A question that often comes up during treatments is “what are the best stretches I can do for my profession?” This question is often very complicated as it’s less about what your job is and more about how you do the job. Are you someone who sits at a computer? How many monitors do you have? Do you take phone calls? If so, do you use a headset? These are just a few factors that can have an influence on how the work you do can impact your body.
Sometimes, though, I will have several patients who work in the same industry and do similar enough activities at work that I can see some patterns. Patterns that lead to somewhat predictable tension-related problems based on the type of exertion they are doing. One of these groups is exotic dancers, specifically those who incorporate a lot of pole work into their routines. This form of dance can be stunningly athletic, but for a lot of performers, especially those just starting out, it can place a lot of strain on some very specific areas of the body. Specifically the chest, biceps, hip flexors, and abdominal muscles. The reason these areas are vulnerable is due to the constant flexing forward of the body around the pole. While some performers are able to work more extension into their routine, having to maneuver around a pole places some inherent limitations on what kind of movements can be done. Combine that with the constant core engagement, and there ends up being a lot of shortening of the muscles in the front body which then creates back body tension as the body tries to compensate. This can, over time, lead to a lot of low back, upper back, shoulder, and hip pain as those imbalances become more pronounced.
In my continuing efforts to help people stay as functional as possible, I have put together this list of my top 6 recommended stretches for pole dancers. Each stretch should be held for 20-30 seconds and repeated 2-3 times. The best time to do them is at the end of the night, preferably before bed, as that is when the muscles will get the most benefit from stretching.
The Doorway Pec Stretch
Find a doorway and place your toes so that they are level with the doorframe. Now rest the forearms (not just the hands, the whole forearm from wrist to elbow) against the door frame. Your elbows should be bent about 90° and should be about level with your nipples (or 5th rib space). Now let gravity do the work as you lean gently forward, being supported mostly by your forearms. If done correctly, you should feel a gentle stretch across the chest and front of the shoulders and your shoulder blades should be drawn together in the back. Do this stretch for about 30 seconds at a time and whenever you feel it is necessary.
Countertop Bicep Stretch
Find a countertop or other surface that is level with or slightly higher than your hand when it is at rest by your side. Place your hand palm down on the surface with your arm oriented behind you and either move forward or downwards so that the arm is being stretched back. You should feel this stretch predominately in the bicep and front of the shoulder. To deepen the stretch, continue to squat downward until the hand is on an equal vertical plane as the hand.
Start this stretch by laying face down on the ground. Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders and slowly straighten your arms. Allow your back to arch backwards as the arms straighten, but leave your hips and legs in contact with the ground. When the arms are fully extended, the torso should be arched backwards, so that your torso is moving into a position perpendicular to the floor (if you aren’t yet flexible to reach full extension, just go as far as you comfortably can). The advanced position of this stretch allows for the hips and knees to come off the ground, but for our purposes, the basic position is adequate to get the stretch.
Knee on Floor Lunges
Place one knee on the floor so that the joint is bent to 90°, with the thigh perpendicular to the floor and the lower leg is parallel to it. The other knee should also be flexed to 90°, but with the thigh parallel to the floor and the lower leg perpendicular to it. If the surface is too hard to rest the knee on, cushion it with a pillow or folded up blanket. The body should be in a very upright “take a knee” position. Now, start leaning forward until a stretch in felt in the upper part of the thigh and the groin of the leg which has the knee in contact with the ground. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and then switch sides.
Supine Gluteal Stretch
Lay on your back with your feet pointed towards a wall. You want to be close close enough to the wall so that you can place one foot flat against the wall while your upper leg is parallel to the floor. Your knee and hip should each be bent to ninety degrees. As we did in the piriformis stretch, take your other leg and cross it over it so that the ankle is resting on the thigh of the first leg. At this point, you may already feel a mild stretch in the glutes. Play with the depth of the position until you feel a mild stretch. This one may be done less often, but try to hold the stretch on each side for a minute before switching.
Standing IT Band Stretch
This is another stretch where having a chair or countertop nearby to hold onto is a really good idea. Start from a standing position and cross one leg behind the other. The foot in back should be flat on the floor, bearing the weight of the body. The foot in the front should not be holding any weight, but instead be helping with balance. Now lean the torso to the side, in the direction of the forward-most leg (ie if the left leg is behind the right leg, lean the torso to the right). The stretch should be felt in the outer hip of the weight bearing leg. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and then switch sides.