Ep 114 Transcript - Dr. Chelsea Pierotti

Ep 114 Transcript


Chelsea: Do your dancers know how to push themselves and really put in the hard work it takes to improve? Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea! Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast where, today, I’m talking with the one and only Katie Groven of Dancer-fitness.com because I sat down to write an episode about pushing yourself past your comfort zone, and I realized how much mental and physical stretching are rooted in the same idea. They come with the same challenges and provide a lot of the same benefits. So, rather than doing this one alone, I invited Katie to join me.

She was one of the first guests on the show way back in episode ten, and we both believe in challenging our dancers to be the best they can be while giving them the tools they need to achieve it. In this conversation, Katie and I talk about the idea of getting comfortable being uncomfortable, because if you want to see growth, both in your physical skills and in your mental toughness, you have to learn to push your own boundaries. We also share theories for why dancers might cheat and roll out of a stretch and what you can do about it and stick around for the end where we share advice for how to challenge your dancers, both mentally and physically, so they learn to dig deep and really put in the work for themselves.


[Motivational Intro Music]

Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and dance team coach turned sport psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this!

[Motivational Intro Music]


Hi, Katie! Welcome back. I’m so happy to have you!

Katie: Hi, Chelsea! Thank you for having me. I’m so excited that we get to connect again!

Chelsea: Absolutely! So, as I mentioned in the intro, I know we’ve had you here before, but just in case, will you let everybody know a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Get to Know Katie – 2:04

Katie: Sure! Hi, everyone. I’m Katie Groven, and I’m an ACSM-certified personal trainer for dancers. I’m also a holistic health coach for dancers, and I am the owner of Dancer-fitness.com where we help optimize dancers’ skills using strength training. I have an online exercise database that dancers can filter the exercises by the goal they have, the skills they want to improve, the muscles they want to strengthen, and they can do on-demand workouts, training plans, individual exercises to help them reach their goals because, really, what we’ll be talking about today, what we talked about in the past, is that when we keep doing our skills over and over again, we don't always improve until we take a step back and look at the imbalances in our bodies, and that’s where strength training can really shine.

Chelsea: Yeah, well said! I love how succinctly you have that all set up.

Katie: Thank you!

Chelsea: The membership and the online database is amazing. You and I connected because we both really look at, I think, the mind/body balance of dance. And so, for me, obviously, I talk about mindset stuff all the time, and then you do a lot of the physical training. The first few times we talked we realized how much we both take that balance approach, like you have to have both.

Katie: Yeah, exactly.

Chelsea: That’s why I think we’ve worked together plenty of times before and why we align so much and why I wanted to have you come back today to talk specifically about stretching.

Katie: Yes.

Chelsea: Because I think stretching is a mental and a physical thing, that there’s physical stretching but there’s the mental stretching.

Katie: Exactly.

Chelsea: I was thinking about how I wanted to do this topic and present it, and I was like you know what? I really want to be able to talk about both. So, let’s talk about stretching today!

Let’s just start with the importance of it from a physical side. So why is stretching so important for our dancers’ training?

Importance of Stretching for Dancers’ Training – 3:53

Katie: Absolutely. So I think the biggest reason for if we’re bringing stretching into our training is, in general, it’s gonna decrease injuries, which is very important for our dancers. It prepares our dancers’ bodies for explosive movements like jumping, kicking, if you have any acro dancers, anytime we need to shift weight, lift a muscle. When we need power, we need the flexibility. It can help our bodies make the shapes we want to make on stage. Think about back-walkovers, scorpions, so that’s back flexibility. Then also, it allows joints to move through their full range of motion, which then allows the body to really perform at its highest function.

So, yes, the stretching is going to help dancers stay injury free and reach their goals, but also just from a functional-fitness perspective, our dancers and even ourselves, we sit so much at school, at work, and specifically things like the hip flexors get shorter, they get tighter, they get weaker, so then we have hip pain. It pulls on the low back, so then we have low back pain. So then when we stretch we can actually help with pain management and functional fitness so that our dancers can get in and out of their cars and climb stairs when they're done dancing and when they're in their fifties, sixties, and even older. So it helps with the performance but also just the longevity of their bodies.

Chelsea: Yes! Oh, I like that because I think we think of stretching as, “Oh, I just need to sit in my splits for a little bit and then I’m warm and ready.” It’s not just splits.

Katie: No, no.

Chelsea: Or it’s not just doing a bridge and having your back flexibility like you said. That functional piece is interesting. For the coaches listening, I feel like I felt the hip flexor thing you were talking about so much recently.

