Posts

Wrong Joints for Extension

We all know the action for a grand battement or développé to the front is at the hip. The hip flexors, the quadriceps and iliopsoas muscles, are the prime movers for this movement. If you’d like to reread a post on how to get higher extensions, click here

There is a real challenge to the lower backs of students who don’t have the mobility at the hips to keep the spine aligned. Let’s watch the clip below.

Did you notice the lower back rounding as she lifted the leg forward? That’s where the lumbar spine is taking over for the hips, trying to get that leg up higher. If this habit is allowed to continue over time, that lumbar spine, which should be providing stability for this movement is going to become vulnerable. If you have a student who says their lower back is aching after doing a lot of battements, you should suspect this pattern.

To help this student I would work on their hip mobility. Remember mobility and stability include motor control. Just because someone looks flexible and can do the splits, for example, doesn’t mean they will execute an extension or battement correctly.

Try this quick test. Have them lie on their back, both legs extended and then lift one leg up towards the ceiling.

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You are checking where they can take the leg without influencing the spine. They should keep the normal small curve in the lower back and NOT press their low back into the ground.

Watch for the leg that should stay resting on the ground and make sure the knee isn’t starting to bend slightly and left. This can be very subtle (unlike the bottom picture where it is pretty clear that the left knee is starting to bend.

You do not have to have the foot flexed as you lift it up as I have shown in this picture. A relaxed foot is fine, but the knee should not bend.

See how high they can lift their leg without compromising any other joints. If it is below 90 degrees when alignment shifts you can focus on increasing the flexibility of the hip extensors (hamstrings) and hip flexors (quads and iliopsoas). I say it that way because if the knee bends on the lower leg they could be lacking flexibility to the hip flexors. If the moving knee bends too quickly, hamstrings could be lacking flexibility.

If they can easily do the movement with both legs staying straight and the spine staying in neutral – the challenge might be in the ability of the abdominals to stabilize the movement of the leg and/or a sequencing or motor control challenge.

If you want to learn more about how to assess mobility and stability, please check out my online course, Mobility and Stability Training: Foundations of Functional Movement.

To your success!

Deborah

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:)

sittingpsoas-300x225

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!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

 

The Science of Dance Training Podcast #1 is ready!

Happy Holidays!

After some trials and tribulations (the learning curve to technology is never easy) the first Science of Dance Training podcast is ready for your listening pleasure! The volume varies some (we’ll get that fixed for next time) but we are too excited to wait any longer to share this with you!

We’ve made it easy for you. All you are going to need to do is to click the link below and you will be taken to a page where the podcast is waiting for you to listen to online – or to save to your desktop or itunes to listen to later.


Click here

Here are the questions that we answered in the first podcast.

Question #1
Thank you so much for all you do to promote healthy ballet information for dancers of all ages. I have a question that I have not seen an answer to as of yet from a physiological perspective. Often, we parents have questions that we’d like to run by an impartial source rather than solely rely on our dance teachers’ answers.

As non-dancing parent of a young ballet dancer, aged 9, who would love to go to class 5 days a week if I would let her, how do I know how many hours of dance daily and weekly would be considered too much for her strong but still growing body?

I don’t want her to sustain injuries that she might not be aware of from dancing too much at a young age. She is studying under a teacher well-trained in the Cecchetti method and is taking mainly ballet classes and a jazz class for variety.

I’d appreciate any information you can provide. Thanks in advance.

Nicole

Question #2

Thank you so much for taking on this project. I applaud your innovative use of technology to reach this new generation of dancers (especially because incorrect information is so easy to find on the internet).

My question for the Science of Dance Training:

I’ve been told by dance teachers that a movement like a developpe or a grande battement starts from the hamstring muscles. I’ve also heard from athletic coaches that the hamstring does not control this movement, and that it is rather the quadricep. So, which is it? What exactly is the anatomy of a developpe or a grande battement?

Cross-training Confusion,
Tova

Question #3

Another suggestion applies to pointe. I know this is a delicate area, but I have several girls that I feel are ready to begin pointe work. Do you think the amount of hours of ballet in conjunction with body readiness are appropriate to assess readiness? Do you feel that an x-ray of their feet and ankles is necessary before commencing pointe work. Also, for prep-pointe, I would like the dancers to have pointe shoes to start working with them at the barre and breaking them in for 6-mos before they begin actual pointe work. Is this advisable? Dana

Question #4

I have three newer students with amazing flexibility, all three of whom are dealing with a snapping hip. It is getting painful, and doctors locally aren’t really sure what to do with them because it isn’t a flexibility issue. I am sure there are some exercises they should be doing to help strengthen, rather than lengthen, the iliopsoas, which they probably aren’t using properly due to the flexibility….I have a feeling they can cheat because the don’t need to work the joint as the rest of us do! What can I have them do to work that area for strength? And am I on the right track with that, or is there another reason for the snapping hip?
Tracy

Question #5

Thank you for providing this helpful information to all of us.

