Jump to content
Ballet Talk for Dancers to close ×
Ballet Talk for Dancers

gripping with the quad in extensions

Guest musicboxdancer

Recommended Posts

Guest musicboxdancer

I have been struggling technically with this problem for as long as I can remember. I am fairly flexible, but when doing developpes, grande rond de jambe, etc., I tend to grip with my thigh instead of using my hamstring like I'm supposed to, even though I do have a noticeable hamstring muscle. Even if I keep extensions lower I have a hard time relaxing this muscle. I am starting to notice a greater build of muscle on the top of the thigh than I would like to see.:) Any suggestions?

Link to comment
  • Administrators

I have found that the easiest way to learn to work the hamstrings instead of overworking the quads is through imagery. Try a couple of things:


Take a retiré position at the barre, working arm in 1st position (5th en avant), take a breath, exhale and release the arm and the leg to the side with a very free and easy movement. Don't try to hold it or stop it, just let it come right back to the retiré. It does not have to be a high extension, as all you are working on here is finding the freedom to let the leg go without lifting it with the quads. If this works and you can feel the difference, then gradually take it a bit higher, and then try to apply the same breath and feeling of release with a true developpé. The use of the arm with it is helpful, letting it open and close with the leg.


When doing grand battement place yourself inside a big imaginary wheel, like a ferris wheel. The wheel is moving backwards around you, and the circular energy of the downward part of the movement behind you just goes under your leg and lifts it for you! ;) Yeah, right, I know. It should be so simple! But seriously, that idea, combined with the release of breath can be very helpful in feeling the leg go up almost like you are not doing it at all, but this outside force, the circular energy, is doing it for you.


Another way to find this same thing is to sit on the floor, bend one knee up towards your chest, take the breath, and just release the leg straight out and slightly upwards at the same time.


Let me know if any of this makes sense. It's one of those things very easy to show, and not so easy to explain in this format!

Link to comment
Guest musicboxdancer

Actually, that does make sense. Some kind of imagery is exactly what I was looking for since I already know what I'm "technically" supposed to be doing and that has failed to do the trick for me. I am anxious to give it a shot. I bet that controlling breathing probably does help quite a bit since I have found it to be a problem solver in so many different areas (pirouettes for example). Thanks for the advice.:)

Link to comment

Sorry to raise this question again, and I don't mean to question your knowledge on the subject Ms Leigh, but I don't see how you can't use the quads and use the hamstrings when doing an extension.


I asked a body conditioning instructor (a lady generally considered to be the grandmother of body conditioning in SA) and a doctor, and they both agreed that, when doing an extension, the quad is used, and the hamstring is totally passive. In my understanding, not using the quad is like saying that the bicep is not involved in bending your arm at the elbow! For a muscle to work, it needs to contract, and, in an extension the hamstring stretches.


Am I misinterpretting what you are saying?


Excuse me if I sound otherwise, but I'm just trying to understand this concept.




Link to comment

Rio, I know I'm not Ms Leigh ;), but I've struggled with this concept also, and thought maybe I'd share some theories. Please don't think these as certain facts, as I'm just only learning dance anatomy/kinesiology myself. :)


But from what I've understood (based on medical school anatomy, observation, teachers' explanations, and desperate staring at an anatomy book) there are at least three things at work here.


First, it helps you if you think doing it with your hamstrings instead of the quads, even if that's not totally true.


Second, I think that after you pass 90 degrees of extension in turnout, the conventional physician's wisdom of anatomy gets pretty screwed up, and indeed, the quads can't do all the work anymore. This theory of mine is really difficult to explain without demostrating and looking up a picture book of anatomy... it's got to do where the quads attach to the bones. But anyway, I think that if you use your quads to hold you at about 90 and rotate the leg out, then you can use other muscles to pull the leg even higher - but to do that, you musn't grip with the quad, cause it tends to pull the leg _towards the 90 degrees position_, not much higher. But you still have the _engage_ the quad, to keep the leg up at all.


I think I can get the feeling of this lying on my side, and doing a turned-out extension to front (can't pass 90 degrees when standing, yet). I'm not sure if the "other muscle" is hamstring actually; it feels more like the oblique one whose name I don't know in English, in the inner thigh. I can also find the feeling lying on my back and extending to side, but it's more difficult.


Third, I don't think it's exactly true that the stretching muscle is always totally inactive. The "inactive" side is usually also needed for stabilizing and controlling the movement?


Did I get anything right? :)

Link to comment


I'm obviously also not Ms Leigh.


But, I shall chime in here nonetheless...


Jaana, your observations are very good!


Of course the thigh muscles (four of them, hence quadriceps) must initially work to get the leg up.

To hold it above hip level, there must be a muscle which goes from the upper leg to someplace above the hip; that is only logical.

It appears that the only muscle which meets those criteria is the illeopsoas, which is made up of the psoas major and the iliacus, which attaches to the spine at about the height of the lowest ribs, and then to the inside - nearly the back - of the upper thigh.


If you lie on your back and slowly developpe devant while plunging your hand - carefully - into your abdomen, you should feel that muscle contracting.


Jaana, that must be what you were feeling, or??


You can also feel it working if you lift your knee fairly high, above hip-height, turned out a la seconde.

Then do as Ms Leigh suggested above. (in a free and easy manner extend the leg, concentrating on not gripping with the quads)

In order to straighten your knee, you will - of course - need to use your thigh muscles.

But the height has been achieved with the illeopsoas.

(I am not too sure of the English spelling, sorry)


This poor muscle is one of the most-ignored, and yet it is one of the most important for extensions.

Perhaps it has led such a secluded life because it is not readily visible, and if it gets bulky, no-one is likely to know.

It is also often quite shortened through too much sitting or improper posture of the pelvis.

There are stretches for it, which feel a bit unusual at first, but really do help.



The hamstring images are very useful for getting oneself NOT to use the quads.

I like the one with the ferris wheel! :)



Link to comment
  • Administrators

Jaana, you got a lot of things right! Very well done :)


Rio, I was not saying that the quad does not work, as of course it has to. However if one can do more with the hamstrings and less with the quads, which is taught primarily through imagery, as I was doing above, then it is more efficient, freer, smoother, and does not build bulk in the quads. Overworking with the quads builds bulk, and of course no dancer wants that!

Link to comment

diane, I think it's iliopsoas, yes, helped by some other smaller muscles. I'd give you their names, but I only remember them in Finnish, and a dance friend has my English/Latin reference book currently (she's also struggling with these concepts). :)


I've ordered "Inside Ballet Technique" and "Anatomy and Kinesiology for Ballet Teachers" from Amazon (yes, using the BA link ;)); I'll hope they'll help me further. I understand these might be an overkill for a beginning student, but I'm a very conceptualized learner, and as an MD get bothered if I don't understand exactly what's going on in my body when doing something important for me. :)

Link to comment

Those are a couple of excellent choices, Jaana.:) You should get a lot out of them. And not only is "iliopsoas" Latin, but it's Latin that has been formed from Greek! Every time you see a "ps" combination of letters in a word like that, you know that there was a psi in there at some point!

Link to comment

Major Johnson, I'm confident that the book choices are good. I picked the recommendations from Ballet Alert's Ballet Talk, after all. :cool:

Link to comment

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...