Click on the link here to get a DVD to learn relaxation techniques with a pinkie ball, outside of class, in addition to relaxing your muscles as you do class.
Muscle function depends on both strength and flexibility. Clenching any one muscle or set of muscles continuously during a class does not create strength. I remember several ballet teachers who paced a class so that the students could not relax their legs and feet at all between barre exercises. This was a challenge we met, but suffered from ultimately. A widely perpetuated method of the time....
It only takes a few seconds to have everyone shake out their legs, stretch their calves, turn in, and roll their shoulders a little before starting the next exercise.
Failing to do so creates muscles that are in constant spasm and therefore are functioning at a decreased strength and flexibility.
I remember taking my first work-out class. I chose it because the studio was near my home, open on Sunday, and I had missed a couple of days of ballet class in the previous week. Was I in for a surprise. Used to ballet classes that were carefully composed to warm up groups of muscles, alternating the emphasis of the muscle groups (say from grand plies to footwork and back again), I was astonished at the "burn baby burn" routine. Isolate one muscle, burn it out, go on to another one. And I had no idea how sore I would be the next day! Talk about a Monday morning....
Not every work-out class uses that method but I recommend viewing a studio beforehand. I broke my own rule, following reputation and availability. The studio was famous, but used student teachers to fill in those Sunday schedules!
Ballet does not follow the rules for optimum muscle work - such as resting at least a day in between heavy work-outs. That would turn professional training into 20 year stints - or so we suppose.
My heaviest class schedules would be on a Saturday or in summer intensive. Three to four classes, a couple would be character or a barre a terre, less heavy work. Character was just pure dance and a relief, and the floor barre was a warm-up and extreeeeeme stretching based on a routine that Roland Petit taught the National Ballet of Canada many years ago when he staged a work for them, and found the dancers' flexibility lacking. It got passed down to the school, and we loved it.
So given that professional training requires daily classes, what can we for relaxation techniques? Deborah Vogel says on page 111 of "Tune Up Your Turnout" ...release the tension, stretch the muscles, and strengthen them. It's a three-tiered approach.....Too much tension in a muscle, it will lose its tone. Too much flexibility without the muscular strength to support it is not good. Too much strength and tension without the flexibility is also not good."
Turn in and relax at every opportunity in class, and relax any aching or hurting muscle as much as you can while waiting to begin the next exercise.
Have a variety of ice packs at home, and use especially after a hot bath or shower. Ice the sore spots while resting, doing homework, etc. 15-20 minutes max, don't lie on them or fall asleep on them!
If your studio has a fridge with a freezer, take ice packs to use for long rehearsal days, or take a cooler and use them as long as they will stay cold.
Nutrition, hydration and warming up are 3 essentials. You want to repair muscles as quickly as possible, with good proteins and vegetables, hydrate by sipping all day (water, not other beverages like the popular sweetened, neon-colored, minimally mineralized sports drinks), and warm up before every rehearsal if you have had a break since class.
In "Tune Up Your Turnout", Deborah elaborates on that on page 121.
I would also add real sea salt, the Celtic type that contains all 12 bioplasma minerals, and eliminate the useless table salt from your diet. "All 12" and Bioplasma homeopathic tablets are easy to carry in the dance bag too! Dissolve under the tongue. They are a little expensive unless you find a discount health food store that sells the huge bottles, which you can use to refill a smaller bottle as you use them up.
When I was rehearsing all day long in the hot Toronto summers fellow dancer-choreographer Marnie Cooke and I would prepare a large jug of water, freshly-squeezed lemons, maple syrup and cayenne pepper to keep everyone's electrolytes up. We'd all have a shot in rehearsal breaks. Judith our stage manager called it "kickapoo joy juice".
Back to myths, the frog position on one's stomach - really not a good stretch for hips or turnout, as there are better ones and it puts tremendous stress on the knee joints. Lying on your back and allowing the legs to stretch outward by their own weight is better - though there is still a chance that the knees will get strained. Holding the turnout that you have, and getting the stress out of the turnout muscles afterwards is more important.
Professional dancers get routine massages, and other relaxation techniques to relieve the extremes of their daily work, or heal injuries. Students don't typically think about this care factor until they get an injury or find themselves in chronic pain.
It's not wimpy to start that kind of care early in your training. Go for gain with the least pain. In fact, soreness but no pain is attainable. Get your copy of "Effective Stretching The Ultimate Guide - the easy to learn stretching guide to learn relaxation techniques.