Katie: Sure.

Chelsea: And I don't know if it’s an age thing. That’s very possible.

Katie: [Laughs]

Chelsea: Or if it’s the way I was teaching online for so long for those few years. I know I texted you a couple times. I was like, “Katie, my hip flexors are too small –”

Katie: Yeah, I remember that. Yeah.

Chelsea: “– And I don't know what to do!” You're right. It’s the functional side too. Not just I need to be able to do my splits.

Katie: It is. And I’ve just noticed too — again, it could just be age, but the more I sit, the tighter everything feels. The thing with the human body, and dancers might have already noticed this, but if you feel pain in one part of your body, that’s usually not where the issue is. It’s somewhere else. And so, my go-to is just a hip flexor stretch. When I feel tightness anywhere, I’ll stretch out my hips, and then I’ll stretch out my glutes, and it usually fixes a lot. But it is. it’s just all the sitting. I try to walk on a treadmill while I work just to keep movement because we’re not recovering as quickly as we used to, so we have to keep that movement.

Chelsea: Yes, unfortunately. That happens so fast.

Katie: Yeah. [Laughs]

Chelsea: When you're training with dancers and trying to help them improve their flexibility, there’s definitely this area of training where you are gonna feel a little uncomfortable, right? You're trying to help dancers understand, yes, we have to push it a little bit, but we also never want to go so far that it is unsafe —

Katie: Yes.

Chelsea: — and finding that boundary for our dancers and understanding how to help them. So, will you explore that a little bit about being uncomfortable but not harmful? How do we find that line?

Riding the Line of Discomfort When Stretching – 6:59

Katie: Sure, absolutely. So, when you're stretching, you're going to feel sensations in your muscles. So you know that they're working. It should feel like work, but there should never be any type of pinching or stabbing or burning. And so, I think it’s important for dancers to, one, stretch on their own without having anyone pressing on them. This is a big red flag for me is when coaches press and pull on their dancers or they do partner stretches when their partners — perhaps, one dancer’s laying on the ground and they're doing a hamstring stretch with one leg in the air, the other partner is pressing down on their leg. The person who’s pressing on the dancer can't feel the feedback in the other dancer’s body.

And so, when dancers can stretch with their own bodies, they can feel their own limits, and so, they can feel sort of the pulling of the muscles, they can feel them moving, but as soon as you feel a pinching or feel like something’s going to snap or there are those sharper pains, that’s when you pull back. That’s also a good time to start using your breath. And so, you pull back maybe three steps and then push in maybe one or two using your breath, and we don't want to get back to that pinching part. We don't want to feel pain, but we do want to just push ourselves in a way where we can feel we’ve moved a little bit further than we did the last time, and that’s how you increase flexibility. You have to push past where you were previously but, of course, be mindful of things like pinching, burning, and stabbing sensations.

Chelsea: Yeah, that’s helpful. I think the hamstring stretch is such a classic of laying on your back, having one person push down on the other one’s leg.

Katie: Yeah.

Chelsea: And you're right. When you don't get that feedback, that could potentially be so harmful for the stretching dancer. And, as you're talking, it feels so similar to just being uncomfortable in anything and understanding the mindset part of that, of if it starts to feel, like you said, “It’s stretching but it doesn't feel great, but it’s not pinching yet, it’s not a bad thing,” but we can also still feel like, “That hurts,” or, “I don't want to anymore,” and not want to feel uncomfortable, and so, we stop ourselves from going that extra step. In order to increase flexibility, you have to go just that little bit further, and I think we come up against a physical block and sometimes that mental block of, “Nope, that hurts. I’m done. I don't want to anymore.”

Katie: Right. Right, something I’ve stolen from you, Chelsea, that I say in almost every bootcamp I do now is you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. There’s a difference between being uncomfortable and being in pain. Those are very different things, and I think a lot of dancers default to being in pain, and I don't think dancers are lazy. I certainly would never call a dancer lazy, but I do think that stretching, to them, seems like a chore.

Chelsea: Yeah.

Katie: And if they could really understand what’s in it for them, which is the ability to get closer to their goals, they may be willing to push themselves just a little bit further. It’s like brushing your teeth and flossing.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Katie: It’s a chore, but when you add on that flossing, it’s a little uncomfortable because it takes a little bit more time, but the benefits are there. So there is a difference between being uncomfortable in your stretches but then, again, using your breath to move past it a little bit more, and then there’s pain. And I think if dancers really took a look at the difference between those two, they could probably go a little bit further in their stretches, again, with themselves. I think if you do feel like you're like, “Well, I’m pretty bendy already. How can I push myself a little bit further,” that’s when you use, perhaps, a yoga block if you're doing two legs in front and you fold yourself in half. Put a yoga block at the base of your feet so you can stretch a little bit further, using TheraBands, but once again just avoiding utilizing another person to push you into your stretches. Use other tools so you're fully in control of your body when you're doing those stretches.

