Hannah Bettes, the 16-year-old dancer and 2012 cover model finalist for “Dance Spirit” magazine, looks like she’s genetically predisposed for ballet. Her hyperextended knees mean her legs curve slightly beyond a straight position, illustrating the hyperextended leg line the ballet world prizes, according to the “Herald-Tribune” newspaper. But not all dancers are born with the hyperextension genes. There’s an opposite condition where the knees look bent even when fully straightened. Sometimes referred to as hypoextension or underextension, underlying causes can include tight muscles in the backs of the legs. Safe hamstring stretching techniques can help straighten the knees, according to “Pointe Magazine.” Lacking hyperextension may seem like the opposite of good dance DNA. But there’s a trade-off. Dancers without hyperextension and tighter muscles actually have more longevity, “Pointe Magazine” reports.
Stretches with Exercise Bands
Elastic exercise bands can help dancers stretch the backs of the legs and knees. Performed seated on the floor with both legs stretched in front of you, exercise bands are wrapped around the bottom of one foot. Grasping the ends of the exercise band in each hand, stretch the backs of knees by flexing the foot against the resistance of the band. Pull the exercise band against the flexed foot for the stretch. For another stretch, alternate flexing and pointing the foot against the exercise band. Never force the stretch or perform this stretch with cold muscles, according to “DanceTeacher” Magazine.
Stretches at the Barre
Classic ballet stretches at the ballet barre also target the backs of the legs. Stand facing a ballet barre. You can also use a low counter or windowsill as a support if you don’t have a barre. Lift one leg to the front and place it on the barre. Keeping the leg straight to work up to a stretch is the best way to stretch safely, according to “Pointe Magazine.” Raising a straight leg engages the quad muscle and stretches the hamstring -- a winning combination for straighter knees. Once the leg is resting on the barre, flex the foot and gently bend the supporting leg to stretch. Bend the supporting leg and pivot a quarter-turn away from the leg until your raised leg is perfectly to the side of your body. Your body will be perpendicular to the barre. Flex the foot and bend the supporting leg to stretch the leg to the side.
Modified Hamstring Stretch
Stretching in splits or straddle positions target the backs of the legs, of course, but modified hamstring stretches can stretch the muscles without overstretching. Kneel on the floor. Slowly stretch one leg straight in front of you. Flex the foot and rest the heel on the ground. To complete the stretch, rest your fingertips on the floor on either side of your body and bend slightly forward. Focus on bringing your chest toward your knee while keeping your back straight. Repeat with the other leg extended to the front.
To avoid injury, it’s important to recognize the dangers of overstretching or forcing a stretch, says “DanceTeacher” magazine. Pain during stretching means you’re probably overstretching, the magazine reports. Overstretching can lead not only to weaker muscles, but also to muscle tears and even a pulled hamstring. Always warm up muscles before stretching, and don’t be afraid to modify a stretch. If the barre is too high to stretch without feeling major pain, use a lower support such as a windowsill or the back of a chair.
Mikel Chavers has been writing and editing since 2006, specializing in health, business, government and technology topics. She got her start as a reporter at “The Business Journal” in Greensboro, N.C., and later covered state government for a national magazine. Chavers holds a Bachelor of Arts in media studies/journalism.