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Hyperextension and 'relaxing' the knee.


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Ok, this is something I have been doing throughout my training, and it was only just picked up on. I work with my school's pilates teacher (who is an ex-dancer) once a week to help me gain strength in my overly flexible body. I am pretty hyperextended nearly everywhere, and I can stand in a largeish 2nd position with my knees still touching! :)


Anyway, recently she was asking me to do some tendus and correcting my alignment etc. and she was shocked to notice that when I close in fifth with the working leg back, I 'relax', almost bend my supporting knee to make space for the working leg to close. I think that it has never been picked up on because I can bend my knee quite a lot and it still looks straight. The instructor corrected and said that the way I make the space for the working leg to close is by pulling up more and lifting out of my hips. However, I am finding this really difficult especially in very fast tendu combinations. Does anyone have any tips, or ideas on the relaxing the knee versus pulling up more?

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Yes to pulling up out of the hips, but for such a lot of hyperextension as you describe, you may even have to make fifth positions very short fourths, with less than a hand's-breadth space between the feet. It's another case where I'd have to see what's going on in order to give the best advice, but from here, that's the best I can do now.

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I dont really know what I'm talking about on this one, so I'd be glad if someone would correct it if I am wrong.


I have been told that if you have hyperextended knees, you also tend to lose proprioceptive sense of where the knees are and what they are doing when they are near their straightened position. So you can't go by your natural sense of where your limbs are as you can at other times. You have to work at gaining this sensation, and you have to concentrate really hard to be aware of what sensation you have. I suffer from this a bit, and find that in fact I cant regain much sensation even after years of trying. The best that can be done in my experience, is to pull up with the leg muscles really hard, which not only can help stop the knee hyperextending, but sort of gives some sort of sensation of what the leg is doing - but not particularly well.


And as for it being really difficult in fast combinations - I guess the answer as always is practice, practice, and more practice.


If any teacher can comment on the accuracy of what I have said, I'd really appreciate it.





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jimpickles, I cannot comment medically on what actually occurs, but it has been my experience in teaching that what you have said is indeed the case. My many hyperextended students need to strengthen the muscles above the knees in order to find what is balletically straight. They tend to have difficulty to use the musculature to strengthen their placement. Many students/dancers who are hyperextended tend to sit back in their knees without engaging the muscles above the knees.

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R.Mc, im glad you brought up this topic. Im slightly hyperextened and am always being told to pull up from the knee. As jimpickles states i struggle to really gain the feeling of what is correct.


I cannot close the heels together completely in first position as the calf muscle gets in the way and my knees are in contact that they will not allow it. My teacher said it is fine to leave a small gap but i still feel fustrated.

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Jim's right, when you're hyperextended, you have to learn a new propriocentricity (the ability to tell where specific parts of your body are and what they're doing). It's tricky, but with the help of an informed teacher, and maybe a bit of Pilates coaching, it's certainly a doable activity. I had very tight knees when I started out, not hypoextension, but it required me to learn how to feel my legs and points upward all over again. I had it within a year.

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Thanks for all the help everyone. Yes, I have difficulty with proprioception which has not been helped by the fact that I have dislocated my knees and in general been injured very frequently. (I have hypermobility syndrome) Apparently when you sustain a serious injury your proprioception is also damaged. I work a lot on proprioception with my PT and pilates teacher, especially in my hypermobile ankles, as I've had an ankle injures recently.


Since I started in full time training I have been working consistently on anlignment making sure that I pull up above my knee and don't push back. A year and a bit later of 4 classes a day, and it is only just become second nature. The guys in my year who partner me in pas de deux say it is really hard to find my balance because the plumbline is not straight!


Cassy, I understand your frustration. I too stand with a small gap between my heels, which I don't think looks very pretty, but helps a lot.


So, just to clarify am I not meant to 'relax' my knees at all or is there some degree of 'relaxation' allowed?

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One of my teachers would not allow us to have a small space in first, and told us that if we were hyperextending our knees, it meant we had weak hamstrings. It was difficult and wound up throwing the rest of my body out of wack.


I've been doing excersizes to strengthen my hamstrings, but what excersizes do you mean to strengthen above the knee? I have been doing very very slow tendus and focusing on closing in a very lifted up position when I'm at home to fix it, but like R. Mc, in faster combinations in class, its harder.


Also, when I'm not in class, I try to make sure I'm not hyperextending anywhere and that I'm always pulled up and that helps.

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So, just to clarify am I not meant to 'relax' my knees at all or is there some degree of 'relaxation' allowed?


Perhaps "relax" is not the best word to use for you. Not allowing them to lock back to full travel is quite important in working with hyperextension. So, in one sense, they are relaxed, but there's a lot of work going on in there all the same.


And yes, tendus are useful in gaining new knowledge of what "straight" feels like! :)

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THanks guys for all the help


Sea Monkey- I dislocated my knee and tore my medial collateral ligament last year, and when I came out of plaster I was given lots of exercises to strengthen the muscles above my knee. This is the one I found most helpful.


Sitting on the floor (with your abs engaged) place a rolled up towel under your knee so it is bend a small amount., but your heel is still on the floor. Keeping your thigh in this position, extend and lift your lower leg, so that your leg reaches straight. This basic one is done in parallel. Variations on this can include; lifting your leg turned you, lift in parallel, turn out, turn in etc.


Hope this helps.

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