Chelsea: Yeah, well, and it’s very much the same as pushing yourself mentally. Whenever you're taking on a challenge that feels scary or, “This choreography is too hard,” or, “Now I’m taking the next level of ballet class that I’ve never done, and this is intimidating and scary,” it’s that same I have to be okay and be comfortable being a little uncomfortable and pushing yourself out of the box. And I feel like stretching physically works exactly the same as trying to stretch mentally, trying to push yourself out of the box a little bit. That you really are trying to go a little outside of the box but be in control of it. I like that with physical, it’s the same thing mentally, that you want to push yourself out of the box in a way that feels a little uncomfortable and maybe a little scary but hopefully in a place that feels safe because you have coaches or teachers or peers or people who are around you, but you're still the one in control. You're still the one who’s able to go a little bit further.

But I agree. I think a lot of dancers don't want to do that, that little bit of pain, which might be physical pain or might be emotional pain of, “I’m putting myself out there for a role that I didn't get,” or, “I’m still not in the front row.” It’s emotional pain, and then we take that as this pain that’s too hard and too much and I can't deal with it, rather than that little bit of being uncomfortable, and being uncomfortable is okay.

Katie: Exactly. Well, and I think that’s where you and I connect as dancers. As a whole, you have me thinking about keeping the integrity of a dancer’s body where it needs to be by taking care of their body and then the integrity of their minds. If you're not going to challenge yourself mentally now (maybe you're in high school/college), how are you going to withstand the challenges in life? I mean, life is hard, and when you're done dancing, there are families and bills and everything else, and I think that’s one of the greatest gifts of dance is teaching you to be a mentally and physically strong person because it’s not always going to go your way. So at the end of the day, do you want to be a dancer who has a strong mind and a strong body, then you have to be mindful of the integrity of your body and your mind and keeping it at its highest level.

Chelsea: Yeah. Oh, true, and what you were saying earlier about how when you are stretching that it’s a chore. And I agree. I think a lot of dancers see it as a chore, besides maybe the ones who are already really flexible. They're like, “Oh, this is fun. It’s fine,” but the ones who don't see it way, they're like, “This is a chore. This is a pain. I just want to dance,” right, “I just want to move on.”

Katie: Yes.

Chelsea: But there’s something so powerful, obviously physically, in everything you said at the beginning setting yourself up, but then, mentally, understanding, “Yes, this is maybe a chore or something I don't love doing, but it’s gonna help me reach my larger goals,” and being able to push yourself is, as you were saying, the same — it helps you mentally and physically. Take on that little task. Take on that challenge in pushing yourself a little bit more to see the improvement towards your goals, and know why, as I think you said before. Know why this is helping you.

Katie: I’ve just found so many dancers, especially with this day in age with social media, they get immediate satisfaction when they open up their TikTok, their Instagram, and they feel happy right away, or someone will send them a DM, or they got a comment on something or someone liked something. And then you go into the dance world, and you're like, “Oh, it takes time. I have to stretch. I have to train. I might not make this team,” and you have to just keep showing up every single day, and I think that’s why people sometimes shy away from putting in the down and dirty work, because when you put in the down and dirty work, you don't get what you want immediately, and then they're like, “Oh, well.” Boo. [Laughs]

Chelsea: Yes.


[Motivational Music]

Hey coaches and teachers! If you are new to the show, it might be a little overwhelming to know which episodes to listen to. You can always go back to the beginning and binge listen, of course, but I also know we don't have a single spare minute in our days, so to help you decide where to start, I have a short five-question quiz that will tell you which episodes will help you with whatever is going on right now. It’s kind of like a personality quiz, and after a few quick questions, you get a curated podcast list of the top five episodes that will help you most where you're at right now.

Maybe you need some motivation or inspiration. Maybe your dancers need something to listen to for help, or maybe you're looking for a little boost of confidence. Whatever support you need, take the short quiz and find out. Go to www.chelseapierotti.com/podcastquiz to get started. Click the link in the episode’s show notes if that’s helpful and thank you for being here! I’m so happy to have you as a part of this community!

[Motivational Music]


Chelsea: And by stretching mentally and physically, both are usually the long game.

Katie: Exactly.

