Jump to content

Thigh muscles - advice how to reshape/reduce


Recommended Posts

Hi all,

i am looking for some advice about my 15.5 year old daughter, who is currently training RAD Advanced level. 

We live in Switzerland and have come across a problem.

She is in generally good shape.  Her physique is considered large by european standards - 169 cms and 53kgs.

She is well toned but a little thick around the torso and has large thigh muscles. 

Honestly her diet is very healthy and balanced, following standard premise of lots of sleep, no junk food, lots of protein, portion sizes controlled etc etc.

She trains 14 hours a week and exercises maybe 1-1.5 hours extra on an elliptical machine.

She eventually wants to go down contemporary route but is keeping up her classic training.

 

I would really welcome any suggestions of exercise that she can do to reshape her thighs....

As an athletic build her thighs are the first place to gain muscle and it seems this is holding her back from gaining a place in full time ballet schools.

 

Thanks for any suggestions!

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 112
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

I am not an expert - but personally I have found pilates very good for developing strong but long muscles.

 

I wonder if the elliptical machine work is building muscles bulk which isn't quite what she wants.  

 

I would also say that contemporary courses seem to look for a different body shape to ballet schools, so maybe aspiring to a ballet physique isn't the right thing for her in any case.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

My DD has muscular thighs, calves and shoulders.  A friend of hers who does a similar amount of dance/ exercise etc to DD is tall and willowy. 

 

As far as I know,  it is just down to body shape. DD may grow a bit more in height,  but I don't expect her basic body shape to change. She prefers the more contemporary style of dance and that seems to suit her. 

 

  • Like 4
Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi, I would recommend Pilates as it strengthens but also lengthens muscle groups which is great for ballet. Stretching and yoga help to release fascia and I would also recommend foam rolling. It is also important to remember that having toned thighs is not always a bad thing for classical ballet think of the power for allegro etc. 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Who is concerned about this? Her? You? Her teachers? Have you had feedback from vocational schools specifically citing her physique regarding why she isn't getting in?

 

Pixiewoo is right. Genetics is the most likely thing that will affect physique and response to training. My opinion (as a dance scientist) is that "long, lean muscles" (which seems to be the holy grail of ballet dancers) aren't the strongest of muscles. 

 

I seem to be saying this a lot at the moment but people need to know WHAT they want their body to be able to do, before worrying about how it looks or what training they should/shouldn't be doing. Once you've figured out the WHAT, the next question is WHY? If you can't answer that question convincingly then there's no reason to do something. People ask me lots of questions such as how can I get more flexible, how can I make my legs leaner, how can I make my pirouettes better etc. My first response is always "why? how will this help you as a dancer?"

 

Finally, I would always guard against saying ANYTHING about the size of a 15 year olds physique, especially their torso (breasts, stomach, hips), unless there is something wrong with their health. 

  • Like 10
Link to post
Share on other sites

The other thing about the quadriceps muscles is that on a slim body, they can look bigger than other parts of the body. They are - the quads are the strongest muscle group in our bodies.

 

But sometimes less than optimal training for body type can affect the proportions of a person's body. Putting too much weight back in the heels, for example or pushing back into the knees , particularly if the person has hyperextended knees. 

 

Quote

I wonder if the elliptical machine work is building muscles bulk which isn't quite what she wants.  

 

I was told that this is unlikely - particularly for women/girls. Physiologically, we don't have the level of testosterone which leads to the strongly muscular physique and bulk of men/boys (in puberty) - it's unlikely that 90 minutes of that sort of activity each week is bulking muscles on a 15 year old girl - women just don't have the biology to create bulky muscles without a lot of specific work. I've found, for example, that what makes my quads strong, but also leaner, is weighted back squats (and to a lesser extent deadlifts) - done correctly, weightlifting can be excellent strength training for dancers (see Rupert Wilshire's Instagram feed, for example). And I lift quite heavy for my age & sex.

Edited by Kate_N
  • Like 5
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks fr all your response. 

drdance, to answer your question - we have received feedback from 2 schools about her thigh muscles that is why it has come onto our radar.  It probably isn't the only "flaw" but I personally thought it was dangerous and unnecessary to use a comment on her physique as feedback, generally as schools refuse to give feedback on technique post audition.  Especially when it was given as a negative comment with no constructive advice.

 

 

We think she is generally fit and strong. The elliptical machine was a tool she started using during lockdown to keep some body movement and help retain stamina..... 

She is a healthy British teenager. My husband and I are not athletes or dancers. She has not inherited dancing genes or waif body  🙂

She has found her own passion for dance and we just want to support that.  Maybe we can start some Pilates together, dvd style. 

