There was an article and video yesterday showing a 13-year old girl being forced into a stretch by her cheer coach. There was obvious pain and no understanding of the long term damage that was being done by the coach when forcibly assisting in their stretching. The girl will have long term damage from this. The coach said “that is how I was taught” as his justification for the “technique”.
This brings up two important topics. The first is assisted stretching. I’m not a fan. Unless the person is a trained physical therapist and the assist is to rehab range of motion from a surgery I don’t really see how assisted stretching is helpful. If you need someone to push you into a position, you’re never going to achieve that position on your own. And what good is a split or backbend or any move if you need someone to get you there? Yes, assisted stretching can be a tool to help people realize a range of motion but to me it isn’t worth the risk. It is way more likely to result in an injury than in a functional increase in range of motion.
The second thing this brings up for me is “experts”. The coach. He did what he was taught. He probably was very confident of this method for stretching until this incident. And that is one of the reasons you need to research your trainers and question their techniques. Right now with the rise of social media a lot of the people who are “experts” are not actually knowledgeable, they are good at marketing and getting views. (I can’t tell you how often I cringe at things I see being shared for pole, aerial, fitness, conditioning, and flexibility.) Being an expert means researching, constantly questioning and always learning. Then the best “experts” will figure out how to teach it in a way that makes sense to someone who does NOT have all their knowledge base. Honestly, that is the hardest part, taking everything you know and breaking it down to the most important points to teach it safely. And having the courage to say “There is new knowledge that now means I need to do X instead of Y” and changing your curriculum as you continually learn.
Not all people who are famous or good at a sport can: 1. teach it; 2. have properly researched techniques. A lot of the time those that are really famous for flexibility are naturally gifted and their “techniques” are dangerous to those that don’t have the same innate gift. I took a workshop in 2010 with a famous pole dancer who had amazing splits and was known for teaching “anyone” how to do the splits. I, like most of you, dream of having the splits which I know is impossible for my body due to previous surgeries. But if “anyone” could learn it…..So I participated in the workshop, I took notes. I had concerns over one of the stretches she was teaching. All the other students in the workshop were so excited that they were going to get splits like her and loved the stretch. After the workshop I researched the stretch, my concerns weren’t alleviated. So I took the move (which was supposed to open the hips) to four medical and sports professionals to evaluate it independently. The conclusion all five of us reached was the stretch was not muscular but stretching the ligaments in a way that would eventually destabilize the hip joint. So from that workshop, I only added the stretches that were researched as “safe” to the Aerial Dance curriculum. So if you are taking workshops with “experts” don’t assume everything you are learning is actually safe or good for you. Do your own research on everything you learn and always listen to your body.
On going research is critical to keeping people healthy in the pole and aerial world. Just think that 10 or so years ago static stretching was used for warm-up and now we know it destabilizes the joints in the short term and is not good to do before activity. Heck, 10 years ago this was barely even a sport or field of study! We are constantly learning more about the body and we need to continually improve our methods to be updated with the most current research. A good coach will have research that they can supply you with to verify their methods. A good coach will encourage you to question what they are telling you because that will make you more intune with your body and help them refine their techniques.
****Side note: the famous pole dancer from my workshop in 2010 no longer performs. She had to stop due to recurring hip problems…