Simple Knee strengtheners

I was doing my knee strengtheners today on the stairs and thought I would share a few of them. I’m going to be doing a long distance hike this summer with multiple ascents and descents. As many people know, going down the stairs or downhill is often more challenging to our knees.

Why is that? Because the quads are doing an eccentric or lengthening contraction as they work to control the knee bend. Eccentric contractions are often more fatiguing to the muscles. I remember so clearly the first time I attempted to do hinges down to the floor. The next day my quads were so sore!

You’ll note that I’m using a theraband on the second exercise. It’s a very light tension. I’m using it to train my core to work in movement. It’s good to be able to plank for a minute but even better if your core learns to turn on in movement!

These exercises may not be necessary for a younger student – but certainly can be useful for those of us with aging bodies.


To your success,


Butterfly Position

Please help my poor hips! Despite all the stretching, my knees stay at least a foot off the ground when I sit or lie down in butterfly. When gently pushing the knees down, I feel a sharp pain deep in joint. What can I do?

I’m so sorry to hear of your stretching challenges! Let’s try to deconstruct some of the issues that may be influencing your inability to sit in the butterfly position. First let’s talk about the the wide variations in hip joints.

Look at the different facings of the acetabulum (hip socket) of these 2 pelvises. The left is facing more forward and the right is more on the side.

This picture shows how the angle of the ball of the femur can vary quite widely!

This last picture shows a femur with a longer neck (area next to the head or ball of femur) and the one on the right has a much shorter neck.

Photos reproduced with permission from Paul Grilley

All of these structural variations will influence your ability to sit in the butterfly position. So first… DON’T push your knees down in this position which creates pain. That’s a good indicator that the butterfly position is not optimal for you to get at inner thigh tightness. We don’t want to stretch in positions that don’t allow us to start from neutral. Can you sit up easily with your feet together even with your knees way up? Or do you roll onto the back of the pelvis?

If you can’t sit up easily in the position try stretching out the hip flexors and hamstrings and see if that makes a difference in your sitting alignment. Next I would try to find other ways to stretch out your adductor muscles. You could try these suggestions from my Ask Deb column in Dance Teacher Magazine.

I also thought I would show a very simple way to stretch the front area of the inner thigh muscles in standing – so I did a quick video to explain. (Didn’t notice that my dog Misha was listening carefully until I watched it… love my dog:)

My suggestion… try other ways to stretch the inner thigh that might be more productive and doesn’t base your stretching success on the butterfly position, which may be challenged by your particular hip structure.

To your success,


Higher Arabesque

I’m a 14 year old pre-professional ballet dancer.  I’ve always been told by teachers that I’m naturally more strong than flexible, and I’ve really had to work hard to acquire the flexibility I do have.  I really want to improve my arabesque!  I know for a fact that my abdomen, hamstrings and hip flexors are naturally pretty tight along with the fact that the muscles in my lower back aren’t particularly strong.

I have been doing strength exercises for my lower back and stretching the front of my hips diligently for the past 4 months, and have seen a significant amount of strength gained in my back but not so much improvement in the hips.  When I do an arabesque now, I can see that my lower back is about perpendicular to the floor rather than tilted forward like before.  But, I’m frustrated because, if anything, my leg has gotten LOWER.  I want to get it higher!  Please help me to understand why these exercises have gotten my back straighter yet not my leg higher.  I’d appreciate any additional exercises you could think of to help stretch my tight areas as well.  Thanks so much! I want to hip this height issue in the behind… literally!

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Inner Thighs and Turnout

[quote]Can you clarify the function of the inner thigh in standing and in extensions? There are many teachers who instruct students to use the inner thighs to “feel” turn out, but I cannot see how the adductors assist in turn out. One teacher has said to “press the heels into the ground in fifth position to feel the inner thighs working in an effort to maintain turn out in standing. I cannot seem to find the reason for this and would love your thoughts of the inner thigh’s function in standing in a turned out position as well as in extension. Thank you so much for your blog and your products in an effort to further the education of the dance community!  Thanks, Jenn[/quote]

Excellent question and one that is worth discussing.  First, let’s look more closely at the adductors, the muscle group that are the inner thigh muscles.