 

Kate_N your comment was interesting because she does have hyperextension in her knees. Im going to look into this a bit more.

 

Once again thanks. I was starting to go a bit crazy with worry. Your kind words have reassured me.

Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, sillysally said:

Thanks fr all your response. 

drdance, to answer your question - we have received feedback from 2 schools about her thigh muscles that is why it has come onto our radar.  It probably isn't the only "flaw" but I personally thought it was dangerous and unnecessary to use a comment on her physique as feedback, generally as schools refuse to give feedback on technique post audition.  Especially when it was given as a negative comment with no constructive advice.

 

 

Wow. I realise it's very hard for me to say this when I'm not a parent of an aspiring vocational dancer but any school that gives feedback regarding the size of a dancers muscles is perhaps not a very supportive, forward-thinking school and if I was advising parents of a student of mine, I'd be VERY interested in discussing these comments with the schools, and finding out what their approach to safe dance practice was before recommending them to any other students. 

  • Like 7
Link to post
Share on other sites
19 hours ago, glowlight said:

As I said - I'm not an expert

 

Full disclosure - neither am I! but everything I read about physical training - dance & general fitness - always says - women shouldn't be scared of cross-training & weightlifting - it won't make us have bulky muscles! And I have to say that doing weighted squats (or lunges) has trimmed my thighs revealing the muscles (under the fat!).

 

It's about the technique & details of the training. I love what @drdance says upthread about thinking about what you're training for, and then think about how you do that. It's like the fear people have of doing ballet - "Oh I can't do ballet, I can't do the splits" - well, no-one needs to be able to do the splits really - they are a by-product of the strength & flexibility that fully trained professional dancers acquire.

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, sillysally said:

because she does have hyperextension in her knees. Im going to look into this a bit more.

 

Yes, that sounds like a good idea - I think you could do a search here about it, and I'm sure @DrDance will have an overview. A lot of dancers push back into their knees and I gather (but please, ask an expert) that that can overdevelop the quads in relation to other muscle groups in the body (such as glutes and lower abs).

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, drdance said:

 

Wow. I realise it's very hard for me to say this when I'm not a parent of an aspiring vocational dancer but any school that gives feedback regarding the size of a dancers muscles is perhaps not a very supportive, forward-thinking school and if I was advising parents of a student of mine, I'd be VERY interested in discussing these comments with the schools, and finding out what their approach to safe dance practice was before recommending them to any other students. 

 

Of course it is not supportive! But if it is a Vocational school, they have to be clear about the chances a dancer has to get a job later...

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Aurora3 said:

 

Of course it is not supportive! But if it is a Vocational school, they have to be clear about the chances a dancer has to get a job later...


it hasn’t hurt Misty Copeland and there are a number of dancers I’ve seen in UK ballet companies with larger legs too. 
have you checked out Lisa Howell? She could be gripping with quads or as Kate suggested could be because of hyper extension. I’m not an expert but have seen various sources describing these. There is loads of information out there from Lisa Howell and I think she may do online consultations too, or find a dance physio locally?

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Paris Opera Ballet School coaching

 

On this video, right at the beginning, the teacher comments that it is important to stretch the toes when pointing to continue the line of the leg.  If they are "knuckled" it leads to overdeveloped thigh muscles.  Although it is in French, the explanation is quite clear. 

Edited by Pas de Quatre
To add link
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you I will make sure DD watches this 

 

On 11/07/2020 at 17:14, Pas de Quatre said:

Paris Opera Ballet School coaching

 

On this video, right at the beginning, the teacher comments that it is important to stretch the toes when pointing to continue the line of the leg.  If they are "knuckled" it leads to overdeveloped thigh muscles.  Although it is in French, the explanation is quite clear. 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11/07/2020 at 16:14, Pas de Quatre said:

Paris Opera Ballet School coaching

 

On this video, right at the beginning, the teacher comments that it is important to stretch the toes when pointing to continue the line of the leg.  If they are "knuckled" it leads to overdeveloped thigh muscles.  Although it is in French, the explanation is quite clear. 

I apologise for shooting the messenger as it were, but there is NO WAY that this is possible!

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
26 minutes ago, Pas de Quatre said:

I had to break off, so couldn't complete my post earlier.  It is well known among dance teachers, that faulty technique can cause injury.  It can also cause bunching and overdevelopement of muscles.  

With respect, I am 100% certain that it is anatomically impossible for clawing of toes to cause the quadriceps muscles to hypertrophy. If someone can prove this otherwise, with scientific backing then I will have learned something new (which I am always keen to do). 
 

