In order to effectively work on any individual’s flexibility, we must acknowledge each of the structures that may restrict mobility and to what proportion they are contributing to an individual’s stiffness in any one area. Within any group of dancers going into the same movement, the structure limiting their range will vary greatly.
Carefully assessing range of motion in different areas, and understanding what each common sensation means, helps your students become more empowered in choosing the best way of working on their mobility at any particular moment. The subsequent sections of the course will look at the best ways of dealing with each restriction in the safest and most respectable way. The specificity of this style of training results in much faster improvements and fabulous compliance with the program as students often start to see the results instantly. This is especially important for students who have almost given up on improving their mobility due to the lack of results they have seen with regular stretching.
For each of the following assessments of range, ask the student to place their hand over the main point of restriction and to describe the sensation in as much detail as possible. How they indiacte the point of restriction can give you lots of information about what structure is involved. In addition to watching their end range of motion, make sure to watch how the student goes in and out of the movement as well as the fluidity and dynamic control of the movement.
Quality of Restriction
Bone and Joint: Student will indicate pressure on the closing side of the joint, feel bone on bone, or that it just wont go.
Nerve: Often described as a line of pull, numbness, pins and needles, pulling in an area away from the muscle being stretched, 'latent Pain' 1-2 hours after stretching.
Fascia: Student uses a moving palm to indicate a wider area of tension, often spreading above or below the area being stretched. Often variable throughout the day, day to day, or during the month depemding on activity level, menstrual cycle and stress levels.
Muscle: A static point of tension in the muscle belly.
The Roll Down
A simple Roll Down can give so much information about a dancer’s skeletal, fascial and neural mobility, as well as the status of the muscles in their neck, back, hips and legs. Watch the mobility of the spine carefully during the Roll Down, noting for any parts that move together rather than articulating segmentally. Also note whether the spine shudders at any stage, indicating weak segmental stabilisers.
Also test the student with the heels and toes raised on a book for more information about any neural or fascial restriction. If tension increases significantly with the toes raised this may indicate a lock point deep in the back of the calf or foot. If the range improves, the students limitation is likely to be a stability issue.
Seated Forward Bend
This traditional test is an easy one to measure but has many influencing factors. Make sure to use it as a test, rather than as an exercise to improve range. As with all of the other tests, make sure to ask the dancer what they feel. Also take note of the neck position the dancer assumes, as if they have significant neural tension theu may subconsciously entend the neck to offload the system.
Also make sure not to let the knees hyperextend, and keep the feet flat to teh step. Ease gently into the test, and make sure to measure the distance from the edge of the box to the tip of both middle fingers. Keep an eye out for any signs of scoliosis, and any significant differences between the Roll Down assessment and the Seated Forward Reach test.
Being able to sit in a flat Second Split, or Box Split, is a goal for many dancers, however, this is one position that the natural anatomical structure of the hips influences range a great deal. If the dancer has deep hip sockets or Anteverted hips, they may have some bone on bone restriction that will block their range.
Make sure not to let the dancer slide down into the splits from standing. Start sitting with the legs in front, and then slowly walk then out to the sides, until the first point of restriction. Make siure that they do not push too deeply into range, and instead look for the first sign of restriction. This may be in the top of the hip, back of the hip, down by the knee, in the inner thigh or groin. Each one will rquire a fifferent set of mobilisers to resolve.
The Thomas Test is good to establish what structures are limiting a dancer from taking their leg back into a degagé derrière or arabesque. Make sure to have the back flat to the bed throughout in order to get an accurate test.
Initailly, watch how the leg sits naturally, noting the amount of hip extension as well as any drift to the side. Next, test any resistance to correcting the alignment of teh leg, and gently testing the amount oif hip extension. Finally, tes the rectus Femoris muscle by adding knee flexion while maintaining full hip extension. This area is remarkably tight in a lot of dancers as they have not been taufght to moboilise it seperately.
There are many factors that influence spinal mobility, and assessing it carefully to find what elements are the issue for each dancer will help to improve it quickly with less risk of injury. Take care not to let students hinge at one joint to achieve extension, as this can lead to numerous issues in the spine such as disc degeneration and spondylolisthesis.
Start by pressing up on the elbows to assess the dancers Thoracic extension, making sure to keep the ribs to the floor. If this is not possible, move the elbows wider to find the point where they can touch. Use your fingers to check taht the big back muscles can stay relaxed and there is no compression in the low back. If this is comfortabloe, you may ask them to gently press up into full extension, but make sure to maintain the thoracic extension.
Order of Priority
When attempting to improve range in any direction, it is wise to pay respect to the tissues in the following order:
- The Breath
- Bone and Joint
- The Nerves
Attempting to improve range in any structure out of order tends to cause issues. For example: If a dancer feels a neural pull in a forward bend and tries to use a static muscle stretch to improve it, they will likely flare up the neural restriction with little improvement in range. However, focussing on restoring the ability of the nerves to slide will quickly release the neural restriction and quickly improve range.
Document your findings
Make sure to note down any observations or sensations for each of the tests, as well as the end range of motion for each test on the Assessment Sheet. Your aim is to establish a starting point for review following any intervention. See if you can record any ideas on what type of tissue is restricting each test in order to determine which elements need to be addressed first. For instance, a neural pull in the Roll Down Assessment should be dealt with before a muscular pull in the Second Splits. If possible, it is also a great idea to film each student going through these assessment tests, so that they may watch them back to assess themselves, and also for ease of reassessment down the track.