General Dance Discussion > Flexibility, do you have to start stretching young?

Discussion in 'General Dance Discussion' started by LKSO, Sep 6, 2013.

  1. LKSO

    LKSO Active Member

    I was curious if anyone knows how to become super flexible, like in ballet or rhythmic gymnastics. Does that flexibility only happen when you start training at a super young age or can that same flexibility be trained with an adult body? Does the bone or joint structure physically change that allows that degree of flexibility? Or is it just the stretching of the tendons and ligaments that allows that flexibility?

    I ask because I'd like to become super flexible but wonder if that kind of flexibility is even possible as an adult. I'm male and I've heard that men just aren't as flexible as women. Why is that?
  2. bia

    bia Well-Known Member

    I can't speak to the physiology of it, but I do know two things.

    1) There's a lot of individual variability in what maximum flexibility is achievable. The truly super-flexible do train it, of course, but they only get there because their bodies are built to allow it. No amount of early gymnastics can make a naturally inflexible person super-flexible (raising hand -- just ask my childhood gymnastics coaches).

    2) Almost nobody is at their personal maximum flexibility. No matter the age, flexibility can almost always be improved.

    So I'd set a goal to get more flexible than you are now -- that's entirely achievable. You won't know what your own personal maximum is until you start working toward it, and you're highly unlikely to end up a contortionist, but there's nothing wrong with (safely) trying to find out.
    llamasarefuzzy and danceronice like this.
  3. DerekWeb

    DerekWeb Well-Known Member

    As a young boy, I was not really flexible. When I studied martial arts for years I stretched every day, but never became really flexible.
    Recently, I asked a physical therapist --If I stretch for an hour a day will I ever be able to really be flexible. Answer - no.

    Its not in my genes.
  4. bia

    bia Well-Known Member

    I'm reminded of a ballet video that I have. The nice British ballet master is talking about flexibility: "When you start out, you can get your leg to here, and you think that after working at it you'll be able to get it all the way up here, and after a few years, it's only up to here [a few inches higher than the beginning]. So you mustn't get depressed. [Pause in narration, music plays, class goes on.] Because of course depression has nothing to do with a dancer's life at all."
    Mr 4 styles likes this.
  5. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    Yes, I do like that NP thought to ask, was I flexible as a kid? (No. Not at all. I have zero aptitude for it as far as things like the splits or putting my ankle behind my ear goes.) You can most likely improve a little whenever you start, but if you're not naturally flexible, you're only going to improve so much.
  6. LKSO

    LKSO Active Member

    I guess there are some kinds of flexibility that is trainable, like leg splits. But what about the spine? At some point, it just seems like the vertebrae will lock out and no amount of training will increase the degree of flex.
  7. bia

    bia Well-Known Member

    Yes, it's going to be different for different body parts, and your example is consistent with my own experience. I had my splits as a child (well, never quite the middle one), and I'm still not too far from them and could get them back. But my back and shoulders could never bend backwards much at all. I'm sure it has to do with the structure of the spine and the shoulder joint. I had a gymnastics teammate with ridiculously flexible shoulders, and she had problems with them frequently dislocating. (She'd just pop them back in. Ew.) Of course, even with the spine, it may well be being held tighter than necessary with soft tissue that could be loosened up. Even though my back was never what you would call flexible, it was a whole lot more so then (with lots of stretching) than now (with lots of desk sitting). So that's encouragement for me to work on loosening up my upper back so I can make pretty standard girl shapes. When I actually get to working on it less sporadically, I'll let you know how it goes.
  8. LKSO

    LKSO Active Member

    I'm working on increasing my flexibility and want to be able to do leg splits (I've been able to do it in the past through lots of painful stretching) but what I really want to do is turn my back into a U shape so I can stand and touch the ground backwards. That doesn't seem possible if spinal flexibility is limited by the vertebrae.
  9. TemptressToo

    TemptressToo Member

    Both ballet training and yoga would improve your flexibility all over (even your back). You can start at any time, but it takes daily stretching.
  10. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    The male and female sex hormones --- testosterone and estrogen --- play pivotal roles in muscle size and flexibility. Testosterone increases everything from the size and mass of muscles to the male skeleton. According to the U.S. Office of Science, the male-female muscle comparison becomes particularly polarized when it comes to the upper body where muscle fibers and lean tissues are much larger in the male physique. In contrast, estrogen widens the hips of females adding greater muscle mobility in abdominal regions.
    When it comes to hip action females dominate the range of motion scene at all ages, says Reese. Increased hip flexibility is a byproduct of female hormones that for millennia have been working their magic to prepare women for pregnancy. In the book "Women's Health and Fitness Guide," Dr. Michele Kettles says the majority of added hip motion in females originates at the pelvis. Range of motion is boosted through greater tailbone mobility, downward pelvic tilt and the wider and more circular pelvis of females.
    LKSO likes this.
  11. LKSO

    LKSO Active Member

    "Joint Instability
    During puberty, females undergo bone and muscle changes that often create laxity, or joint instability, that limit neuromuscular control in lower extremities. To compensate for this lack of control, female knee joints tend to rotate inward as weight is applied. This places strain on tendons and ligaments that increases the risk of tear and injury."

