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exercises for extension


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Can anyone here provide some tips/exercises for higher extensions? i can barely keep my legs up at 90 degrees, and i get envious of other students who can keep theirs high. i've been doing some stretching exercises but they don't seem to help. :)

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Guest Kelsey

i think sometimes the reason why your leg can't go higher may be because you're not strong enough to hold it there. it's more a strength issue than a flexibility issue...i have the same problem..for a long time i was stuck at 90 degrees even though i was stretching like mad.


try this: developee to the front at exactly 90 degrees and keep it there for a while. if you do this to music you could keep your leg up for the next 8 or 16 counts. All the while keep engaging your centre and don't sink into your hips. Keep the visualization of your leg e-x-t-e-n-d-i-n-g away from your body. then lower after that. Then repeat a couple more times. It really strengthens the muscles you need to hold your leg up there.


You can try it to the side and to the back too.


It works ;)

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If your passive flexibility (the stretches you do on the floor) is good enough, then the next test is your active flexibility. Is your grand battement above 90? If it is, then you probably just need more strength.


I have read that after 90 degrees the hip flexor musle becomes the sole lifter of the leg (below 90 it has several other muscle groups to help it) which is why the transition from below 90 to above 90 is so hard, and takes lot of work and patience. :)


The hip flexors attach to your spine and hip bones at one end, and your tigh bone at the other end, so keeping your lower spine lengthened and in alignment is absolutely crucial - otherwise you'll be using the muscle to bend your back instead of lift the leg! :)


For strength, one of my teachers likes sometimes to give leg lifts with the knee bent. I think the idea is to cultivate flexibility and strength in the hip joint and make sure we are using the hip flexors and not quadriceps to lift the leg.



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Very good, Paivi - that's exactly the sort of thing I would do, depending on the class. And Kelsey, that's good imagery. The important thing is, not to try to lift the leg using the quads very much. They have to come into play of course, when the leg straightens, but the strength for extension comes from muscles in your back and front, some of which anchor almost alarmingly high on the body!

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Guest beckster

I was told that a good exercise is to put your leg on something so that it is at your usual extension (the barre, for example). Then, making sure you are aligned correctly, attempt to lift the leg off the barre and hold it for a few seconds. I use the back of the sofa at home because a normal height barre would be too high for me! I should think this would only be appropriate for side and front extensions - arabesque seems risky since you can't see where your leg is.

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Let me recommend a source for you. It is Sally Fitt’s book, Dance Kinesiology. It is a very easy to read textbook on kinesiology and its application to dance for dance majors. There is a chapter on what she calls dance conditioning and if memory serves me correct she identifies several exercises for increasing extension.


She also presents a rather novel approach to developing flexibility (sorry, but I can’t remember her term for it) that I have tried and like very much. Essentially, it involves contracting a muscle either isometrically or repeatedly, then immediately stretching the opposing muscle. This is supposed to greatly reduce the stretch effect, which inhibits good stretching.


I would also recommend the book for anyone interested in the mechanics of dance.

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Guest karenfixe

I didn't see this mentioned here so I thought I'd add my $0.02. First, if you flexibility is good, ie. grande battements are higher than 90 degrees, you should start working on strengthening your stomach muscles. I've found that by doing crunches where you not only lift your shoulders off the floor, but also tilt your hips up towards your torso, you'll see fast results.


Most of extension strength isn't really in the leg, but in the core muscles of your body, ie stomach and back. Don't forget to keep your alignment and make sure your standing leg is strong and that you're not "sinking" into your hip.


Remember, your extension will only go as high as your knee will go in a passe. So, do a passe to the side and lift the knee as high as you can. From there, you will develop the strength to just straighten your leg from the knee without lowering it.


Lastly, you'll want to make sure you stretch your glutes to see a higher extension to the front. Those are really hard for me and I'm lucky if I can get them just past 90. But to the side, they're much higher. Go figure... sometimes it really is flexibility. ;)

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i've been trying out some of the exercises suggested and i want to know something. am i using the wrong muscles if the ones that hurt after a day of exercising are the outside front muscles? i'm not sure what they are called, but they seem to be the one i use the most.


also, is there such a thing as spotting without getting dizzy? i've been working my hardest at spotting, but i still feel dizzy not matter how fast i turn my head. :)

