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Ballet Talk for Dancers

QUADS VS HAMSTRINGS (?)


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I'm getting very stressed out about this. I'm definitely using my quadriceps during extensions and they're getting huge. I've tried many of the exercises offered on this site to determine how to use the right muscles during extensions, but I'm just not getting it. Alignment is my biggest problem in ballet and as a late starter learning how to use the muscles in the bag of my leg is hard.

 

Help please?

 

Thank You!

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Well, let's look at the slightly bigger picture: You're sixteen, have just started, and are still learning the rudiments. Your body at this stage will be "redistricting" as muscle and fat distribute themselves automatically in response to the newly introduced form and content of exercise. In reading the site, you should also consult threads about stretching the upper legs in order to keep a balance between building up and lengthening the muscles there. This is a big item for many (most?) beginning men, and you have to do most of this work in class, paying careful attention to what your teacher tells you, even to corrections which are not given specifically to you. You learn a lot that way. Listen well! :wink:

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I guess the issue is learning to use the iliopsoas to lift the leg. This is what people are driving at when they (inaccurately) say "push with the hamstrings" (muscles cant push, only pull).

 

Identifying the feeling of using the iliopsoas is difficult, because it's deep in the pelvis and we arent normally conscious of it.

 

The iliopsoas at its top end attaches to the pelvis and the spine, and at its bottom end attaches to the front of the thigh-bone near the top. It is the only muscle you can use to lift your leg above 90 degrees.

 

One way to make yourself conscious of it is to stand on one leg, and then without using hands of course, raise the other knee as high as possible (with bent leg) towards your chest, many times, repeatedy until exhaustion.

 

When you stand afterwards, you should feel a delightful warm burning glow in a vertical line inside your pelvis, a bit to the side, on the side you were working. This is along the iliopsoas. You have to learn to identify and use it - this is behind the things you have been reading. The other way of putting it, is to lift the leg from deep within the pelvis at the front. It takes time, but comes with practice.

 

Jim.

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The place where the iliopsoas is closest to the skin is at about the mid-length of the thigh bone (femur), on the inside of the thigh, but it's really a really long compound muscle which eventually anchors well above the pelvis in the abdominal/thoracic cavities. It's the human equivalent of the tenderloin.

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Nobody yet has mentioned pelvic alignment and turnout, both of which have helped me find something other than the quads to lift my leg.

 

Here's an exercise that helped me find my iliopsoas: sit with legs straight out in front, back straight up, hands on the floor next to your hips. Point feet and turn out. Now lift one leg. It will only go up an inch or two, and it is really hard to do without shifting your pelvis out of alignment - but done right the psoas is about the only muscle that can do it. For a long time I thought I couldn't do this because my hamstrings were too short and tight, but I was just in denial about how weak and inaccessible my psoas was.

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  • 2 weeks later...
you should also consult threads about stretching the upper legs in order to keep a balance between building up and lengthening the muscles there.

 

Do you know of any specific threads helpful for lengthening while strengthening?

Thanks!

 

It will only go up an inch or two, and it is really hard to do without shifting your pelvis out of alignment - but done right the psoas is about the only muscle that can do it.

 

Sorry for the late response, but I seem to be able to lift my leg one or two feet off of the ground. I can, however, feel my quads engaged. Do you have any tips for isolating the psoas during this exercise? Thanks!

 

you should feel a delightful warm burning glow in a vertical line inside your pelvis, a bit to the side, on the side you were working. This is along the iliopsoas. You have to learn to identify and use it - this is behind the things you have been reading. The other way of putting it, is to lift the leg from deep within the pelvis at the front. It takes time, but comes with practice.

 

I feel it, now the next obstacle is utilizing it...

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If your working leg is straight, that's what the quads are doing - they straighten the leg. In order to isolate the psoas, just take the developpé as far as the front attitude, then lift from there, not straightening the working leg.

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Major Mel's post is as usual excellent advice.

 

...

Sorry for the late response, but I seem to be able to lift my leg one or two feet off of the ground. I can, however, feel my quads engaged. Do you have any tips for isolating the psoas during this exercise? Thanks!

...

It's quite difficult to isolate at first. It's almost like meditation - a yoga class might be as much help as some internet posts!

 

Of course none of us can see you, so this is just a guess - but in my experience, that indicates your spine and pelvis might not be aligned with the spine vertical (or slightly forward if you can) all the way down to the tailbone. Even then, it's not easy at first to relax the quads while lifting the leg up. Turnout helped me, along with engaging the lower abs. It's possible you are engaging the quads even though the psoas is the only muscle actually doing the lifting.

 

Of course you are young and flexible, and I am neither, so if this doesn't work for you there are probably good reasons.

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