Chelsea: If you're not someone who has been stretching for a long time, you are not gonna have a scorpion or a needle in a day, a week. It’s going to take a long time to achieve that flexibility, like working on your kicks or working on whatever it is where you feel like, “I have to hit this certain skill in order to compete,” it’s gonna take a long time, and I agree. I see it all the time of, “But it didn't happen fast enough,” or, “I’m not seeing enough progress. I’ve been stretching. It’s not working!”

Katie: Yeah.

Chelsea: And then I kind of feel like, okay, yes, you’ve been stretching, but let’s talk about what that looks like. Are you just holding the same poses you always have been without going a little bit further, going a little bit to that uncomfortable zone?

Dynamic Stretching – 16:32

Katie: Right. Right, and that’s where something like dynamic stretching can be really helpful for dancers because a dynamic stretch, you're moving in and out of the stretch. So it’d be like standing and you are in a wide second and you drop your left hand to your right foot so it’s a hamstring stretch, and then you come back up and you switch sides. And so, you're flowing through your stretches which actually allows you to move a little bit further into your stretches each repetition because when we’re moving through the stretches there’s more blood flow, and it’s just a little bit easier. When you're just sitting in a static stretch, which I would recommend you do at the end of your practices, you're just sort of in this stagnant position. Then you have to physically go, “Okay, and now I’m gonna move another inch. Now I’m gonna move another inch,” where when you do dynamic stretching, you could be hitting those new milestones every time you hit another repetition. So that’s why I really love dynamic stretching.

Chelsea: Yeah, that’s a really good point because I do think we get stuck in a rut. Again, I’m gonna be a broken record this episode. But mentally and physically, we get stuck in a rut —

Katie: Yes.

Chelsea: — of, “This is as far as I can go.” It’s all that growth mindset aspect of like, “I’m just not flexible, so this is as far as I can go. I can't do it,” and then they don't do anything to change up their practice. Maybe they are just sitting in static and kind of decided, “Well, I just can't do anything else about it,” or it gets a little bit too uncomfortable or that little bit of, well, not yet severe pain, but the sensations that happen when you stretch that feel like, “Okay, it’s too far. I can't do it.” But I see a lot of the dancers have just kind of decided, “Yeah, I’m just not flexible, so it doesn't matter.” You can always improve your flexibility. You can be very intentional about training it, and you can always change it. It’s not just the, “Well, I’m just not flexible.”

Katie: Exactly. I have had dancers who come to me and say, “I don't have my left splits. I don't know. I just don't have them. I’m never gonna have them. But I have my right, and that’s exciting!” I’m like, “That’s good!” And then we release the muscle behind their knee called the popliteus. We do some dynamic stretching to open the hip, stretch the hamstrings, and Chelsea, they just slide into their left splits.

Chelsea: [Laughs]

Katie: Like, you can, and I’ll be 36 this fall. I haven't danced in, I don't know, seven/eight years, and I still have my splits because I still move every day. Yes, when you talk about improving your flexibility, it doesn't mean — personally, I will never have a needle. That's okay. My body’s not built that way. There are limitations when it comes to, structurally, how you're built, the way your hips are built, but things like being able to get your leg above 90, getting into your splits, those are things you can do, and that’s where, again, even mobility, which is that combination of strength training and flexibility, that’s a huge, huge piece of reaching their skill goals. So the improvement may be just getting an inch lower in your split. It doesn't mean, “Oh, I need a needle all of a sudden.”

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Katie: Your definition of improving flexibility could be like a one percent increase, and that should be good enough too.

Imbalances in Flexibility – 19:32

Chelsea: Absolutely. Well, as I talk about a lot of what is success, and we said our bodies are all different. There might very well be physical differences in how you are going to be able to achieve certain skills, but if you take a fixed-mindset approach to that and say, “Well, I’m just not able to. I just can't do that, do I never work on it,” and then if you never work on it, well, of course you can't get it because you never trained it.

Katie: Exactly.

Chelsea: Which kind of leads to what I think is that imbalance that you were just getting to where people are like, “Well, I have it on this side but not that side.”

Katie: Exactly.

Chelsea: And what I see in training all the time even when we’re talking about mindset stuff is dancers, whatever it is you're already kind of good at, that’s the thing you want to train. If you're already a turner, you will drill your turns all day every day. If you already are really powerful and strong, you love training jumps, or whatever style is your favorite, you just want to do that style. You don't want to work the style you're not as comfortable with.

Katie: Exactly.

