Stretching is a huge and important part of Irish dancing. Every dancer should be stretching to warm up at the start of class, and stretching at the end of class to look after their body. But not all stretching is equal, and if you do the wrong type of stretching at the start of class, you could actually be doing more harm than good. We’re breaking down the two types of stretching, static and dynamic, and looking at when it’s appropriate to do each type.
Warm up vs cool down
Before looking at the types of stretching, it’s first important to note when and why we stretch – one is your warm up and one is your cool down. Lauren Early, Irish dance trainer and author of the new book Reaching New Heights, explains it best, “The aim of a warm up is to prepare the body for exercise and the movement patterns that are to come. If completed properly, a warm up will improve your heart rate, increase blood flow to the muscles, activate the nervous system and fire up the fast twitch muscle fibres, increasing your speed and contraction times. A warm up will also help release fluid around the joints, which acts as a lubricant for the exercise that is about to come.”
“The aim of a cool down is to prepare the body to stop exercising and resume normal activity. If completed properly, a cool down will lower your heart rate back down to resting levels, clear any waste products that have built up through the training session, such as lactic acid, reduce post exercise stiffness and kick start the recovery process.”
As you can see, the warm up and cool down essentially have opposite goals to each other. Doing the same type of stretching in both won’t achieve their objectives, and could lead to injury.
Static vs dynamic stretching
There are two types of stretching – static and dynamic. As the names suggest, one is about movement, and one is about stretching in place. According to Early, “Dynamic stretching is a method of stretching through continual movement. With dynamic stretching the muscle is not held in an end position, rather it is gradually loosened by taking the muscle through its full range whilst moving.” This is the type of stretching you want to do at the start of class or a practice session, because it prepares the muscle for what is to come. An example of a dynamic stretch is standing leg swings. While holding the wall or a barre, the motion of swinging your leg back and forth prepares the hamstring, as well as the the glutes, hip flexors, lower back, and all the surrounding stabilising muscles in one exercise.
On static stretching, Early explains, “Static stretching is a method used to increase the range of movement through a certain muscle or joint while the body is at rest. If you have poor flexibility and mobility, static stretching can be a great way to actually improve your range of motion. However, as it is completed at rest it is not ideal to carry out prior to exercise. Whilst seated and holding the stretch, your heart rate will be reduced significantly which will deactivate the nervous system and slow blood flow. This is exactly what we do not want to happen directly before we train or go on stage.” Using the hamstring example again, a static hamstring stretch would be sitting on the floor touching your toes. You’re still stretching the hamstring, but the static version is just working that one muscle, and all the surrounding muscles are at rest.
Early’s ideal training session is:
- Dynamic warm up
- Speed drills
- Main component
- Static stretch cool down
Early didn’t just create this ideal training session for the sake of it. She explains, “Studies have shown us just how important it is to choose the right kind of stretching before you work out. In fact, studies have actually gone as far as proving that static stretching before you work out can actually reduce your strength. Recent studies show us that movement specific dynamic stretching is much more beneficial for sporting performance and highlight the dangers static stretching can bring if completed before a work out”. To read more about these studies, pick up a copy of Early’s new book Reaching New Heights. We are also giving away one signed copy on our Facebook page, so pop over to enter now!
Do you follow this ideal training session? What kind of warm up and cool down do you do? Share in the comments below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.