The hamstrings are muscles which cross more than one joint; making them susceptible to frequent muscles pulls, tears or strains. These injuries can be caused by a variety of reasons which include but are not limited to: improper technique, muscle imbalance, incorrect stretching techniques or a single gross motor movement; particularly when improperly warmed up.
It is essential that dancers take the necessary steps to ensure that these muscles are given some love and stretched properly with lengthening exercises which are held for a minimum of one minute. Making sure that both the muscles have the stretch and the flexibility to perform required movements will ensure a safe, effective approach to dancing and maintain the well-being of the hamstrings and the surrounding muscles they are connected to.
Below are three of my favorite, simple hamstring stretches to start your dancers off with and instill proper technique and solid stretch practices!
See you in the dance studio,
Exercise 1: Stand with legs hip distance apart in parallel position. Lengthen arms straight above head, relax shoulders and proceed into a long, extended front flat-back position. Pull belly button back to spine. Hold one minute. Continue the stretch all the way over the legs with hands touching the floor. Release the back of the head and neck so dancer is looking through the legs. Slowly extend arms behind you, clasp hands together and stretch up and away from center. This will increase the stretch of the hamstrings as well as provide an opening stretch of the shoulders. Hold one minute. Release hands to floor. Either roll up or reverse back through flat-back stretch to standing.
Exercise #2: Sit up tall with legs out in front of you. Take the right leg, bend it and place foot flat against inner right thigh (as though you are in a passé position.) Gently press foot into the opposite leg, making sure you are creating a nice “diamond shape” with the right leg. Keep the left leg extended and take a long stretch over the leg. Lengthen the spine, trying to stretch past the leg. Make sure to keep the right hip down and turned out as you are stretching over the left leg. Hold one minute. Repeat other side. For more intensity- keep the foot of the extended leg in a nice, strong flexed position. For a variation- gently hold the foot back in flexed position while taking more of a flat back over the leg vs. a full stretch over the leg.
Exercise #3: Lie on your back. Bring right foot up in parallel coupé, through passé and extend leg up in the air. Hold on to either the back of the hamstring, calf or ankle and gently pull leg back into a stretch. Start with a pointed foot and then slowly progress to a flexed foot. Make sure for the hamstring stretch that he leg remains in front of the body, not swinging out to the side in second position. Hold one minute. Slowly bend the leg to chest and stretch. Repeat stretch. Repeat opposite side. For more intensity on the stretch, try wrapping a theraband around the leg and gently pull the leg in towards you. Hold one minute and release.