Back Flexibility: I Want it! What's the deal?

We all desire an endlessly flexible back that will allow for the most beautiful cambres. But, for each dancer, the range of motion is different. Today we discuss the spine and its possibilities!

cambre
Photo: "Cambre" by Richard Calmes

The Spine's Anatomy

There are five different regions of the spine (or vertebral column): Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar, Sacrum, Coccyx. Thirty-three different bones, or vertebrae, are working together to create movement and/or stability for you. Twenty-four of these bones are movable, and nine of them are immovable. The ones that do not move are part of your sacrum and the coccyx (the lowest point of the spine). Each vertebrae has a neural arch - where our spinal cord passes through - and pieces sticking out where our muscles and ligaments attach to.

The Spine's Movement

In dance, we use our spine to move forward (flexion), sideways (lateral flexion), backwards (extension) and for rotation. Naturally, everyone is more able to move forward further than backward. But some people have a high degree of backward mobility. Flexion is produced by the sternocleidomastoid muscles and the scalene muscles. Extension is produced by lengthening the abdominal muscles while contracting the erector spinae and the gluteus maximus. Rotation is produced by the obliques, latissimus dorsi, iliopsoas and rectus abdominus.

posture
Photo Source

Conditioning the Spine

It is important to have strong neck muscles and core muscles in order to hold a healthy posture for the spine. You want to be actively working on strengthening and engaging your neck and abdominal muscles when you are dancing at the barre or in center.

Check Your Posture

Many things can hurt our posture: hovering over a computer all day, slouching, having weak abdominal muscles which causes our pelvis to tilt. There are six different postural misalignments. Take a look at them and see if any of these apply to you.

posture-charts2
Photo Source

Kyphosis: There is an increased curve in your thoracic region. This makes it look like your shoulders are more rounded, and it may push your head forward a little (when looking from the side).

Forward Head: If your upper back has an increased curve, your head and neck will be pushed forward. This can lead to pain and tension.

Flatback: There is a decreased curve in your lumbar spine, which can cause increased pelvic tilt. It will appear (from the side view) that you are leaning a little forward (as if trying to hear a secret).

Swayback: Your pelvis is tilted anteriorly (frontward), which shifts your spine backward.

Lordosis: There is an increased curve in your lumbar spine, causing your pelvis to tilt forward.

Scoliosis: There is a lateral curvature of the spine. There are two different types of scoliosis: functional or structural. Functional can be caused by activity the dancer is doing, or muscle imbalances and it can be fixed with rehabilitation. Structural means there is a defect in the bony structure.

How to Strengthen the Neck & Core

NECK-

Flexion Strength: Press your forehead against the palm of your hand. Hold resistance.

Extension: Lace your fingers behind your head and press back into your hands. Hold resistance.

Lateral Flexion: Press your head into the palm of your hand leaning right and left. Hold resistance.

Rotation: Palm one palm on the side of your forehead and the other at the back of the head. Press into the palm on your forehead, attempting to rotate. Hold resistance. Change hands and repeat to the other side.

Note: You can also do resistance exercises with a towel. Gradually increase the resistance as long as there is no pain.

CORE-

Bird Dog. Planks. Side planks. Hip bridge. Abdominal crunches.

Check out a wonderful spine conditioning program here by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

What Dancers Should Know

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Fact: We are born with a certain bony structure which allows for certain degrees of movement in the spine. This means some dancers are naturally more able to have more back flexibility, simply by how their bony structure is formed.

Fact: Your bony structure is your own, personally. But this doesn't mean you can't work on flexibility and strength. The more you condition your body, the more healthy your spine will be. It will lead to better posture and help prevent injuries.

To work on your back flexibility and strengthening focus on:

Low back extensors
Lumbar rotators and hip abductors
Lumbar lateral flexors
Hip adductors
Hip rotators
Hip flexors
Hamstrings

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