Flexibility is a fundamentally important part of Irish dancing, playing a role in improving performance, and preventing injury and rehabilitation. Flexibility is the ability of a joint to complete a full range of motion with proper elasticity and plasticity. Elasticity is the ability of a muscle or connective tissue to stretch and return to its normal length. Plasticity is the ability of connective tissue to achieve a greater length after a stretch without returning to its normal length.
Increased muscle flexibility for an Irish dancer, especially in your thighs, hips, and lower back positively impacts:
- Your long term emotional state and optimistic mindset
- Your athletic skills such as jump height and speed of movement
- Endurance and stamina
- Back pain health
- General musculoskeletal and neuromuscular health
- Mobility, balance, coordination, and motor skills
- Injury prevention and accelerated injury recovery
The Dangers and Limitations of Poor Flexibility
- Tight, stiff muscles limit our normal range of motion and can cause muscle and joint pain.
- Tight, stiff muscles can interfere with proper muscle action. This can result in a dramatic loss of strength and power during physical activity.
- Tight, stiff muscles can also restrict blood circulation in some cases.
Any of the above issues can greatly increase the chances of becoming injured. Together, they result in muscular discomfort, loss of performance, an increased risk of injury, and also a higher increase of injury repeating itself.
There are many ways to achieve increased flexibility or joint ROM. You will find that some dancers are much more flexible compared to others even though they are taking part in the same classes and performing similar dancing choreography. This may be due to both structural and anatomical differences as well as the activities that the person takes part in outside of Irish dancing e.g Gaelic Football or Camogie.
When stretching, you need to keep in mind that tendons are not meant to be stretched. Doing so can cause injuries. Ligaments are meant to allow for more movement but can be overstretched and may create excessive joint laxity and a hypermobile joint. Experiencing this along with insufficient muscular strength to provide joint integrity and stability can lead to further damage and injuries.
Depending on the individual’s current condition and their goals, certain forms of stretching may be more appropriate than others. Stretching is not meant to be painful and should be taken to the point of first resistance. If sharp pain occurs or an injury is present then stretching of the specific area should be modified or avoided.