriene. “Warrior One Yoga Pose – Yoga With Adriene.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 20 December 2012. Web. 14 July 2016.

Yoga by Candace. “How to do Lizard Pose.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 15 September 2014. Web. 14 July 2016.

Strong Runner. “Seated Modified Hurdler Stretch is One of The Most Important Stretching Exercises For Runners.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 11 October 2012. Web. 14 July 2016.

ehowhealth. “Pilates Exercises : How to Do a Frog Stretch.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 25 February 2012. Web. 14 July 2016.

GMB Fitness. “Stretching for Super-Stiff People – How to Get into Position.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 29 April 2014. Web. 14 July 2016.

Charlotte PoleFit. “Wall Lunge & PNF Flexibility Technique.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 5 January 2016. Web. 14 July 2016.

Brian Abelson. “PNF Stretching For Your Hamstring Muscles – Kinetic Health.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 6 August 2012. Web. 14 July 2016.

5 Secrets to Flexibility Training, and Building a Following

For me, flexibility has never come easily. Two years ago I could barely touch my toes or press up into a backbend (wheel pose) without help.

Today, I can sit comfortably in a split, while enjoying my morning coffee.

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Jokes aside, when I decided to commit to flexibility training, I learned some big lessons. These lessons were not only about flexibility but about building a following on social media.

1) Take progress photos. And share them.

When I started working on flexibility, I took a contortion class where my instructor made us take progress photos. Sharing these photos (while uncomfortable at times) on Instagram kept me accountable.

I stumbled into a subculture dedicated to flexibility through sharing progress photos. “Today you’ll find a flourishing crowdculture around almost any topic” because subcultures are amplified in the age of social media (Holt, 2016). This community became my primary source of motivation. I received comments of encouragement from people I would never meet in person – my digital family.

Two years later, and I’m still sharing progress photos.

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2) It takes 30-days to form a habit.

I HATED stretching. All of my fitness instructors told me if I really wanted flexibility training to become a habit, I would have to do it for thirty days. To jumpstart my flexibility training I took on a 30-Day Split Challenge. My challenge was simple: do 20-40 minutes of active stretches for my splits every day for thirty days. Sounds easy, right? It wasn’t at first.

I shared weekly progress with hashtags like #30daysplitchallenge to tap into a community of people who were working towards similar goals. The positive affirmation I received from these posts really kept me motivated to keep going. I ended up extending the challenge to do a second month. Stretching had become a habit.

And on Day 65, I got my first split.

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Before I knew it, I had also gained almost 4 followers for every 1 person I followed. Why does this ratio matter? Because it showed me that being authentic in my content was the reason people followed me, not to get another follower in return.

People love an underdog.

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3) Flexibility is mental.

So, what is really happening when you’re stretching? The truth is this: you’re training your mind, “Exercises such as reaching for your toes train the nervous system to tolerate a greater degree of muscle extension without firing off pain signals.” (Ghose, 2014) Sounds silly – but you can’t deny science.

Each time I stretched, I knew I was training my mind to go a little bit further. If someone had told me, “one day you’ll put your head between your feet,” – I would’ve laughed.

Looks like the joke is on me.

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4) Gains come at the most unexpected times, don’t give up.

You never know when gains will occur. There will be weeks (and even months) where you don’t feel like you’re making any progress. That’s normal!

For me, when I am injured (ironically) is when I have the biggest gains in flexibility. Weird, right? Earlier in 2016, I hurt my left wrist and had to rest it for 3 months. During that time, I had my first center split roll-through and stood up from a back bend with one hand.

The video doesn’t lie – note the wrist brace.

5) Stay hydrated.

Muscle flexibility is highly dependent on your hydration. “If you’re looking for a quick fix for just about anything that ails you, water is it. And that goes for flexibility as well.”  (Kita, 2009).

Drink water, osmosis is not the way. Trust me.

 

Parting thoughts…

Don’t be afraid to show weakness, failure, progress and success on social media. Authenticity is the key to finding and building your community.

Happy bending!

Melissa Barker


References

  1. Holt, Douglas. “Branding in the Age of Social Media.” Harvard Business Review Mar. 2016: n. pag. Print.
  2. Ghose, Tia (2014, November 13). Does Stretching Increase Flexibility?. Retrieved July 8, 2016, from: http://www.livescience.com/48744-how-does-stretching-work.html
  3. Kita, Joe. (2009, April 14). Drink Water, Boost Flexibility. Retrieved July 8, 2016, from http://www.coreperformance.com/daily/one-small-change/drink-water-boost-flexibility.html