I have read a good portion of both of your publications, and seen many of the videos. The question I have has to do with the timing and order in which to introduce the exercises and stretches to a young dancer. It seems that they are often overwhelmed with what they are supposed to do. Instead of incorporating these great techniques into their routines before and during class, I see my own daughter reverting to the old ways, such as prone frogs, etc.

What is a good way to introduce these exercises so that they can actually remember what to do. Using a book or video is awkward during class.

And to make the sequence logical and easier for them to remember, and to incorporate into a routine, how do you suggest they start? For example, back, then hip, knee, ankle and foot?

I know your books suggest the routine to follow, but I ,myself, find it daunting to get my daughter to do the exercises as often as she needs to. I thought if there were a way to introduce, say 3 exercises at a time, then maybe she would be more compliant. But, I’m not really sure where to begin. She is “tight” in all areas!

Anyway, those are the issues we have which seem to be the major stumbling block to my daughters progress! This combined with a child’s natural timidity to be seen by her friends doing something new!

Thank you so much for the wonderful work you both are doing! I have learned so much from both of you!

Regards,
Nancy

Here’s that link again to click and be taken directly to the podcast!

Click here!

Have a wonderful holiday!
Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

Développés

Greetings!
I’m excited to announce that TheBodySeries.com is going through a complete overhaul! I will let you know as soon as it is complete and also let you know of the holiday specials I’ll be running to celebrate the new site. Stay tuned!

Onto the question of the week

Hi there!
I was hoping you might be able to help me. I am a professional dancer and for several years I have been struggling with développés, especially when executing this step to the side. I have good range of movement in my hip and I can flex my knee and raise it to a point where my knee is almost touching my shoulder. However, I cannot maintain the height of my thigh as I try to extend the leg. My thigh and consequently the working leg, drops significantly. When shouldering my leg I can let go and hold the working leg at a good height, however I cannot maintain the height of my thigh as I reach the crucial last moment of extension in the développé. I am really hoping you can help me identify why my extensions are not as high as they might be. Perhaps I have a weakness in the iliopsoas muscles or perhaps it is my quadriceps or hamstrings which need strengthening? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

With Thanks, Beth

Great question, Beth – one a lot of dancers will be interested in!

When doing a développé to the front or side the hip flexors are the prime movers meaning they are the ones most responsible for getting the leg up, and the hamstrings are the antagonist muscles, meaning they need to lengthen to allow the leg to go up higher. You are a smart dancer to ponder both sides of the joint! So often dancers and teachers will only look at one side of the joint, such as the hamstring flexibility when trying to get the legs up higher.

It sounds like your hamstrings are flexible enough as you can bring your leg easily up to the desired position with your hand, then release your hand and then hold it there. I’m less inclined to think there is a challenge with the hamstring flexibility.

This brings us to the front of the joint to the hip flexors. In higher extensions such as développés the iliopsoas is of primary importance at the beginning of the movement and then at the end. The strength of the iliopsoas will help hold your thigh up while the quadriceps straighten the knee.

Normally, dancers are pretty strong with their quads – so let’s have you try strengthening the iliopsoas muscle in the upper ranges of extension. I learned this exercise from Karen Clippinger, a marvelous teacher and anatomist.

Start by sitting with your left leg bent in front of you with the foot on the ground and your right leg extended straight on the floor in front of you. You are resting slightly on your hands, which are behind you. You may be slightly on the backside of your pelvis, but you are focusing on stabilizing your pelvis and not allowing yourself to roll onto the sacrum while doing this exercise. Okay – now lift your right leg up, keeping it straight, as far as is easy. You might get to the level of the other knee or you may not.

Once you have lifted it, slightly bend the right knee, bringing your thigh closer to your chest (remember – without rolling back on your pelvis!) Then once you have brought it slightly closer straighten the knee slowly (again – without rolling back on your pelvis!) and then lower the right leg to the starting position on the ground. Repeat several times – and then do the other side. It may take some days or weeks to feel as if you can significantly bring the knee closer to the chest – but you will see a difference in your extensions if you practice this.

You can also do this exercise in turnout. Even though you are keeping the legs in front this new found strength will carry over to your side développés. To make it a bit harder you could put a theraband around both knees giving yourself some resistance as you bring the thigh towards your chest and/or you could put a low level weight around your thigh – just above or below your knee – do not put the ankle weight at the ankle!

Let me know how your extensions improve!

Warmest regards,

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”