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Ballet Talk for Dancers

PhysioTherapist Lisa Howell on Strength?


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On her popular Youtube channel and in her book "The Perfect Pointe", Lisa Howell champions that the single-handed best way for increasing lower body strength of the foot and ankles (besides the Tendu) are rises.

(Am I to presume that "rises" and "eleves" are the same thing?)

Anyways, I thought this was fairly interesting as it clashes with the relative conventional view that Theraband ankle work is the best way in increasing strength in these areas.

While it certainly makes sense that eleves give the dancer the strength to rise off the floor with only the pads of the metatarsals on the ground, how does this translate into the strength eventually given to rise even further off the ground and onto the toes squarely over one's own pointe shoe box?

Is strength gained by practicing rises solely the answer that lies in the physiology here? If so, then wouldn't that mean that a weightlifter proficient in doing calf raises should be able to rise to full pointe as well?

And secondly, where does flexibility factor into any of this in the eventual rising over one's shoe box? The theraband seems designed with attempting to address both strength and flexibility at the same time, while rises appear to satisfy only strength.

Thank you to all for any help with these serious questions that I have been pondering on for a while. I wish I had someone to talk to...


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Guest Blossoming ballerina


I woud second asking Lisa. She's very open to sharing her knowledge.

My dd is seeing her at the moment fo flexibility and strength.

One particular exercise she has given her, doesn't seem logical, but it worked for my dd. ( it was to have legs lengthened while doing crunches turns her hip flexors off better than her legs bent).

Everything she has said and shown my dd has been spot on.


She always has a very balanced reason for her statements. All grounded in her wealth of knowledge and fascination of the human anatomy from a dancers point of view.

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Guest Pas de Quoi

I agree! I have always received very detailed, personal responses to questions I have posed, about students. I am set to do a workshop with her, Deborah Vogel, Elizabeth Gillaspy and Beverly Spell this coming July. I am so happy to be able to work with these wonderful ladies!


I know I will benefit from their knowledge, and so will my students!

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Guest Blossoming ballerina

Pas de Quoi, that's so exciting. I'd love to do one of her workshops.

Hope you really enjoy it. She looking forward to going to the states.

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I'm not a PT, but based on what I know of ballet technique and my own anecdotal experience/observation, i would say that if you are working your feet and legs properly in releve, tendu and degage -- releveing to your maximum, pointing your toes correctly (not curling), rolling through the foot with each tendu or degage -- you will increase not only strength but also flexibility. A releve to a person's maximum height is a tremendous stretch through the front/top of the foot and the calf. I have seen beginner adult students with very low releves, but as they keep releving to their max, the height of their releve increase. That's the stretch in the foot.


Re your first question, toe strength is not really a factor. I mean, some strength is required, which is why some dancers like to releve from demi to full as a pointe warm up. But the real strength required for pointe is in the calf, ankle and mid-foot. A releve to demi pointe addresses all of those.

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In my teaching I do emphasize strengthening the toes, too. If releves and tendus (and all the other things) are really done correctly, then perhaps one would not need to extra work on the toe-strength with therabands or whatever; but usually they (the toes and intrinsic foot muscles) need a bit of a "head-start", which is why I give students special exercises to do at home if they are going to go en pointe. (and add some exercises into normal class work, too, for everyone)


The ability to use your toes - not clawing, of course, but pushing - is important for (if nothing else, then at least) being able to fully stretch the foot whilst wearing those wholly un-maleable pointe shoes. :) (it also helps for many other things!)



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In Lisa Howell's "The Perfect Pointe" book she does have a lot of exercises pertaining to intrinsic foot strength and toe strength and these are highlighted throughout the program. I think the focus on rises is that a beginning pointe student will be spending a lot of her time at the barre working on those, so you need to have a strong foundational strength to get the most out of it. But when looking through her book you'll see that she believes in a comprehensive program encompassing foot/ankle strength and flexibility, balance, leg strength, working turnout, building a strong core, etc. The videos she puts up are "teasers" of a sort that only focus on one thing, but this doesn't mean that she believes that success en pointe is truly only related to one particular ability.


Also, there are conflicting points of view on therabands. She uses them in her book, but not necessarily in the way you might expect. There is some feeling in the dance physiotherapy world that doing flex/pointe exercises with the Theraband has a negative effect on proprioception and that the way many people use the Theraband can contribute to bad habits like toe-clawing, etc. That's not to say that it's universally bad, but I think that's why some people steer away from using them as a key component in pre-pointe work.

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Guest Pas de Quoi

I agree with you about the theraband exercises being a hindrance and not a help, in getting students to feel what they are doing with the feet. I have found that my students who are not strong, and do not do well with articulating and using the feet correctly cannot do these things with a theraband, either. I much prefer to have students work in bare feet, on doing the exercises I find useful - in the book mentioned above. I also have the DVD set, My Beginner Pointe, which has been quite useful to me and my students, as well.


I start preparing my students for eventual pointe work right from the very beginning of their training ie. insisting on correct execution of all parts of their technique, including of course tendus, rises, etc. We always take our shoes off at some point in our classes, and I have had much luck with having students do their face-the- barre warm up and at times even continuing through pliés and our tendu exercises with shoes off. I also make sure they know what they should be doing, with what muscles, and why. I bring in pictures to illustrate, and incorporate conditioning exercises for them, which we do in class.

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  • 3 years later...
On June 7, 2014 at 7:35 AM, arciedee said:

There is some feeling in the dance physiotherapy world that doing flex/pointe exercises with the Theraband has a negative effect on proprioception and that the way many people use the Theraband can contribute to bad habits like toe-clawing, etc

In fact, Lisa Howell has just released a new YouTube video explaining "why dancers should avoid pointing into a Theraband":

[video removed per BT4D Rules and Policies]

While Lisa Howell doesn´t think Theraband exercises are bad per se, she thinks the risk of doing them incorrectly and thus potentially causing damage is too great.

She shows an alternative method of using the Theraband which is not as risky. I´ll try her method for sure although I believe I´ve been using my Theraband correctly so far.


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Interesting video. DD has been given the alternative exercise she offers by a PT but was also given the one she mentions is not so good. I will share the video with her. Thanks for posting.

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