I work with a lot of dancers. I also work with people that spend a lot of time around dancers. Actors, singers, move-wellers, etc.
I feel that I have a unique advantage working these folks because I used to be a part of that culture. I may not have a been a great dancer, but I immersed myself in it pretty intensively in college and studied very hard to maximize my modest talents. I’ve also spent (and continue to spend) most of my social time with folks who live in that world, so it’s fair to say… I know them pretty well. We hang out, we go out, we make out. Kidding! (no I’m not.)
Frequently, when someone from that culture comes who isn’t super bend-y, they tell me they’re tight and not flexible. And sometimes, they’re right: they’re mobility does need work. More often than not, however, from a functional movement perspective, they’re really above average, but because they can’t do full splits, they perceive themselves as “tight”.
Dancers are pretty ninja-riffic
However, I find the flip side to be even more interesting and worth considering. In the world of dance, generally speaking, the more flexibility someone has, the better. So folks with reasonable flexibility sometimes think they’re a walking ball of fail, and those that can twist their body into pretzel-like contortions assume they’re nailing it. I’ve come to seriously question that wisdom.
In fact, it’s been my experience that people with tons of mobility are sometimes worse off than those that are on the tight side. In Fitness Super Hero Charlie Weingroff’s DVD, “Training = Rehab”, Charlie makes the point that if someone can get their hands flat on the ground when reaching for their toes, that’s as dysfunctional as NOT being able to touch your toes.
Even non-dancers tend to think of having a lot of flexibility as a positive thing. And to be clear, it certainly can be. But if you’ve got a shit-ton of MOBILITY, you better have the proportional shit-ton of STABILITY. Otherwise you’re writing range of motion checks your stabilizers can’t cash.
This is why I don’t really love stretching for stretching’s sake. Sure. If you’re tight, go nuts (and yes, many of you definitely ARE tight.) But if you don’t really NEED more flexibility, and you already move well, I don’t know that it’s necessarily a great idea.
Again, say it with me:
More is not better. More is more. More can be worse.
In closing, it’s worth examining another Charlie Weingroff zen koan: “Powerlifters should be yogis, and yogis should be powerlifters”. Just as people (usually men) that are tight often neglect their mobility and flexibility needs to toss around iron, people that already have great mobility like to stretch and take lots of yoga. I’m not saying that’s wrong per se, and honestly, some forms of yoga with great teachers can be awesome for building the stability necessary to be a solid Gumby. I just think they’d be better off including at least some strength work.
Side note: I want to be in a rock band named Solid Gumby. “Madison Square Garden… we are… SOLID GUMBY!!!!” cue huge pyro explosion and death metal guitar riff.
Your Takeaway: If you don’t have the prerequisite mobility to access fundamental movement patterns, yes, you should probably work on that mobility via soft tissue work, stretching, mobilizations, etc. If you are ALREADY super flexible, you may want to make sure your body knows how to safely control your bad-ass range of motion before you start stretching all the time.