Chelsea: And so, we have this imbalance. So, do you see that same thing in flexibility, I assume, of that imbalance of, “Well, I’m already flexible in this way, so I don't want to do the kind that’s hard”?

Katie: Absolutely, and I see it with dancers all the time. I would say 90% of dancers are more flexible on their right side because most choreography leads with the right side. So then when we do any type of work, any training or stretching on the left side, what they do is they get into the stretch, and then they ever so slightly start shifting their body away from the stretch, and this is where I‘ve become my Chelsea Pierotti and I say, “Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Make sure that your hips are square.” Maybe we’re doing our splits or we’re doing a half-pigeon stretch and we’re saying, “Make sure that your hips are square facing front, and then you fold down. Make sure your hips are square.” I’m always reminding them because what they slowly do is they just start rolling out of their stretch because they don't want to sit in it because it’s uncomfortable.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Katie: And, of course, right, it’s me saying, “Do you have any pain in your knees? Is this hurting?” And they're like, “No, it’s just hard.” I’m like, “Okay, great. Well, then get back into it.”

Chelsea: Yeah.

Katie: The issue with that, though, is when you're only training on one side, specifically if you're only going to turn on the right because you're good at turning on the right, we end up with overuse injuries because that left supporting leg is the only one you're utilizing. And then eventually, when you undoubtedly have to support yourself on the right side, perhaps you’re doing battements or something, that right side hasn't gotten the same amount of attention, so then you get injuries that way. So we get overuse injuries when we’re only training one side, and then when we use that other side and it’s not prepared for the impact or the flexibility. Because teachers are always going to have you go across the floor right and left, and if you're only doing your left side a couple times a week but all season long you're doing the same choreography, you're going to run into injuries, you're going to get hurt. You just have to stay balanced.

Again, coming back to that functional fitness thing, here in Minnesota, it’s icy all the time. And so, we need to be strong on our right and our left so we don't fall on our butts on the ice.

Chelsea: [Laughs] Yeah.

Katie: I just want dancers to start looking past their dance career and just be like, “How do I want to function when I’m done dancing?” You want to be balanced on both sides. I’m not dancing anymore, obviously, but I would never go to the gym and only train the right side of my body. That makes no sense for life. [Laughs]

Chelsea: Right, well, and some of it becomes out of the dancer’s control because, as you said, you get into comp season and you're just drilling routines, and every single one of them is imbalanced, so being able to take more control over training both sides.

Fixed Mindset Red Flags – 22:59

But I want to go back to what you were saying about how they kind of roll out of it and shy away from it because I think that is such a red flag of a fixed mindset because, like you said, it’s a little bit uncomfortable, but it’s also very possible that the reason they roll out and don't want to do it is you don't want to show anybody else that you can't do it.

Katie: Oh, sure!

Chelsea: Right? Because I think with a lot of stretching, when you cheat it slightly like that, you can hold it longer or you can fold over more. If I lift my hip, I can fold further.

Katie: Yeah, that’s a good point.

Chelsea: Which is, again, a fixed-mindset thing, where it’s not that you are trying to cheat anybody. It’s not malicious. It’s that fear of I don't want my teammates or my coaches to know that I can't actually do this because you're so rooted in comparison and making sure that I can show how good I am, and that’s just true of lots of skills, of, again, why we want to do the skills we’re already good at because we want to show what we can do. It’s embarrassing to do something that you haven't mastered yet, right?

Katie: Yeah.

Chelsea: It’s embarrassing to do something across the floor that feels awkward or to try a new jump and have it not go well and you do that weird spastic thing in the air when you try to jump and it doesn’t happen, right?

Katie: Yes, yes.

Chelsea: But some of that comes with the sense of I don't want to show them that I can't yet do it, and I think that becomes the culture of your classroom, where if you are training the way you're talking about it like, “Okay, if you're not in pain, let’s lean into this uncomfortable piece, and if you can't do it yet, that’s okay. Don't cheat yourself and come out of it. Nobody else is looking at you, and nobody’s comparing,” but we all think everybody is, and we’re all worried about everybody else. But if the whole culture of your class is, “We lean into the uncomfortable. We make sure we’re safe, but we lean into the uncomfortable as a whole,” that’s the expectation here, and help to shift the mindset around why they roll out and cheat from it a little bit.

Katie: I had never thought of it like that, that they roll out because they don't want anyone to see that they can't do it because I personally, when I was dancing, when I was uncomfortable in my stretches, I just rolled out because I was lazy.

Chelsea: Sure.

