Shopping is a pastime for many many people. This may be shopping in store, browsing wears, or scrolling through internet sites looking for a good deal. We all like getting hold of new things for lots of different reasons. Now dancers are the same. We all probably have way too many leotards in the cupboard, (I’ve recently found I have at least 9 different black leotards). So next time you feel the need to buy another item you already have, take a look at this list of equipment that can be used to help your flexibility.
The first thing I would recommend is just a simple yoga mat. The thicker and squishier the better. This will help you out doing any stretches where you put a lot of pressure through your knees, especially. It will just provide a different surface for you to stretch out on when you’re at home. Additionally you can also use it for conditioning exercises, protecting your hands and elbows a little bit during press-ups and planks.
The next thing I’d recommend would be some therabands. These are simply bits of thick elastic material that can be used to provide resistance against different parts of the body. The most common way to use this is to help strengthen the foot arch and help improve mobility in the feet. However, it can also be used to help improve leg and back flexibility. When doing this you can wrap the theraband around an ankle, making sure it’s attached securely, then use that strap to pull the legs in certain directions. If you were laying on your back you could lift up the leg with the band, and use the free end to pull the leg closer to the chest. In this way you can also use the resistance to start doing PNF stretching which is a different type of stretch. For stretching the back, you would attach two bands to either ankle, then lie on your front. Push up into a cobra stretch and bring the toes closer to the head, then try to grab the band. Once you have the bands, you can rock backwards and forwards, as well as moving the hands down the bands a little.
Another item, that is similar to the previous is a big elastic strap. This strap is big enough to go around your legs whilst in straddle. It will definitely help with your middle splits. The best stretch I’ve come across to help with middle splits using this band is a PNF stretch. It can also be done without a band. In this stretch you sit in a butterfly stretch, loop the band around your back and then put the loops over your feet. You then stretch out the legs into a straddle and roll onto your back, lifting your legs off the ground. Keep them in straddle and gentle bounce the legs up and down. This will actively engage the muscles involved with straddle stretch, helping them to loosen and lengthen.
Next up is the flexistretcher, this is almost an amalgamation of the previous two options. It is a long strap with adjustable loops at either end and an elastic middle. The elastic stretch in the middle has a nice piece of padding to make it a little more comfortable to use. Now in my use of this I’ve definitely found that it is best for dancers who have longer legs, as the strap does come on the longer side. It can used in lots of different ways, encouraging PNF stretching it arabesque and leg hold positions.
The yoga block, isn’t what you’d attribute to flexibility in most instances. But it can help aid technique and help maintain the right body positions during different stretches. If you are getting this purely for stretching, it would make a good surface to practice your over splits on. I don’t encourage too much of a oversplits, but practicing a slight oversplit will help maintain your flat splits and make it easier to achieve during leaps and kicks. Put the yoga block on the largest surface on the floor and place on foot on the top, slide into those splits. Keep the heel on the block and aim to get your hips down and your splits flat to the floor. For technique, the block is great for working on keeping the knees together on backbends. Place the block between the knees so they’re separated by the short edge, then go into your backbend. Try to keep the block there, squeezing to back sure it doesn’t slip.
Another item that is used for increasing arch flexibility is an arch stretcher. I’ve not got much experience of these other than knowing what they are. They are simply a block of shaped wood and a little elastic ‘sock’. You point your foot out along the shaped foot and pop the sock over the toes and wood, effectively ‘glueing’ them together. The thinking behind it is that is helps you stimulate the foot muscles that you need to be able to point your foot to its best ability. So if foot flexibility is something you’re after this would be a great option for static stretching.
Finally you may want to invest in a little workout band. These are usually used to help activate the glute muscles and help target those muscles during workouts. But I’ve found that they also provide resistance for you to do PNF stretching. They are a little harder to use than other options, but they can also be cheaper and have a bit more universal use. Hook them around the ankle and use them to help pull your leg into a leg hold position. You can then push against the band, as if trying to bring the leg down, and the resistance will pull you back to the position you are trying to hold.
All of these items vary in price and can all be used in lots of different ways. I’ve simply mentioned a few to help inspire you on your stretching journey. There are lots of different types of equipment out there for dancers. Many which just seem to make you perfect dancers. They won’t. The most important aspect to become a better dancer is by putting in the work. If buying one of these accessories helps you be more motivated to do more stretching than that’s a great thing. But if you’re not able to buy one of these, it isn’t the end of the world. Put the work in and you’ll still get better.