Hip flexiblity is essential for athletic dancers, but the best method to achieve it is unclear.
Smith, Koutedakis, and Wyon (2013) examined the effectiveness of three training programs on the active and passive hip flexibility of 35 moderately-trained female dancers, all around 17 years old.
The degree of hip flexibility determines how high dancers can raise their legs.
Passive flexibility is demonstrated when dancers increase the range of motion by lifting the leg with their hands. Assistance may also come from another person, the wall, or a barre.
Active flexibility is demonstrated without assistance, using the hip flexor muscles only.
In dance research, passive range of motion (PROM) is typically examined, despite the fact that active range of motion (AROM) is more meaningful in performance. Both PROM and AROM in développé were examined in this study.
In the video below, you can see Igal Perry providing instruction to dancer Nikki Holck on the proper performance of développé à la seconde. Thank you to Dance Teacher magazine for sharing this wonderful video.
The three training programs were strength training, low-intensity stretching, and high-intensity stretching. Each took place for 6 weeks.
In the strength training condition, dancers focused on improving strength in the hip flexors with a leg raise exercise (similar to the photo below, but from a standing position).
In the two flexibility conditions, dancers stretched at two different levels of perceived exertion: low-intensity (3 on a 10 point scale) and high-intensity (8 on a 10 point scale). The advantage of using dancers’ perceptions of effort as a measure of exertion is that it mirrors a real-world psychological state during training (e.g., “today I’m going for a light stretching workout.”). In contrast to the strength training condition, where hip flexors were strengthened, the hip extensors were stretched.
The researchers evaluated AROM and PROM before and after the interventions by analyzing videos of the dancers.
After 6 weeks, the data revealed improvements in PROM for all three groups, with no differences among the groups.
Regarding AROM, strength training and low-intensity stretching were both superior to high-intensity stretching. It is likely that high-intensity stretching results in increased tension in the surrounding muscles, which limits the potential for improvements in active range of motion.
Active hip flexibility for développé can be improved through a combination of strength training of hip flexors and low-intensity stretching of hip extensors. High-intensity stretching, a typical and somewhat aggressive mode of training for many dancers, appears to be the least effective approach.
How do you improve your hip flexibility? Have you used any of the three methods described here? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Smith, A., Koutedakis, Y., & Wyon, M. (2013). A comparison of strength and stretch interventions on active and passive ranges of movement in dancers: A randomised controlled trial. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31828a4842.
Wilmerding, M. (2009). Conditioning for greater leg extension. The IADMS Bulletin for Teachers, 1, 5-6.
Wyon, M, Felton, L, and Galloway, S. A comparison of two stretching modalities on lower-limb range of motion measurements in recreational dancers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23, 2144–2148.