Katie: I didn't want to be sitting in this uncomfortable feeling anymore, you know? But I do remember feeling like, “Well, maybe if the teacher is not looking, I could kind of roll out of this,” because I just assumed I couldn't do so back in my younger dancing days. When I became an older dancer and I was dancing on my all-star teams, I got to be the person, when the choreographer would say, “Let’s try this skill,” I’d be like, “Can I try it? Can I whip it out?” Something about becoming an older dancer and dancing in your late twenties, you're not so scared about what happens if I fail, and that was a really fun transition for me, personally, to move out of that fixed mindset into, “I don't know, we’ll see what happens.” [Laughs]

Chelsea: Yes, oh, that’s a huge transition. But you're right. I think a lot of younger dancers, especially from — the minis don't do this because developmentally they don't care, but once you get to ten-ish into high school and college, that comparison is so strong. But I think with a fixed mindset, you may not actually be aware of why you're doing it, so I think there are some dancers that might kind of roll out and cheat the stretch, and not that they're actively thinking, “I don't want anybody to see that I can't do this,” it becomes a protection thing of, “I don't want to admit to myself that I can't do it. I don't want to be aware of the fact that I’m not as good on my left side or that it’s uncomfortable.”

And that goes back to being comfortable when you're uncomfortable physically and challenging it a little bit because we may not even think it through and think, “I don't want to do this,” you just sort of ease off without even really thinking about it, and I think that’s kind of what’s happening. Again, it’s not even overtly lazy, not even thinking, “I don't want to do this right now,” which that happens and is real. It’s okay. But just not even being aware of you have to actively choose, “I want to push this a little bit today, and I’m gonna take a deep breath, and I’m gonna sit into it a little bit further.”

Katie: Right.

Chelsea: And I think if you don't actively choose that, you don't push yourself physically or mentally.

Katie: Right, that’s deep. Chelsea. That’s good stuff.

Chelsea: [Laughs]

Katie: That’s like the mirror no one wants to look into.

Chelsea: Yes!

Katie: But again, right, so you're saying being able to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, pushing yourself just a little bit further, but then from the physical side, again, I’m gonna bring back the dynamic stretching, that’s just a better way to do it, I feel. Even dynamic stretching takes less time because you get to move through the stretches. So if you're someone who’s listening to this or you have dancers who think stretching’s a chore or they don't do it properly, “I’m always correcting their form or they're always cheating it,” bring in some dynamic stretching so that there’s not so much of, “Must have hips directly this way. Must have leg directly behind you.” You can flow through the stretches. You’ll warm up a little bit faster, and you’ll be surprised. Every time I do dynamic stretching with dancers, they say, “I’ve never felt this stretched out before.”

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Katie: So, I highly recommend that dynamic stretching. Again, it’s huge.

Chelsea: Yes, huge, and I think it is another way to just change up the mindset side if they do feel, again, it’s a chore or we tend to get in a rut, or I will admit I did as a coach, or I did it on my teams. You get in a rut of doing the exact same warmups, doing the exact same stretching, and then every year when you have new leaders, they only know what the leader before them did.

Katie: Exactly.

Chelsea: So it’s like this game of telephone that actually doesn't change very much, but every leader just teaches the same basic warmup, and nobody’s changing it, and then mentally, you're in a rut of, “Same old boring stuff. I don't want to do it.” It doesn't feel as fun. Where dynamic stretch feels more like actually dancing. You're actually moving and fluid your whole way, so it’s a lot more engaging for a lot of dancers, too.

Katie: Definitely.

Improving Stretching Through Discomfort – 28:39

Chelsea: Yeah, okay, so I want to make sure we leave with some clear, concrete advice about improving stretching. You’ve had some great ideas, but think tying it specifically to pushing through that small discomfort, and maybe this will be kind of from both of us, but how do we actually get comfortable being uncomfortable?

Katie: Sure. So, of course, dynamic stretching. [Laughs] So doing dynamic stretching.

Chelsea: Yes.

Katie: And Chelsea, I can give you a link to — I have a YouTube video that’s a full dynamic stretch. Also, at Dancer-fitness.com, I have dynamic stretching that dancers can watch and follow along with. But something that I found works wonders with my dancers while they're stretching and while they're doing their skills is simply using their breath and imagining while they're stretching that their breath is rolling over the muscles that they're trying to stretch, and that takes that body out of fight or flight, because I’m picturing all the dancers who are in their left splits with their shoulders up to their ears, and their faces are grimacing, and they're just holding it, and they're holding their breath, and they're just kind of stuck in that split. But if you were to go into your left splits, you inhale, and then you exhale, and you picture your breath washing over your legs. One hundred percent of every dancer I do this with, they drop just an inch lower. They just relax. And when your body feels safe, it’s going to relax.

