There are a number of things that ballet teachers work on diligently to develop in their dancers. First and foremost is a love of dance. Next is the appearance of the dancer’s body. Correct alignment, stretched and pointed feet, good spotting technique, beautifully stretched out leaps and higher jumps. But one of the most impressive skills that is sought after, is high leg extension. I am referring to the working leg either to the front or to the side. This is practiced first at the barre, then moves to the center with adagio music and developpe exercises. A standard ballet class will have at least one exercise at the barre and one center floor. Both barre and center exercises will repeat right and left sides, to train the extension that defines the beautiful slow developpe.
The typical ballet class is not enough to develop the necessary strength, flexibility and coordination required of the dancer to develop the necessary muscle groups to achieve the highest of extensions. I would like to recommend that while practicing at home that several conditioning exercises should be done. Conditioning outside the dance class, at home, will show good results for back strengthening, arabesque height and front and side leg extensions.
There are two muscle groups involved in good extensions. The quadriceps and the hip flexor muscles.
The quadriceps are a large muscle group that includes the muscles on the front of the thigh. It is the a large muscle that extends out of the knee, forming a large fleshy mass which covers the front and sides of the thigh bone. The hip flexors are a group of muscles that act to flex the thigh bone. They are situated on the upper thighs and just beneath the hipbones. Hip flexors allow for lifting of the knees and bending at the midsection. Because they continuously work to support the body, hip flexors tend to become stressed and tight, which can prevent the highest of leg extensions
Her is a five minute exercise that should be done in three sets of ten repetitions on both legs. It should be repeated three times per week for six weeks to get some better extension results.
Sit in a long sit position: back straight and both legs extended front
Lean back on your hands
The leg to be exercised is turned out with the knee slightly bent like a front attitude
The other leg is bent and the foot is flat on the floor
Lift the attitude leg slowly and then bring it back down again, in three sets of ten repetitions.
The achievement here is to use the quadriceps as little as possible and work the hip flexors.
Another way to stretch the hip flexors is to:
Lie flat on your back, and pulling one leg into your chest.
Lift the other leg up and pointed towards the ceiling and turned out.
Then slowly lower the leg until it eventually rests on the floor.
As you hug one leg, feel a release in the hip flexors in the extended leg.
Hold the working leg off the floor as close to the floor as possible for about 20 seconds before releasing the foot to the floor.
Remember to keep the small of the back pressed to the floor. Repeat for the other leg.
Stretching the quadriceps is important for good leg extension and hip flexors stretch ability and should not be totally neglected.
Lie on to your stomach flat on the floor.
With a flat back, relaxed neck and relaxed legs, Begin lifting your right foot and lower leg upward and bend it at the knee.
Lifting your body up slightly, reach back behind you and grab your right foot with your right hand.
Pull your leg upward and hold the stretch for about 20 seconds.
Next, perform the same quad stretch using your left leg.
You can also perform quad stretches for your hip flexors from a kneeling or standing position.
Or…Use a chair or wall for support if needed.
Pushing backwards toward a wall with your leg bent between your body and the wall during quad stretches will intensify the stretch and provide support. So instead of holding your foot, use the wall behind you for balance and stretch.
For a more intense stretch,
Start with your left leg. Kneel down on your left knee and position your right foot in front of you, knee bent.
Place your right hand on your right leg to guide your balance. Your other hand should be at your hip.
Keep your back and head straight, with your abdominal muscles tight. Shift some of your weight to your right leg, moving forward slightly. You should feel your left thigh stretching.
Extend the left leg behind you so that you are on the ball of the foot.
Raise both arms straight up above your head parallel to your ears.
Hold this position for about 30 seconds and repeat it three times, then switch legs.
There not many things in ballet as beautiful as a high leg extension…..one that can be held with ease. Work on it!