Dancer Health

How Turn-in Helps Your Turnout

Deborah Vogel is a neuromuscular educator and director of The Body Series. Here, she works with Mariah Aivazis. Photo by Jim Lafferty

Turnout—the outward rotation of the hips that dancers are constantly striving to improve. Yet few actually have the 180-degree outward rotation that is so idealized. In her 40-plus years of working as a movement analyst, Deborah Vogel has only come across a handful of dancers who have it. "That's structural," she says. "They have a shallow hip socket, so the head of the thighbone can move in a greater range. The rotation at the hip for the general population, though, is 90 degrees—about 45 degrees in each direction."

Although a dancer's range of motion depends on her structure, Vogel says she can still improve her turnout. "They're not going to get to 180. But if they have good muscle balance, they can improve their ability to stand in greater than 90-degree turnout."

By muscle balance, she means having turn-in muscles that are just as strong and pliable as the turnout muscles. "If you have better muscle balance between the inward and outward rotators, everything works better," she says. "You can turn out more effectively."

To help dancers loosen up their inward rotators to increase the usage of their individual turnout, Vogel developed a dynamic stretch using a long stretchy band for feedback. By targeting excessive tightness in the tensor fasciae latae (TFL), the primary turn-in muscle located at the front of the hip, the stretch helps to shift the dancer's pelvis to a more neutral and upright position, allowing her to access her turnout muscles more easily.

First things first, find the TFL

Stand on your left leg with your right in a tendu to the side. Be sure that you're working from your natural turnout. For most people, that means your leg will extend on a diagonal rather than directly to the side.

Place your right hand just outside of, or lateral to, your anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS), the bony projection at the front of your hipbone.

Lift the tendu leg slightly off the floor and turn it in and out. Feel the bump of muscle moving under your right hand. That's your TFL.

Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Mariah Aivazis, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

Before you stretch, release that muscle

Loosen up the muscle before the stretch. "If you can get a muscle to release its tension, then it will stretch easier," says Vogel.

Roll out your TFL on a foam roller or pinky ball. Roll back and forth and then stop in the most tender area. Wait for approximately 30 seconds or until you feel a release.

Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Mariah Aivazis, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

It's time to stretch, with some extra feedback

Vogel's variation on the traditional runner's lunge stretch targets the TFL. She suggests using a stretchy band to get more feedback. "One thing I like about the band is that it really helps to bring the pelvis upright and into better alignment more easily," says Vogel. "It helps to remind your body where neutral is."

Loop a stretchy band around your left upper thigh just under the glute and securely attach both ends to a chair or barre in front of you.

Go into a lunge with the right leg forward and left knee on the floor. To protect your kneecap, place a folded yoga mat or any soft object underneath your knee. Your legs should make a 90-degree angle. Your pelvis should be slightly in front of the supporting knee, upright and facing forward, not down.

Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Mariah Aivazis, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

Lean slightly forward. To target the TFL, turn out the bottom leg and the front foot and tuck the pelvis slightly.

Tip: Don't go too far forward into a full lunge. This tilts the pelvis forward so it's facing down. Instead, actively engage the gluteal muscles to draw the pelvis down and back. "It's not going to hurt you, but if you go forward too much, you're missing the stretch," says Vogel.

Bring your left arm up over your head. Lean slightly to the right to increase the stretch. "They may feel it right there where the muscle is, a little bit up in their side or abs or even a little bit down the leg," says Vogel. "If they feel a stretch around that area, whether a bit higher or lower, they're on the right track."

Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Mariah Aivazis, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

Tip: Keep your hipbones facing forward. Avoid letting the pelvis rotate toward the back leg, especially as you lift your arm and bend to the side.

Give your turnout a rest!

A common misconception is that to improve your turnout, you need to be turned out constantly, whether you're dancing, walking or even at rest. However, Deborah Vogel points out that, over time, if you are constantly contracting your turnout muscles, you will begin to have less-effective outward rotation. Any muscle that is constantly contracted loses some of its tone, making it more difficult to engage. "Imagine keeping your biceps contracted for hours at a time and how fatigued it would get!" she says.

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