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Knees not aligned over feet

Knees aren’t aligned

[quote style=”boxed”]I have a 13 year old student who has the types of knees that even when facing forward parallel, are not aligned with the foot.  They are facing inward.  We have been very careful about alignment, but she attended an intensive this past summer and injured one of her knees and is not recovering very well.  She has seen a chiropractor who has recommended she not dance for 2 weeks.  He gave her strengthening exercises to do.  Would you have any other suggestions?  Thank you so much,  Barbara[/quote]

I suspect that she has tibial torsion, Barbara.  I’m curious what strengthening exercises she was given.  Most likely non weight bearing strengthening of the quadriceps and while that is good, especially if the medial quad is weak –  I would have you pay very close attention to the weight on her feet when she stands and how well she is using her turnout.  It is quite common that when going to intensives students have a way of overdoing their first positions to make it look good and can easily strain the area of the knee since this is where they create turnout when they aren’t using it from the hip.  Sometimes they also pronate the foot to create a better first position.

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Turf Toes and Hip Strain

I’m going to answer 2 questions – one at the top of the leg with a hip injury and another at the foot.  Especially with foot injuries there is such potential for compensation and shifting your weight subtly in order to continue walking and dancing and so I encourage everyone to pay attention to the small tweaks and strains that can occur!

First question….

I have a 12-year old daughter who is very serious about her dance development and who has been concerned about pain in her big toe.  While rehearsing for a show she hit her toe on her leg and has been complaining ever since.  We have been to the doctor and have been given advice (such as Advil) but her pain continues.  I’ve noticed that her toe is moving slightly towards the other toes while her bone remains fixed in its position.  There must be some exercises she can do to strength that area.  

Thank you,  a concerned Mom

It sounds like your daughter has had a ‘turf toe’ injury.  It is common in football players (and dancers) and usually is caused by either stubbing or jamming the toe as your daughter did.  The challenge is in the recovery.  The original injury creates soft tissue inflammation and that is why your doctor suggested doing an anti-inflammatory such as Advil.  The challenge is your daughter has continued to be on her feet, both just walking and dancing, and often the joint doesn’t heal fully enough and is the cause of her continued pain.

You didn’t say how long ago the injury was but if her toe continues to have pain the doctor may choose to put her in a walking boot temporarily in order to give the joint a rest and allow it to heal.  Icing 2 or 3 times a day along with other anti-inflammatory efforts would continue while she is in the boot.

As far as the big toe starting to move towards the other toes – you are right about thinking something needs to be strengthened.  We want to prevent what sounds like the start of a bunion pattern – and you do that by strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the feet.

If you click HERE this will take you to a blog post where I have a short video on how to strengthen the intrinsic foot muscles.  Tell her that if she cramps when she is doing it – it simply means she has found the weak intrinsics and with continued practice they will improve!

The primary concern is that she gets on top of this injury – instead of allowing it to become chronic.  Bottom line – her big toe needs not to hurt!


Three months ago I was doing a heel stretch in one of the classes I assist in and my hip made a big cracking noise.  It started to hurt but not that bad.  But it still hurts today and I don’t know why.  I sit in a straddle stretch and it hurts my hip when I stretch.  Also, when I do a barre stretch or sit in my splits it hurts.  Do you recommend any stretches to help it get back to normal? 

Thanks, Meghan

Meghan, sometimes muscle strains can take a really long time to heal – and I’m not exactly sure what happened when you hear the hip crack or pop three months ago.  It’s possible that you strained either an inner thigh muscle and/or the deep hip flexor (iliopsoas).

I would encourage you to stretch gently and consistently for these two muscle groups.  Instead of sitting in the straddle position which creates discomfort try standing up and placing one leg on a chair and stretch the inner thigh muscles one side at a time.