Faulty technique does indeed cause injury, we know this, I agree with that statement. I also agree that incorrect technique causes muscles to engage that are not the target muscles for a certain exercise, and can cause the aesthetic to change (classic example of failing to adequately turn out a leg in second position resulting in lateral thigh and TFL dominance, and pelvic tilt commonly known as “hip hiking”). 
 

However, ballet teachers (especially ones who are ex professional dancers who have never done an anatomy course in their life) often have very little accurate knowledge about how muscles work, and therefore the language used is often based on myth rather than truth, and is incorrect and detrimental. 
 

Words like “overdeveloped” and “bulky” versus “long and lean” make the first sound awful and the second desirable. However, as I said earlier, you have to ask WHAT DO YOU WANT THE MUSCLES TO DO! If you want force production, power, strength and performance, then you need strong muscles. In some people, strong muscles are big, regardless of whether they’re “using the right muscles” (never that simple) or have the “right” technique. 
 

It’s about time ballet teachers stopped perpetuating myths about long, lean, sylph like muscles and celebrated strength for what it is.

  • Like 10
Link to post
Share on other sites

Although quite an old film now, this is a teacher at the Paris Opera Ballet School which was founded over 300 years ago.  They are one of the top schools in the world and for anyone to teach ballet, contemporary dance or jazz in France you need the State Diploma, a rigorous teacher training course.  So I would not dismiss the advice on this video so lightly.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I can imagine that clawing of the toes and excessive activation of the thigh muscles could be associated through a student holding all their leg muscles far too tensely in an attempt to point. So while it couldn’t cause overuse of thigh muscles it could be associated with  it. 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Everyone, i don't often have time to look on here but feel compelled to jump in!!

Fact - I was short and "stocky". 

Fact - swimming and pilates gave me my career. Pilates lengthened my muscles to such an extent I even got to dance the "tall girl" dances at ENB!!

Fact - pilates must happen daily to alter genetics and be applied correctly with a lengthening sense in all you do.

(Swimming is the safest and most effective way to tone everywhere.)

Fact - Lisa Howell and Paris Opera are amazing.

 

Fact -There is always a chain reaction of muscles that can create technical issues. Lets' remember the thighs are the easiest muscle to engage and so , if a dancer is not taught to mentally and physically activate the correct muscles, then the thighs will always over work!! If you use your metatarsals correctly and activate the use of the hamstring by energising the movements from the back of leg - then you wont over engage the thighs. And so yes, scrunching toes = weight back = thighs over working because it prevents the workload getting to the hamstrings.But the dancer MUST ask those hamstrings to activate or the thighs always will. Remember neural pathways take a long time to correct.....

Naturally some dancers have larger muscle groups than others but in every company they have all types of physiques. Darcy/ Marienella - not string beans but athletes. Often the string beans get really injured but companies like them for particular works. They need a Clara/sylph/cygent but also a Queen of hearts or Myrtha. Schools will look for gifts that will outweigh the negatives - a short neck but awesome legs will get in. A more athletic type body will get in if they have the most stunning musicality or balon. If there is a feature that is of concern that isn't then countered by a raw talent/gift, then that's when dancers get turned away.

 

Dont focus on the negatives, spend the time enhancing their gifts too. 

 

To Sillysally - if she wants to be a contemporary dancer, I wouldn't get too hung up on it. Head to Rambert which is excellent or any other contemporary school. Your DD wont be happy trying to fit a mould she doesn't want to be. The ballet at these places is also excellent.

 

Fact - (DRDANCE) ANY dancer that has successfully worked for over 5 yrs in a main stream classical ballet company, (not 1yr in an unheard of co.) has far more technical and anatomical knowledge than any course could teach! 10/20 yrs on stage , working with your body and your injuries daily, provides an insight and depth of understanding of ballet and their bodies that just cant be taught. However, for those that declare themselves "professional" after a brief stint on stage - well yes I agree - they need the course!

 

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, Emma northmore said:

Hi Everyone, i don't often have time to look on here but feel compelled to jump in!!

Fact - I was short and "stocky". 

Fact - swimming and pilates gave me my career. Pilates lengthened my muscles to such an extent I even got to dance the "tall girl" dances at ENB!!

Fact - pilates must happen daily to alter genetics and be applied correctly with a lengthening sense in all you do.

(Swimming is the safest and most effective way to tone everywhere.)

Fact - Lisa Howell and Paris Opera are amazing.

 

Fact -There is always a chain reaction of muscles that can create technical issues. Lets' remember the thighs are the easiest muscle to engage and so , if a dancer is not taught to mentally and physically activate the correct muscles, then the thighs will always over work!! If you use your metatarsals correctly and activate the use of the hamstring by energising the movements from the back of leg - then you wont over engage the thighs. And so yes, scrunching toes = weight back = thighs over working because it prevents the workload getting to the hamstrings.But the dancer MUST ask those hamstrings to activate or the thighs always will. Remember neural pathways take a long time to correct.....