And so, when you pull yourself out of fight or flight with breath, that’s going to be my tip for everyone is use your breath. So if you're in your straddle, inhale and then exhale and drop yourself into your straddle and just imagine the breath washing over those muscles. Let your body feel safe enough because you will feel so much tightness in your body when your body is weak or when it’s feeling a little bit stressed because it’s trying to keep the muscles close to your center and to keep them safe. So if you're stressed out and you have a ton of tension in your body while you're trying to stretch your hamstrings, it’s not going to move. If you take your body out of that fight or flight, do the breath, it just melts away.

So that dynamic stretching and use your breath, those are my tips.

Visualization – 30:43

Chelsea: I love that. Now I have to do a little of the brain science because that’s visualization at its best. And when we say visualize, most dancers, that’s a competition thing, right? You sit in a circle. You visualize your routine. Okay, great. That’s one small piece of what makes visualization work, but what you're talking about, you're creating this image of your breath over your muscle, I love that image. That’s great because it’s something you could really hold onto. It can be really strong, and in visualization, what makes it work, what makes it powerful is if it’s vivid and if you can control it. That's all you have to be able to do. That image is vivid. Releasing your muscles I think is hard to picture, right? It’s hard to come up with what that is.

Katie: Yeah.

Chelsea: But picturing your breath washing over it, that’s vivid. That's clear. I can hold that in my mind. Then if visualization is in your control is when it works. So for the dancer saying, “Okay, I have to intentionally think about this in this moment,” that’s my mental side to this of you have to think about, “I want to get better in this moment. I want to push myself a little bit, so I’m not going to daydream and pick at my nails and think about other things. I’m gonna be intentional of I’m going through this stretch to improve this skill, as you said, tie it to the why. What are all the other good things about it, or just visualizing the breath washing over you because if you can control it and it’s vivid, it’s the same part of your brain that controls the muscles is activated when you visualize it properly.

Katie: Yes!

Chelsea: But when you visualize it properly, that’s the vivid part and the controllability, so the more you practice it, the easier that gets. I think that’s why, again, you and I always click so well because we’re teaching the same things from a mental place and a physical place, and I think what’s magical is when dancers can do both.

Katie: Exactly, well, and I don't want to throw you off from before you give your tip, but I wanted to say something else about the visualization. I don't know if this is true or not, but this is what I tell dancers is that what they see in their brain, their body believes is reality.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Katie: And you just gave me the real science behind it. The brain controls the muscles. Duh, I don't know why I didn't think of that at first, right? And I had a dancer working on a reverse switch tilt. She basically did a jeté forward. She swung the leg back. It was crazy. It was this crazy skill, and she could not get her front leg up. She couldn't, and we found a spot on the wall that was probably nine feet in the air, and I said, “Look at that spot. Close your eyes. I want you to picture yourself doing this skill, and your front leg hits that spot on the wall.” I was like, “Clearly that’s not gonna happen because you would have to jump 12 feet in the air,” but I said, “Just picture it. Picture it in your head. Picture what it would look like if your leg was as high as up there on the wall,” and she pictured it. I said, “What your mind sees, your body will then react to as its reality.” And the next time she did that skill, she was so high. Her leg was so straight, and that was the highest she jumped the whole day, and she was amazed. She was just amazed that she didn't know she could do that.

Chelsea: Right.

Katie: In her brain, her brain basically said, “Hey, muscles, that’s the goal. Everyone on board? Great, let’s do it!” And it was phenomenal! It was so cool to see.

Chelsea: [Laughs] Yes. Oh, and I love that. Visualization is not just going over your choreography. It’s great for that, but it’s actually so good for skill acquisition, for learning a specific skill because you have that neural pathway from the part of your brain that controls all your muscles — if you were wearing a headband, it’s right up there on the top of your head, and that part sends all the messages to your muscles. But when you visualize it, all the same neural pathways are activated. So every time you are visualizing it, if it’s vivid, and if it’s in your control, you're practicing the same pathway.

Katie: It doesn't know the difference.

Chelsea: The body doesn't know! No, it doesn't know.

Katie: How empowering.

Chelsea: It’s so cool. And then I think that leads to the confidence piece, too, which is also tied into all of this, that if you have decided, “Well, I can't get my front leg up,” or, “I’ll never jump that high,” then that’s what you believe, and then that becomes your lack of confidence is your own ceiling —

Katie: Mm-hmm.

