3 Abductor Exerises to Improve Your Leg Height to the Side

Supplemental hip strengthening is important for a dancer because the necessary strength required to hold the leg in above average ranges of motion is not used in every day activities.

Strengthening your hip abductors is key to find stability when standing on one leg.

10-15 pulses | 5 sets

Training Tip: control the return phase of the movement and never loose tension in the elastic. Continue to pull your elbows back towards you for the duration of the exercise.

2 Exercises to Improve Your Side Extension

Supplemental hip strengthening is important for a dancer because the necessary strength required to hold the leg in above average ranges of motion is not used in every day activities.
When concentrating on improving side extension:

  • Stengthen: Hip Flexors (iliopsoas), Hip Abductors, and External Rotators.
  • Stretch: Hamstrings and Hip Adductors (lying down middle split with your Flexistretcher or wall ‘V’ stretch.

Here are 3 great strengthening exercises to focus on:

1.) Side Lying Leg Raise with the Flexistretcher

This is a good exercise to begin with because your hips are level, allowing you to maintain a neutral pelvis. Concentrate on the external rotation of the femur (thigh) bone in the hip joint as the leg is lifted to the side. The initial stages of the movement should really focus on keeping a neutral pelvis rather than laterally tilting the pelvis.

Flexistretcher leg raise

Strengthening your DOR (deep outward rotators) allows for greater external rotation and a greater range of hip abduction to be achieved. Use of this external rotation can also allow for the leg to be placed more to the side. You can really feel this rotation when lying down using the assistance of gravity to perform the side leg lift vs standing and working against gravity. Practice with a parallel leg vs an externally rotated leg and you will notice a difference in leg height.

Make sure to activate the bottom leg keeping it from being relaxed and moving around.  Practice a developpe motion bending the gesture leg, lifting the knee, followed by a full side extension focusing on externally rotating the femur and engaging your DOR.

2.) Standing Side Developpé with the Flexistretcher

Flexistretcher side extension

Side Developpé with the Flexistretcher | Melanie Hamrick of American Ballet Theatre.

Modify with this exercise to build strength:  

  1. Begin with the gesture leg bent out to the side.
  2. Slowly straighten the leg feeling the femur (thigh bone) drop into the hip socket to externally rotate the leg. Keep hips still and level.
  3. Return to the starting position bringing the knee closer to you and keeping the tension in the strap by not allowing the knee to drop in space. 
  4. Repeat 10-15 times each leg.  

When ready to progress, practice the same exercise standing on something unstable such as a disk or yoga block. This will add focus to maintain turnout on standing leg while increasing height of gesture leg.

For more great exercises to improve extensions, check out our YouTube Channel : http://www.youtube.come/flexistretcher

5 Cues When Practicing an Assisted Développé with the Flexistretcher

Performing an assisted développé with the Flexistretcher instills the correct placement and muscle activation for an extension to the side, allowing for the leg to move higher and engage the correct muscles to hold it there.  

Melanie Hamrick Flexistretcher Développé

Here are five things to watch out for and consider when performing this movement to get the most out of your Flexistretcher workout: 

CUES 

  1. Beware of inversion of the foot- also referred to as a “sickled” foot. 
  2. Make sure you are not medially rotating the hip of the extended leg. Practice proper muscle activation to avoid having the entire leg turn inward.
  3. Avoid anterior or posterior tilting of the pelvis. 
  4. Keep your hips squared and both legs laterally rotated. 
  5. Keep pelvis in a neutral position and work on maintaining lateral rotation from the hip.

Side Passé Développé with the FLX Ball

April Giangeruso

Practice this exercise to improve and strengthen your side developpé.  Make sure to concentrate on the external rotation of the femur(thigh) bone in the hip joint as the leg is lifted to the side. The initial stages of the movement should really focus on keeping a neutral pelvis rather than unnecessary movement in the pelvis.

SETUP: Lie on your right side and place the FLX Ball at your waist to help lift the torso allowing you to work in a neutral spine and effectively engage the abdominals throughout the exercise. The legs are stacked evenly.

FLX Ball Set Up Side Extension

 

ACTION: Legs stacked one on top of the other in an external rotation.

Bend the top leg into a passé with the knee facing the sky.

Lift the knee towards your shoulder and extend leg up toward the sky in a developpé motion.

With a straight leg, lower down to your starting position.

FLX Ball Side Développé

REPETITIONS:Repeat 10 times. Reverse the movement.

SETS: 3-5 sets

CUES:

  • Make sure the hips stay stacked on top of one another and don’t rock back or forward.
  • Maintain your neutral spine.
  • Watch out for tucking of the pelvis to complete the movement.
  • Extend through and active the bottom leg.
  • Avoid “gripping” in the hip flexors to begin the movement. This happens when the pelvis is not in alignment.

CHALLENGES:  

  • Take top hand and place it behind your head with elbow wide.

TARGET MUSCLES: Hip Flexors(iliopsoas), hip abductors, and external rotators.

CONTRAINDICATIONS: Pain in the hip flexors or a past hip injury.

DANCER FOCUS:

  • Bring focus to activating the bottom leg and engaging the abdominals to complete the movement as this is what will help perform the movement standing up.
  • Concentration on external rotation.  For dancers with “snapping hip syndrome” or hyper-mobile joints this is a great exercise to practice that will help to implement correct form, concentrating on maintaining the external rotation in the working leg without the limitations of gravity. Snapping hip syndrome often occurs in dancers when hip external rotation is not maintained.  Strengthening the hip external rotators, abductors, and psoas while working on technique to maintain turnout can help correct your developpé and increase leg height.  Studies strongly suggest that the “snapping” occurs when the iliopsoas tendon passes over the head of the femur. When the femur or thigh bone is rotated inward, the iliopsoas tendon moves over the head of the femur and can produce the snap.  So, concentrate on maintaining external rotation in the working leg to avoid this sometimes painful syndrome!

