The 3 Best Stretches for Ballet
Improve your ballet and minimize injuries with 3 of the best ballet stretches.
by Brad Walker | First Published June 5, 2010 | Updated April 30, 2019
The earliest form of ballet was performed in large chambers with audience seated on galleries, with the floor pattern visible from above, to observe the choreography.
French courts later adopted ballet, and developed its style and techniques. French ballet master Raoul Feuillet recorded most of the technique in the 1700’s. In the 18th Century, when the use of pointe shoes started, ballet started declining in France but keep developing in Russia, Italy and Denmark.
Nowadays there are many recognized ballet methods and present day ballet dancers train just like athletes do.
Muscles used in Ballet
Although ballet dancers use all muscles, certain major muscle groups predominate. The muscles used also depend on the form of ballet and the gender of the dancer. For example, a male classical ballet dancer who performs lifts will require more upper body strength than a female dancer.
The following muscle groups are used predominantly by all ballet dancers.
- Muscles of the lower back and core: the lower back is held erect by a number of muscle groups, including: the abdominals; the obliques; the spinal erectors; and quadratus lumborum.
- Hip muscles: hip muscles relate to the pelvis and affect both the lower back stability and lower extremity balance. Hip flexors (iliopsoas) in particular are extensively used by ballet dancers. This muscle must be flexible enough to achieve a neutral pelvic position. Dancers with tight hip flexors, combined with weak abdominals, cause excessive pelvic tilt and increased disk compression in the spinal column.
- Hamstrings: one of the most important muscles in dancers, as this muscle is used in almost every movement. A lack of flexibility and strength in this muscle can cause excessive compression forces in the lower back.
Most Common Ballet Injuries
Ballet dancers suffer injuries of similar severity and frequency as other athletes. Most injuries in dancers are of the chronic (or overuse) type, due to the repetitive nature of the training, but acute injuries can also occur when a dancer uses incorrect technique or experiences lack of focus and fatigue.
Most commonly, ballet dancers experience injuries in the lower limbs, hip and back.
- Back strain;
- Hip injuries, including iliospoas syndrome, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, hamstring strain and iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome;
- Knee injuries, including anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sprain, meniscus tear, and patellofemoral pain syndrome;
- Shin splints;
- Achilles tendinitis;
- Ankle sprain; and
- Foot and toe injuries, including plantar fasciitis, trigger toe and morton’s neuroma.
Injury Prevention Strategies
In order to minimize the occurrence of injuries dancers must attend to various areas that impact how their body will experience the training and performance.
- Make sure you warm up properly before any training or performance.
- Conduct a thorough cool down after each rehearsal or performance.
- Improved cardiovascular fitness will help to prevent fatigue and build resistance to injury.
- Strength training: Although dancers do not commonly use weight lifting, they can benefit greatly from dance specific strength training using one’s own body weight. Many dancers also find that regular core strengthening helps create good balance and control, thus minimizing excessive work by the wrong muscle groups.
- Practice balance, agility and proprioception drills to improve knee and ankle stability.
- Regular stretching: It is recommended that all ballet dancers incorporate a series of ballet stretches into their training, if not daily, then at least 3-4 times per week.
- Instruction in proper technique is critical. Dancers must pay very close attention to proper posture and alignment: “shoulders over hips, over knees, over ankles” is an important concept to remember.
- Pacing the training: This means, new more difficult movements and combinations should only be introduced when the dancer has developed sufficient strength, flexibility and technical foundation to perform the new movement correctly and with ease.
- Manage fatigue and stress: Fatigue and stress cause muscle tightness and lack of focus, thus greatly increasing the risk of acute injuries.
- While wrist braces, elbow and knee pads and ankle supports (braces, taping, strapping, etc.) may not go with the rest of the outfit on the actual dance night, during practice sessions and training it helps to wear a brace or wrap on any weak area.
The 3 Best Ballet Stretches
Ballet stretches are one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective.
Below are 3 of the best stretches for ballet; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions with each stretch, and if you currently have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain please take extra care when performing the stretches below, or consult with your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the following stretches.
Instructions: Slowly move into the stretch position until you feel a tension of about 7 out of 10. If you feel pain or discomfort you’ve pushed the stretch too far; back out of the stretch immediately. Hold the stretch position for 20 to 30 seconds while relaxing and breathing deeply. Come out of the stretch carefully and perform the stretch on the opposite side if necessary. Repeat 2 or 3 times.
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Research and References
- Walker, B. (2011). The Anatomy of Stretching, 2nd Edition (ISBN: 978-1583943717)
- Wikipedia contributors. (2019, April 30). Ballet, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
- Smith, P. Gerrie, B. Varner, K. McCulloch, P. Lintner, D. Harris, J. (2015). Incidence and prevalence of musculoskeletal injury in ballet: a systematic review. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 3(7), 2325967115592621.
- Sobrino, F. de la Cuadra, C. Guillén, P. (2015). Overuse injuries in professional ballet: injury-based differences among ballet disciplines. Orthopaedic journal of sports medicine, 3(6), 2325967115590114.
- Russell, J. (2013). Preventing dance injuries: current perspectives. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 4, 199.
- Reid, D. (1988). Prevention of hip and knee injuries in ballet dancers. Sports Medicine, 6(5), 295-307.
- Kokkonen, J. Nelson, A. Eldredge, C. Winchester, J. (2007) Chronic Static Stretching Improves Exercise Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Volume 39 – Issue 10 – pp 1825-1831.
- Shellock, F, Prentice, W. (1985) Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sports Medicine, 2(4):267-78.
- Fradkin, A. Zazryn, T. Smoliga, J. (2010) Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(1):140-8.
About the Author: Brad Walker is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon (author page) has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.
Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.