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I don't know if it will help at all, but my physical therapist gave me a great exercise that isolates my hip flexors. When I first started doing them, it made me realize how weak the muscles really were. Sit up with your back against the wall, legs extended, feet pointed in front of you in parallel. One leg at a time slowly slide your foot towards you bending your knee up (staying in parallel)keeping the foot on the floor the whole way and allowing the whole foot to be on the floor (not just the heel). Make sure your back stays straight (thinking of the abs as well). Then slide the foot back out till both legs are once again straight and pointed. When I first started this exercise, my left leg was much weaker than the right, so my foot only made it up to about where my right calf muscle is. Now, either foot makes it up to my other leg's knee. I started doing the exercise on carpet to add friction to the movement as well. My extensions improved greatly in class...I think it was this exercise that made the difference. Hope you can understand my directions, its hard to explain...

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Guest sissonne

I was going to post the exercise that beckster indicated. Works very well for me. As mentioned by Mel, be sure to lift with the muscles at the back of the leg, not the front. I actually find focusing on this gives me better height as well....I suppose the "lifting from behind" imagery helps.


Pointehill....I'm going to try yours as well!

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Guest Kelsey

Hey pointehill,


thanks for the exercise...but just a point of clarification..where are you supposed to feel the pain?


Sapphirenite...I guess you'll still feel dizzy no matter what..just as long as you don't feel overly dizzy..you should be fine. I try to concentrate on 'getting the point' every time i turn i.e. my attention is not on how fast i turn my head but on how long i managed to keep my gaze in front. It's a mind thing i guess.

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Okay... I'm guessing you want to know where I feel the burn? If I am really staying in parallel, I feel it in the front of the hips. I wanted to tell anyone interested that I found another version of this exercise, but instead of keeping the feet on the floor, you lift the heel 2-3 inches off the floor. The "off the floor" version is in Sally Fitt's "Dance Kinesiology". I noticed someone mentioned the book earlier and I have to agree it is a wonderful resource. I have tried the exercise both ways and found that if I take the heel off the floor I feel I am working my quads more than the hip flexor, but it would help for stretching through my leg more. If I leave the foot on the floor but imagine that I am pulling and pushing against resistance as I go, the exercise isolates different muscles. My inner thigh muscles are activated as well as the hip flexors as I pull my foot towards me. I had a baby by C-section five years ago, and my extensions have been the hardest to get back. If you want motivation for this exercise my extensions went from about 95 degrees to about 130 degrees to the side. Imagining, in developpe, lifting the knee as high as possible before extending the leg has helped as well. Its those arabesques that I still haven't gotten back! I need serious help on those. Let me know what you think of this exercise...I'm curious if it works for others.:P

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Guest after5



I tried your exercise, but I didn't feel much of anything. I probably misunderstood the instructions. You start out in sitting in parallel with both feet pointed. Then you start drawing one knee toward you and keeping the foot on the floor. I guess the part that confused me is about the heel staying on the floor. :confused: Does the foot stay pointed, or is it flexed, or is it simply resting on the floor?

That's a great improvement you made, wow. How often did you do this exercise? For how long? Did it help your side extension as well? Questions, questions, questions....:P


As for arabesque, I cannot give you a specific advice. You need a strong back, and the flexibility in your front thigh and hip. I can't explain it in more medical terms. What I do to ensure the flexibilty of the front of my thigh and hip is I go into a deep lounge (spelling???) in parallel. I place my back knee on the floor, and try to push my hips forward without tilting them (sticking out your behind). Sometimes it helps to go on half pointe with your front foot. Then I take my back foot into my hand and bend the knee toward my back. It looks like one of those yoga positions. :D Anyway, I do that every night during stretching. I have improved my arabesque, especially with my right leg behind which was always lower than the left one. When you do this, make sure your front knee makes a 90 degree angle between your thigh and calf.

For the back strength, I use a machine at the gym where I am bent over and then I have to lift my upper body. I can't explain it better than that since I don't know the machine name. :o

If you have a friend in your class, you can also try laying on your stomach while your friend is holding your feet to the floor. You can keep the arms in second position, and then lift your upper body (arch back). Try to do as many as you can. On the last one, for added fun, you can slowly bring your arms into fifth position and hold for a few seconds.


Hope it helps. :P



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Just as a word of caution, be VERY careful with both back exercises and stomach exercises, especially if you have had any history of back problems or have back problems. Both these types of exercises can cause more damage than help.

If you do, please talk to your doctor or physician before starting to do them, its just a phonecall or visit.

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