LEVEL: Advanced

Bird of Paradise to Improve your Side Extension

A high, graceful and stress free développé comes with correct alignment.  This is the key to a skillful and effortless movement.

Increasing leg height to the side relies on proper mechanics. If the thigh of the gesture leg is kept internally rotated the range of motion is greatly limited.

During the initial stages of the movement, focus should be on:

  • Keeping the hips level.
  • Dropping and rotating the femur bone in the hip socket.
  • Drawing the thigh close to the torso.

The Bird of Paradise is a balancing yoga posture that requires the same concepts to skillfully accomplish a développé, while adding the challenge of balance and drawing more attention to the standing leg.

Practicing standing on a parallel leg, as one does in Yoga, strengthens internal rotators and encourages full activation of the standing leg.  This action also prevents excessive tucking under of the pelvis, which occurs when compensating for weakness.

Imitating a développé a la seconde, this yoga pose draws focus on form, allowing improvements in strength and leg height. The bind in bird of paradise uses your arms to help push the thigh bone back in the hip socket, while lifting and expanding through the chest.

Here are some key cues that will have you binding beautifully and help you achieve that effortless developpe:

  • Ground through the standing leg. Pull up above the knee to prevent ‘locking back’ or bending of the knee as the leg raises to the side.
  • Keep hips level.
  • Draw the thigh close to the torso
  • Keep the thigh bone (femur) dropped in the hip socket and fully rotated to achieve maximum range of motion.
  • Lift up through the chest and engage the core.

SETS: 3-5 time each leg, hold for 10 counts.

Need to modify? Keep your gesture leg bent focusing on keeping the hips level, drawing the thigh bone close to the torso and dropping and rotating the femur bone in the hip socket.

Side Développé with the Flexistretcher

 
Flexistretcher side extension

Make sure to hold onto something stable such as a barre and set up your Flexistretcher for a side extension. 

HOW TO: 

  1. Begin with the gesture leg bent out to the side.

  2. Slowly straighten the leg feeling the femur(thigh bone) drop into the hip socket and externally rotating all while keeping the hip bones level. Maintain the desired height of the thigh as the knee is extended.

  3. Return to the starting position bringing the knee closer to you and keeping the tension in the strap by not allowing the knee to drop in space. Repeat 10x each leg

When ready to progress, practice the same exercise standing on something unstable such as a disk or yoga block. This will add focus to maintain turnout on standing leg while increasing height of gesture leg.

Achieve Higher Leg Extensions by Understanding the Powerful Psoas

THE PSOAS PLAYS A KEY ROLE IN THE FUNCTIONING OF THE HIPS.

Also referred to as Iliopsoas as it merges with another deep hip muscle, the iliacus, the psoas connects your torso to your legs and helps you stay in an upright position. The main action of the iliopsoas is to flex the thigh at the hip joint.  This is key for dancers, allowing the ability to lift the knee above 90 degrees and hold the leg at above average heights.  Weakness and tightness of the hip flexors or psoas muscle can result in misalignments of the lumbar spine and pelvis, consequently affecting the legs and stability of the spine.  This issue often occurs when dancers perform movements in ballet technique.  

psoas

Ruth Solomon and John Solomon, Ph.D. provides a very useful article about the psoas for the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) Solomon states the importance of understanding dance anatomy, especially when it comes to the mighty psoas:

“The psoas is capable of stabilization and activation simultaneously. Clearly a potentially powerful source of energy of that sort, located right in the center of the body and attached to three of the anatomical units that are most crucial to dance movement—the lower spine, pelvis, and hip joint—has to be respected.”  

In order to move efficiently and make one's dancing appear to be effortless, correct muscle activation is crucial for performing the movement patterns required in classical ballet technique. Achieving full leg extension to the side is a movement that can be difficult to perform correctly. Many students and professionals dread this position.  Often times, the leg comes up to 90° easily enough.  Beyond 90°, however, there may be obvious tension in the leg, hip and sometimes upper body.  A high, graceful, stress-free extension requires correct alignment, encouraging correct muscle activation.  The body will find a way to cheat the movement, especially if the dancer has inadequate flexibility.  This “cheating” happens by recruiting other muscles and creating needless movement - appearing anything but effortless. 

A common misalignment when performing a developpé side occurs when the quadriceps take over. Here's how:

  • When the gesturing leg of the dancer who is experiencing an inability to achieve full range of motion in extension is viewed closely it will often be seen that as the leg passes 90° the quadriceps muscles along the top of the thigh are strongly contracted.

  • In effect, what the dancer is trying to do is lift the leg by using the muscles of the leg itself.

  • This effort not only contracts the quadriceps but also tightens the tendons that surround the hip socket.

  • Far from promoting the desired elevation of the leg, this tightening of the tendons seems to restrict the ability to raise the leg higher, and actually pulls the leg down.

  • Sometimes the gluteus maximus is engaged, causing internal rotation of the extended leg.

Solomon's descriptions are all classic examples of how the body may work against itself when inappropriate anatomical means are utilized to accomplish a task. Try this stretch to increase your awareness of the powerful psoas to avoid those common areas of detrimental muscle overcompensation: 

HERE ARE SOME TIPS & CUES FOR FINDING YOUR PSOAS IN THIS STRETCH!

  • Keep the front knee directly over the front ankle.
  • Anchor down through your front foot especially the big toe.
  • Press your hips forward and down
  • Avoid bouncing, sustain the pose for 10-15 breathes. Release and repeat.
  • Actively press the back foot against the floor.
  • Hold the Flexistretcher shoulder width apart and pull the hands away from each other to create a slight tension. Maintain this tension for the duration of the stretch.