By Anagha Madhan, as seen in En Avant Sep-Oct 2022
In class, you pay close attention to every detail of your dance. After class, however, it is tempting to head home without a proper cool down routine. But this is hard on our muscles since going from grand allegro to complete rest is a steep change. A good cooldown would flatten the curve and make this change more gradual. In our classes, we often do balancés, plies and/or port de bras before the révérence in order to begin the cooldown process.
Cooling down not only helps with recovery, it also reduces soreness since we’re gradually bringing our muscles into a state of rest and our heart rate down in a gentle manner. As dancers, we work the whole body, so it wouldn’t make sense to only stretch one part of the body after class. Here are a few simple cooldowns that don’t need much equipment, but are still immensely helpful:
- Before Stretching
It’s imperative that we bring down our heart rate first before we begin stretching so it’s a good idea to go slow and steady. Taking a walk around the studio to act as a mediator from intense exercise to more stationary stretches is advisable.
Small sips of water before and after a cooldown do miracles. This not only makes up for fluid loss caused by sweating, but also regulates the body’s temperature.
ALL STRETCHES CAN BE DONE BEFORE CLASS, TOO!
Place yourself next to a wall corner or door frame. Bring your arm up against the wall with the elbow and shoulder bent at 90 degrees while maintaining a straight back and a strong core. Draw the opposite shoulder back and your body in a straight line while keeping the arm firmly pressed against the wall. Hold for 30 seconds, then do this three times with each arm.
Extended Child’s Pose
Kneel and sit on your feet, separating the knees to about your hip’s width. Bend forward such that your arms are extended as much as possible with your palms facing down. Now, come up onto your fingertips as if you are holding down something round and bring your chest down towards the floor. Hold this position and then slowly roll back up.
Hip Flexor Stretches
In order to loosen hip flexors as part of your cooldown, try some of the following stretches:
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
Using the ballet bar or a wall for support if necessary, put your weight on your right foot and stand tall. Raise your left foot toward your buttocks while bending your left knee. Grab the top of your left foot with your left hand as you reach behind you. Maintain a tight knee bend with your left knee pointed down toward the floor. To experience the hip flexor stretch, tilt your hips slightly forward. Keep your stretch going for at least 20 seconds. On each leg, carry out the stretch two to four times.
To reach the hip flexor a bit farther, perform a lunge stretch. Your hands should be on the floor on either side of your right foot as you lunge forward with your right foot. If possible, place your chest just inside your right thigh or slightly above it. Be sure your right shin is straight. Put your left leg straight behind you and plant your left foot’s toes firmly on the ground. Put your left knee on the ground. Until your hip flexor gets a stretch, push your left hip toward the floor. Maintain the stretch for at least 20 seconds while breathing normally. Stretch both legs two to four times more. For an added stretch, bend into a cambré on either side.
Hip Abductor Stretch
Lying on your back, stretch your legs. Bring your right knee into your chest. Your thigh and your trunk should be at a 90-degree angle. Keep your left leg extended and your right knee bent. Put your left hand on the right knee’s outside. Only move your right knee close enough to the midline of your body to experience a little stretch. If you want a deeper stretch, try crossing the right knee over to the left side. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side and do three sets on each side. For an added stretch, extend the right knee outwards, extending the leg, to form the shape of the letter ‘K’. Think of it like reaching your leg downwards as opposed to upwards Reach your other arm into the shape of a T.
Stretch your legs out in front of you. Bend one foot in so that the pad of your foot is touching the other leg. Reach forward and try to touch your chest to your knees.
Calf Muscle Stretch
To stretch out your calf muscles, which inarguably work super hard during a dance class: Start with your hands pressed against a wall. Keep your hips square, with the front leg bent and the back leg completely straight in a lunge. Turn your back leg in slightly to prevent rolling in. Hold this stretch and repeat on the other leg. To stretch another part of your calf muscles: Starting in the same lunge, bring your back leg closer to the wall. Bend the knee, keeping the heel down and toes slightly turning in.
A Final Rest
To finish your cooldown routine, lie on your back and hug your knees to your chest. You can rock sideways, and forwards and backwards, to add a rolling effect on your back. After this, slowly roll up from your position.
A good cooldown routine is an important part of preventing injuries due to dance. In addition to this, here are a few more general tips and reminders for prevention of injuries; after all, prevention is better than cure, right?
- Always warm up and cool down before and after class. It is crucial to remember that a cool down is just as important as a warm up for the body.
- Eating well, sleeping well and staying hydrated throughout the day does wonders for the body in general, and it is especially important for dancers.
- A good tip for preventing some common leg injuries is to increase calf muscle endurance. Doing some single legged rises, even if it’s just twelve on each side will help massively.
Another good tip in terms of strengthening the body is to strengthen the smallest muscles of the foot. A simple exercise to do this, using only a resistance band:
- Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your knees and ankles bent at 90 degrees.
- Your big toe should be wrapped and lifted in a resistance band without the other toes being raised.
- Press that toe down to the floor, keep it there for a few seconds, and then slowly let go.
- Do this ten times in total.
- Once you’re comfortable with the exercise, repeat it with your little toe, followed by your second, third, and fourth toes.
A very important part of prevention is awareness, so make sure to regularly read up about the latest evidence-based research. Our awareness regarding our own body will give us leverage and also won’t leave us in the dark if injuries do occur.
The most important tip on this list is to listen to your body. Remember that your body knows best. If it is complaining at any point, it is never a wise idea to just push through it. Getting it checked out and resting is better than having to go through a more severe injury.