For the iliopsoas muscle I would have you do one of the stretches outlined in the video clip below.  Remember to breathe and move gentle and easily – listening to your body – stretching should never be painful!

Do your stretching when your muscles are warm – after class is a good time.  Teachers and assistant teachers have to be careful about their demonstrating in class when you aren’t really warmed up!

Hope this helps…. and remember to comment below, especially if you have had similar injuries please share what you did that helped!

Warmest regards,


“Education is the key to injury prevention”


Stretches for the side popping and snapping hip

In the last post we saw a good example of a popping and snapping hip and I talked about the possible reasons for a popping/snapping hip.  Many of you appreciated the post and have asked me to talk about the hip pops that happen in the front of the hip.  That’s been duly noted and is on the list for a future topic to look at in the Dancing Smart newsletter.

Today let’s look at some stretches that you could do to work with the side hip pops.  Let’s start with stretching out the back of the hip.  There are many different ways to work with the turnout and gluteal muscles, and I have shown you recently one of my favorite sitting stretches.  Let’s add another stretch into the mix and see if it works better for any of you.

Picture-1-300x261  Begin lying down on the floor on your back, and crossing one leg over the other.  Lift your other knee up by grasping around the back of the thigh.  Now gently press the knee of the crossed leg away from your body (that would be the right leg in this picture) as you bring the left thigh slowly closer to your chest.

This is an active stretch.  You are actively contracting the turnout muscles on the right side, while you are stretching them by bringing the legs closer to your chest.  In essence, this is a variation on the sitting stretch that was demonstrated a few weeks ago.

It’s good to have many ways of stretching so you can figure out the best ways for you.  We aren’t all built the same – and what works for one StandingTFL2person – doesn’t always for the next.

Stretching the muscles on the outside of the hip (the abductor) can be easily done inthe standing position.  The photo on the right shows the most popular way of stretching those lateral muscles.  I also encourage dancers to use a tennis ball or pinkie ball against the wall to release and massage those often tight muscles.


The muscle that usually needs stretching the most is that all important but now always acknowledged  turn-in muscle, the tensor fascia lata or TFL.  Curiously, this week I assisted 5 dancers in getting a good release and stretch of their TFL muscles and it was magical when they came back to standing on one leg.  They felt like they could stand up more easily and effortlessly and access their turnout muscles without strain.

To stretch the TFL – lets use the popular iliopsoas lunge stretch and then shift from stretching the front of the hip to feeling the stretch towards the outside of the front of the hip.  The picture on the left is stretching the front, and then as the dancers turn towards their front leg they can feel the stretch moving to the side and are now stretching the TFL muscle.  If you don’t feel a stretch in that area – no problem – typically means you aren’t tight there!  But if you do feel a strongish stretch it would be a good variation to add into your stretching repertoire.


These muscles aren’t going to change their tightness overnight – but you’ll know you are on the right track if you stretch (especially, the TFL) stand back up and see if there is any difference in your ‘popping’ action at the hip.  It will be a softer clunk – or perhaps not pop, click, snap, at all!  (Hmm…all of a sudden I have a sudden desire for rice krispies:)

I hope everyone has a glorious Thanksgiving week.  I am thankful and appreciative of having such a warm and welcoming dance community – thank you for being a part of my life!


“Dance is the hidden language of the soul”  Martha Graham

What’s up with snapping/popping hips?

I had the pleasure of working with dancers from the Allegro Performing Arts Academy recently and they were the dancers shown in the picture on the post on strengthening the iliopsoas for higher extensions.  This week’s post is answering a common question about snapping or popping hips.  What does it mean?  There are different types of popping hip but first watch the clip below to see in action the type of popping hip I’m going to talk about.

The hip popping that is being shown in this clip is being caused by a tight IT Band snapping over the greater trochanter of the femur.  Huh?… what muscles/where are those spots you might ask?





The greater trochanter is the bump that is on the outside upper part of the thigh bone right before it angles in towards the center of the hip joint.