Naturally some dancers have larger muscle groups than others but in every company they have all types of physiques. Darcy/ Marienella - not string beans but athletes. Often the string beans get really injured but companies like them for particular works. They need a Clara/sylph/cygent but also a Queen of hearts or Myrtha. Schools will look for gifts that will outweigh the negatives - a short neck but awesome legs will get in. A more athletic type body will get in if they have the most stunning musicality or balon. If there is a feature that is of concern that isn't then countered by a raw talent/gift, then that's when dancers get turned away.

 

Dont focus on the negatives, spend the time enhancing their gifts too. 

 

To Sillysally - if she wants to be a contemporary dancer, I wouldn't get too hung up on it. Head to Rambert which is excellent or any other contemporary school. Your DD wont be happy trying to fit a mould she doesn't want to be. The ballet at these places is also excellent.

 

Fact - (DRDANCE) ANY dancer that has successfully worked for over 5 yrs in a main stream classical ballet company, (not 1yr in an unheard of co.) has far more technical and anatomical knowledge than any course could teach! 10/20 yrs on stage , working with your body and your injuries daily, provides an insight and depth of understanding of ballet and their bodies that just cant be taught. However, for those that declare themselves "professional" after a brief stint on stage - well yes I agree - they need the course!

 

 

 


I agree that any professional dancer who has worked with their body for that number of years has an incredible insight - but there are also a lot of ballet teachers (of all different backgrounds) who perpetuate things that simply aren’t true. My personal pet hate is “lift the leg from underneath”.

 

The scrunching toes comment from the video posted earlier relates to scrunching toes in a tendu, or extension en l’air, not to grip the floor. I agree that a dancer with their weight back may be gripping the floor with their toes but I’m still not sure how, anatomically, this leads to hypertrophy in the quads. But, as I said above, if someone can explain how this happens I’m keen to know. 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11/07/2020 at 16:14, Pas de Quatre said:

Paris Opera Ballet School coaching

 

On this video, right at the beginning, the teacher comments that it is important to stretch the toes when pointing to continue the line of the leg.  If they are "knuckled" it leads to overdeveloped thigh muscles.  Although it is in French, the explanation is quite clear. 

 

I'm with @drdance on this. This is anatomically and biomechanically impossible. Dancers and teachers use a lot of imagery, which can be extremely useful in the studio, but is often not anatomically plausible. 

 

 People have different propensities to increase muscle mass / cross sectional area. Yes, testosterone is one contributing factor, but also whether or not you are a 'responder' to strength training. Some people physiologically have very little ability to respond to strength training, and as such, do not easily develop muscle mass, and others develop muscle mass and strength more easily. There is nothing you can do to change your physiology. For most females however, even using the heaviest weights, will not increase muscle mass. 

 

Unfortunately, Pilates will not change the shape of muscles. Everything drdance has written on this thread is scientifically robust and evidence based.

 

There are many vocational contemporary dance schools out there that will not discriminate against body shape, muscle fibre type or size. Those large muscles are wonderful, powerful muscles that can produce exciting and explosive dancing. Embrace them. 

  • Like 4
Link to post
Share on other sites

I have to agree with PhysSup and drdance in that different bodies respond to training stimuli differently. Firstly I would have to absolutely agree that the use of terms like "bulky" to describe a young dancer is concerning and I would question whether you would indeed want to send a young dancer here, and if it would be best to speak directly with the school regarding this feedback.

 

There could be a number of reasons for having slightly larger thighs (although I would also ask, in comparison to what?), and the aesthetics would be my last concern. I would be more interested in finding out if there is a muscular imbalance and therefore overworking the quadriceps, or if she is recruiting the right muscles to carry out the movement. The implications of a muscular imbalance would have far greater impact on her dancing than the look of her thighs. As PhysSup says, it is very difficult for females to increase muscle girth. Strength training will not create big "bulky" muscles, neither will it impact flexibility if you continue to stretch as part of your routine. Pilates, whilst it certainly has its benefits, has not been shown so far in research to increase muscular strength, so if you want higher jumps, more control in your developpes or rond de jambe, you need to include strength training.

 

I would suggest that instead of focusing on altering the "shape" of her muscles to focus on what they are capable of doing. If you want more in-depth information maybe go for a screening at somewhere like Trinity Laban where they can look for muscular imbalances and provide training programmes to develop any weaker areas and avoid injuries due to these imbalances. I would encourage her to train her body for what she wants it to achieve in her dance performance, rather than worrying about how it looks.

  • Like 5
Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...