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Onto the question of the week
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!
"Education is the key to injury prevention"