The IT Band, otherwise known as the iliotibial band, crosses over that area.  The iliotibial band is the fascial band that runs down the side of your leg that the gluteus maximus and the tensor fascia lata (TFL) muscles connect into high on the leg, and the band connects then to the bones below your knee.




The gluteus medius and minimus don’t connect directly into the iliotibial band, but their tightness creates an imbalance around the hip that may lead to this snapping or popping hip problem.




When there is excessive pull or tightness from one or more of these muscles the IT band will ‘snap’ or ‘pop’ over the greater trochanter when you lean into or stick your hip out to the side.  that is what you are seeing as the clunk in the clip.  It’s pretty impressive, huh?  I’ve been asked by dancers if they are dislocating something because it is disconcerting to have such a significant pop, snap, clunk… however you want to describe it.

The good news is…. you can work to decrease the tightness around the area and the clunking, popping, and snapping will diminish.  The other benefit to addressing this?  As you decrease the tightness your range of motion should improve and consequently make movements of the hip joint, like développé, battements, ronde jambe, etc. easier and more efficient.

Stay tuned… next week we will look at the 3 different muscle areas and I’ll give you ways to release each area!  Have a productive and joyful week!


“Education is the key to injury prevention”


Getting higher extensions!

Today’s posting looks at another way to help get your extensions higher and développés even smoother and more controlled.  It has to do with the wonderful iliopsoas muscle that you hear so many anatomists and body workers talking about!

I know I’m someone that always looks at this muscle carefully when I am assessing someone’s standing alignment.  It is such a major postural muscle and so strongly influences how the pelvis sits on the legs that deserves some extra attention.  When overly tight it can pull the lower back into a swayback. When it is overly weak it makes it hard to get the leg much over 90 degrees.  The quadriceps which also are hip flexor muscles like the iliopsoas (or psoas as many people shorten it to) are working hard, but they simply don’t have the leverage to get the leg up as high as what is necessary for dance today.

I was recently in Seattle working with students from the Allegro Performing Arts Academy and showed them a way to inconspicuously strengthen their iliopsoas while sitting in school waiting for class to begin.  By the way…. these students were wonderful!  So curious, open, and willing to work hard to improve their technique by understanding how the body really works!

The picture below shows them sitting on the front edge of their chairs, with their arms folded in front, keeping weight on both sits bones (or ischial tuberosities as they are called)  Without shifting backwards on the pelvis, or over to one hip they lifted one leg up and then lowered it to just touch the toe to the ground before repeating it 10 – 15 times.  Didn’t take very long to feel that very deep ‘tired’ feeling deep in the front of the hip.  That’s like practicing lifting the leg into the beginning stages of a développé before extending the leg (of course without dropping the knee… at least that’s the goal:)


It’s such an easy way to work strengthening the iliopsoas, and then you can simply swivel around and do a sitting lunge stretch to release the tightness form the iliopsoas.

A different way of strengthening was shown in a previous post and I’d like to repost that video in the newer format for all those who had trouble opening it.  You can use a theraband wrapped around the thighs and then slowly working to come more upright to simulate doing an extension to the front.  Of course the more you are upright – the harder it is!  Remember to slightly turnout the leg when practicing these as well as doing them in parallel.  It won’t take long…. just 3 or 4 weeks for you to see and sense improvement in the control and height of your extension.

Have a great week!


“Education is the key to injury prevention”


My Favorite Turnout Stretch

Today’s video blog shows you my new favorite way of stretching the turnout muscles.  No floor needed… just a chair:)  Makes it easy for a dancer to get a quick stretch in while at school or sitting at the desk.

Last week’s post on testing turnout got some great comments from dance teachers that you’ll want to check out! It’s great to hear from dancers ‘in the field’ so keep those comments coming!

Click the image below and you’ll be taken to the 4 minute video clip.

If you have questions please send them to

See you next week when I explain the details of the tried and true clamshell strengthener!

Turnout Stretch