Chelsea: — rather than deciding, “Okay, I can't do it yet,” or, “I’m gonna push myself to go a little further than normal. I’m gonna believe that this is possible, visualize this differently,” and, obviously, if it works so well for her, she’s also in the room doing the work in the moment.

Katie: Right.

Chelsea: Unfortunately, visualization doesn't replace the hard training. [Laughs]

Katie: [Laughs]

Chelsea: But you have to do both. But there is really cool research that people who are trying to learn a skill that only practice it physically, people trying to learn a skill who only practice it mentally, and people who do both, the people who do both far surpass the others. Both groups get better. You can actually get better just visualizing things, ironically. But the people who see the most growth do both, and it’s being able to be intentional.

So I think that’s kind of my wrap-up tip from this of being able to be okay being uncomfortable, that comes from intentional practice of saying, “We are gonna do something in practice today that’s gonna push the boundaries a little bit,” and from a coach, saying, “I am going to give you this challenge.” Maybe it’s a stretch-training challenge. Maybe it’s a choreography challenge. But, “I’m gonna challenge you today because I believe you can do it, and we’re gonna get out of the box a little bit. I’m gonna push you further. We want to be uncomfortable today,” and you're actually setting up that’s the expectation, “This is what it should be. This is good,” and making that a normal, everyday thing, that this is always a part of it.

So whether you're stretching or any challenge, setting up that you have to be intentional about pushing yourself that little extra bit today, otherwise we do just get stuck. We just do the same thing over and over again and hope that it gets better, but I think that intentional practice, tying in the mental and physical stretching is how you're gonna see that little bit of growth.

Katie: I like that, and I like coaches being able to say, “We’re gonna do something today that’s gonna make you uncomfortable. I don't think as a coach I ever said that or any of my coaches ever said that, but that’s giving them permission to be like, “It’s not gonna be great. It’s not gonna be fun. It’s part of the process.”

Chelsea: Yes.

Katie: It’s a growing process.

Chelsea: Yeah, and I didn't say it until towards the end either when I knew more than I did at the beginning, but yeah, just setting up that, “This new combination that we’re doing today or this new choreography is going to be awkward when you first learn it,” or, “I’m expecting this to not be clean today,” or, “We’re gonna learn a new jump. I’m not expecting you all to nail it today, but I am expecting you to really go for it and try and not hold back and believe that it’s possible someday.”

Katie: Exactly.

Chelsea: And it all ties back to what we were just focused on today about stretching, that it’s that setup of if you are intentional and you use your breath and you are not letting yourself roll out of it, you're focused on it, you add the dynamic stretching to it, like if you're doing all these pieces it will get better. But it’s an intentional focus on both the mental and the physical.

Katie: Exactly, and you could surprise yourself. I think that’s always a fun mystery is, “What would happen if you just didn't roll out of your splits? What would happen if you did push yourself a little bit further?” I mean, surprise yourself. It could be really exciting.

Chelsea: Yeah, well, and we want to see the growth, I think we said earlier, about if I don't see it today, then it wasn't worth it, and you have to be okay playing the long game and knowing that it’s not gonna happen today, but if you are intentional and focused about it, you will see the growth in it. Sometimes it feels like it happens — like, all of a sudden you're like, “Wait, I’m there. How did that happen?” It’s like, “Because you’ve been intentional about it and focused on it for months, and it happened.” But knowing that that’s a part of the process.

Katie: Definitely. It takes time. Everyone will get there. You’ll all get there.

Chelsea: I love it. Well, thank you for talking stretching and giving so many good ideas and sharing. Always, I just love talking to you no matter what. [Laughs]

Katie: Thank you! I forgot we were even recording something for a minute there. [Laughs] We were just having a conversation.

Chelsea: Ah, yes, I do that too, and all the time I’m like, “Oh, I just want to chat with my friends.”

Katie: Me too.

Chelsea: But I’m happy to have you. Thank you! And you shared a little bit. I’ll make sure those links are in the show notes. Anything else you want to share where people can find you?

Katie: Sure! You can just find me at www.dancer-fitness.com, and then I just live on Instagram, which is @dancer_fitness.com_. I’ll send you the links.

Chelsea: Yes, they’ll all be in the show notes if you're listening, and Katie and I do work together. We have done projects together. We love speaking at events together or doing workshops together because doing the physical and the mental together is really powerful, and we love working with teams. So everybody who’s listening, go follow Katie if you don't already, and make sure you check out her great work! Thank you so much for being here, Katie! Always love talking with you.

Katie: Thanks for having me!

[Motivational Outro Music]

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