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.
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
Side Developpé with the Flexistretcher | Melanie Hamrick of American Ballet Theatre.
Modify with this exercise to build strength:
- Begin with the gesture leg bent out to the side.
- Slowly straighten the leg feeling the femur (thigh bone) drop into the hip socket to externally rotate the leg. Keep hips still and level.
- 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 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.