    That explains why more females have ACL injuries.

    "Women are two to eight times more likely than men to suffer a debilitating tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee and a new study suggests that a combination of body type and landing techniques may be to blame.
    "Both men and women tended to land stiffly, which can lead to ACL injuries, but women were 3.6 times more likely to land in a "knock-kneed" position, which the researchers say may be the critical factor leading to the gender disparity in ACL tears."
  12. llamasarefuzzy

    llamasarefuzzy Well-Known Member

    I can do that with one shoulder and both hips. It freaks a lot of people out:cool:

    Also, more flexibility isn't always better. My joints are all in general very flexible. Earlier this year, my si joint was sublaxed because it was so flexible, causing my left leg to be 3 inches shorter than my right. Not a fun experience at all.
    Jahmeir Graham likes this.
  13. Jahmeir Graham

    Jahmeir Graham New Member

    Im pretty flexible in my arms and shoulders, although I havent had anything pop out of place yet haha eww >__<
  14. LKSO

    LKSO Active Member

    After a few weeks of stretching, I've improved my flexibility. What also seems to be important is the ability to contract the muscles. For example, contracting the calf muscles allows the foot to be more pointed, like in ballet. This had to be conditioned as it normally didn't contract as much. I'm wondering if this also applies to the back, since flexibility here is what I'd like to be able to improve.
  15. fascination

    fascination Site Moderator Staff Member


    BRONZINGitUP New Member

    As a former gymnastics coach for 10 years and a previous gymnast myself. I can tell you that it is a lot easier for younger people to get their splits, show extreme flexibility with ease, ect. By young I mean 4-9 y/o. There are also those (15% I'd say) that it clearly is in their genes. I think it has something to do with muscle development in the young ones. For example, have you ever seen a toddler sit in an almost 180 degree straddle with ease? Even in higher level gymnastics....PLEASE NOT those kids stretch 30 minutes to an hour before they even go to the various apparatuses in the gym. They really really stretch. By that I mean over splits, holding splits for at least a minute, other various leg stretches, bridges, wrist, ankles, ect. Even the young ones too, they have too to maintain flexibility and stretch to prevent injury. On a great note from my experience it is very possible for anyone to become flexible, but you need to put in the work. Like stretching 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes to an hour...and really stretching sitting in splits the furthest you can go(Never force it or you will end up setting you back with a pulled muscle and it will then do the opposite) Just to the point o a little discomfort.
  17. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    And again: You can also put a kid in the gym at six or seven and if they can't do it, they can't do it. Again, this pro was the smart one and asked was I *ever* flexible. (No. Even as a little kid I couldn't do splits, develope, any of it. I took gymnastics once when I was five or six and couldn't do a thing except walk on the beam or hang from bars.) I can turn out without thinking farther than some professional ballerinas, and that's also genetics (never trained it, was born that way.) At my most flexible, I've gotten my free leg five or six inches above my hip doing a spiral (think Michelle Kwan's signature move). Not bad for an adult start skater, not adequate for anything but passing tests.
  18. Born2Ball

    Born2Ball New Member

    Unfortunately I couldn't find the article, but a few months back I read a fascinating one theorizing that we lose a significant amount of flexibility simply to our mind. Basically, the author proposed that we are capable of being much more flexible but our mind prevents us from reaching that potential for several reasons (fear of injury, pain, thoughts that we aren't capable etc). The idea is that by working on our "mental game," we can actually improve our flexibility--if you combine this with actual flexibility training (yoga, stretching etc) we should be able to far surpass what stretching alone would do.

    After studying the impact of the mental game/visualization on athletic ability for years I can buy into some of this. I've yet to apply it to my own flexibility (or significant lack thereof), but think it might be worth remembering now and then.
    CCdance and BRONZINGitUP like this.

    BRONZINGitUP New Member

    Very true but it can definitely be a learned skill too in my opinion and experience. I have seen kids with no flexibility come in and do the work and eventually get their splits down. I think 95% of people can 'become' flexible; but only if they really put in the work. You would be surprised how quickly one can rise to the occasion when the bar is raised. I remember one year the gymnastics director told the kids before the competition season started one night 'you can not compete if you do not have you left and right split down flat'. I don't agree with this method of caching, but I have to say that 99% of our students had both splits down within a month. Now the flexible ones were not worried at all. Our non-flexible ones though were worried. They really worked hard when we did our stretch before practice. They also began stretching at home. I personally thought that it was unfair to some of our kids that worked really hard; but were more on the muscular side then the flexible side. If you were in gymnastics recreationally I don''t think you would of stretched as intensely as a competitive gymnast or a gymnast in a pre competitive class; recreation classes are only 1 to 2 days a week. They can't stretch as long due to time constraints.

    I guess I am trying to say don't limit yourself. I have began stretching with a ballroom buddy 15 minutes before group lessons. we are in our mid to late 20s. I have my right split but; I am getting my left split back (I want a nice develope in waltz). She is getting her right split for the first time in her life.:)

    BRONZINGitUP New Member

    well you are correct IMO to a certain degree. I think with an ample amount of work anyone can do it. In my experience it can also be something learned; but thats my personal experience I'm bringing to the table being a gymnastics coach for 10 years.

Share This Page