My way of safely improving range in the hips has changed dramatically due to my own experience. I grew up thinking that I had terrible range, and then found out many years down the track that this was simply not true. As a young dance student, I was told that I just didn’t have good turnout, and that it was my bones, so there was nothing much I could do about it. I accepted this, and pursued physiotherapy as a career, rather than pushing for a career as a performer.
Then, when I was 26, one of my staff members gave me a 4-hour massage. We never intended it to be for 4 hours, but I had paid for him to go through a massage therapy training course, and he was simply showing me everything they learned. After he had worked through many different areas around my hips I hopped off the bed, did a grand plié and my knees went sideways for first time ever. I burst into tears, with the sudden revelation that I had always had this range, but never been able to access it due to the tension I had in my hips from trying so hard.
While it was a little late for me performance wise, this experience completely changed how I work with dancers and helping them maximise the range and control that they have to work with.
When I start working with someone, I spend some time closely assessing how much range they have in each direction, and what tissues are actually restricting it in each direction. This allows us to work intelligently to come up with effective plan to work on each restriction
It is important to remember that there are actually 7 different ranges of turnout, and each of them need to be worked on separately. These 7 different ranges are:
- Standing leg turnout
- Turnout en fondu
- Turnout in retiré
- Turnout devant
- Sitting in second
- A la’ seconde
Our priority is always standing leg turnout first, and our aim is to work out what is the available range, what is the restriction, and what is the best way of working with that
When looking at your standing leg turnout we need to look at what is happening at the top of the femur and how it articulates with the hip socket. The shape and placement of the bones is important, however most often there is a lot of restriction in the muscles and fascia around the front of the hip. Gentle mobilisation and hydration of these tissues can have a dramatic influence on your range of motion. However, sometimes the restriction is at the back of the hip and it needs a totally different set of mobilisation techniques aimed at gapping the back of the joint to improve range.
When looking at turnout in retire, the leg is in quite a different position. The restriction in this position is often deep in the front of the hip or groin, however, I rarely go in and release the deep hip flexors directly. When this area is chronically tight, it may be an indication of instability in the hip and back. Ultimately, we will work on mobilising the hip, but we don’t want to remove the body’s strategy for holding itself together before building the necessary layers of strength and stability underneath.
If we look at turnout devant, this is a really interesting position. A lot of people have way more range in this position than they realise. However, the most interesting thing is the number of different structures that can be limiting range devant. Some dancers experience pinching in the front of the hip, others feel a stretch in the back of the hip, others may feel pain coming down to the knee. We need to work very carefully on safely improving your range of motion if needed, but often it is more of a case of learning how to control the range you already have.
When assessing a dancer’s range in second, many people have more range in the joints than they think. Often range is being blocked by excessive tone on the gluteals, resulting from attempts to muscle their way into turnout but inadvertently using the wrong muscles.
In an arabesque, the hip has to sit in quite a different place in the socket than all of the other ranges of turnout. Placement in an arabesque is also dependent on very fine muscle control through the whole back line, rather than just in the hip
In summary, if you want better turnout:
- Chances are you have a whole lot more than your realise!
- Keep in mind that some soft tissue work (massage) by a trained professional can really help in opening out your hips to their full capacity
- It is essential that we work out exactly what your restriction is, and safe ways of improving it
- We also need to work out why those structures are holding on so tightly in the first place! Are there underlying weaknesses that need to be worked on first? This strategy ensures that you can continually get better over time, rather than complaining of tension in the same areas constantly.
Remember that pushing in the direction you want to go is often the slowest and most dangerous way of getting there. We need to work smarter, not harder, when working on your turnout!
For more information on improving your turnout, make sure to download the Tips For Turnout EBook which also goes into more detail about actually isolating and strengthening your true turnout muscles. Our Training Turnout Manual goes into even more detail about how to improve your range of turnout in each direction, and how to train your turnout in all directions.