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How to stretch my knees


tatballerina
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Hi, everyone! This is my first post in this forum, so I  hope I´m doing it right (sorry if not!)

 

I have been dancing  for 15 years now, but sincerely, I don´t have the "right" body to do ballet. But I continue doing it because I want to improve and one day give the dancers who are like, an opportunity to fulfill their dreams.

The question I have for all of you is the following:

 

All of my teachers keep on correcting me that I don´t fully stretch my knees. If you were able to look at me, you would be able to see that my knees are not fully stretched, even though I feel as if they were. This happens to me on flat, on demi- pointe and well, obviusly pointe. Does anyone know any exercise I might do to work on this? Any advice? 

 

Thanks in advance! :)

 

 

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Hello tatballerina and welcome to the forum.

 

From my inexpert view, it sounds as if your hamstrings may be a little bit tight which is making it difficult to stretch your knees to their fullest extent. I would suggest you ask a physio to check and then give

you some appropriate exercises. :-)

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Hello tatballerina and welcome to the forum.

 

From my inexpert view, it sounds as if your hamstrings may be a little bit tight which is making it difficult to stretch your knees to their fullest extent. I would suggest you ask a physio to check and then give

you some appropriate exercises. :-)

Thank you!!  :)

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Hi Tatballerina, I'm not sure if your problem is the same, but my daughter also has trouble straightening her legs fully in positions such as arabesque and this obviously affects her lines. She has been told this is due to muscles which have tightened up after a growth spurt. Two of her teachers (royal and dance school) have suggested slightly different exercises. In the first she sits on the floor with her legs out in front of her and attempts to lift her heels off the floor and hold for a few seconds. She does this 3 times. The other exercise takes one leg at a time. In the same seated position, she uses one hand to gently push down on her knee whilst using the other to gently pull her foot towards her so lifting her heel off the floor. She holds it for a slow count of 3 and repeats the exercise on each leg 3 times. Hope they may help and you understand the descriptions. :)

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Hi Tatballerina, I'm not sure if your problem is the same, but my daughter also has trouble straightening her legs fully in positions such as arabesque and this obviously affects her lines. She has been told this is due to muscles which have tightened up after a growth spurt. Two of her teachers (royal and dance school) have suggested slightly different exercises. In the first she sits on the floor with her legs out in front of her and attempts to lift her heels off the floor and hold for a few seconds. She does this 3 times. The other exercise takes one leg at a time. In the same seated position, she uses one hand to gently push down on her knee whilst using the other to gently pull her foot towards her so lifting her heel off the floor. She holds it for a slow count of 3 and repeats the exercise on each leg 3 times. Hope they may help and you understand the descriptions. :)

Thank you! I´ll try those too :)

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I don't want to be overly alarmist but I would seriously avoid any exercise that involves pushing the knee down manually. Certainly get some expert advice before you attempt something like this. I'm not a dancer but have 20 years yoga experience and the very thought of pushing down on the knee (rather than straightening the leg by pulling up on the thigh muscles) makes me feel slightly sick....

There are lots of safer ways to stretch hamstrings...

 

Sorry Balletmumfor2, don't want to sound critical- and others do correct me if you think it's ok, but in my experience this is such a major NO I just thought a note of caution should be injected!

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No problems CeliB. It may be she just tests her hand on her knee whilst pulling back gently on her foot. I wasn't there when she was shown the exercise so am just relating what she appears to be doing. Always best to err on the side of caution. I will check with my dd as well to make sure this exercise is safe for her. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. :)

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I am not sure about this but I think there are also some people who because of the shape of their leg and muscle structure etc may always appear to not have quite straightened the knee even though making valiant efforts to do this. The shape of the leg seems more curved behind the knee than in other people.......perhaps the opposite of sway back legs!!

 

So it may be better to get some advice first from a physio........However this is easy to say but for some people unless you have an actual injury or are a young person hoping to possibly make a career out of ballet going to seek the advice from a physio for this may seem over the top and rather expensive!!

 

Sometimes clinics have sort of open days when you can talk with the practitioners for a "taster" session.......may be worth looking out for one of these type of events.

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This has appeared before - perhaps it will be  helpful:

 

 

Knees are very interesting

If you lined everyone up with feet either in parallel or in first position, you would find that everyone is different.

However, you can roughly divide knee construction into two basic types from hype rextended (swayback) to bowed. The hype rextended knee can be seen when the dancer stands in first position and the knees touch but there is a space between the heels. It can also be seen when the dancer stands with feet parallel and the line from the back of the knee is past the back of the heels.

In the bowed knee the heels touch while there is a space between the knees. This can also be seen when the dancer stands in parallel and the bow of open space is seen between the knees.

These two basic constructions (hyper extended or bowed) go all the way from a huge space between the heels (severely hyper extended) to a huge gap between the knees while the heels touch (severely bowed).

Most of us are somewhere between these extremes.

The severely swaybacked knee offers many problems and is a weak construction. If it is severe enough the dance student - even though well taught - will have increasing difficulty in controlling the muscles of the leg. In the more moderately hyper extended knee construction the dance student learns never NEVER to push back into the knee to straighten it (which in fact over straightens it), but rather to pull up - engage - the muscles of the leg - moving upward into the strength in the core of the body. Learning how to engage these muscles is crucial. The student has to learn how it feels - rather than how it looks.

The swaybacked knee if not used in conjunction with the correct muscles of the leg can throw the dancer off the central line of balance which runs from the foot on the floor (flat, demi or full pointe) through the body. For this reason as well as the dynamics of rotation - it gives the dancer trouble- and looks wobbly and distorted in pirouettes.

For these and other reasons the hyper extended knee is a weaker construction, difficult to learn to use correctly and prone to injury. However, in a moderately hyper extended knee which is correctly engaged - it is a beautiful line and compliments (and complements) a well arched foot.

On the other side of the equation, the severely bowed knee is almost impossible to work with. No matter how the dance student tries - it will never look straight though all the muscles are engaged. It, too, throws the central line off balance. It will affect pointe work buy not allowing the dance student to come fully onto the platform of the shoe - the knee will always look and be bent.

However, if the knee is slightly bowed, with only a minimal gap between the knees in first position while the heels are touching - this need not be a career ender. It is a strong construction, seldom gives problems and the student can be taught to minimize the look of the knee not looking entirely straight. When I stood in first position with heels touching there was a one inch gap between my knees. This gave me a strong construction and I never had knee problems. I learned how to minimize its look and my knees in my pictures look straight. Of course, one inch is a minimal problem - so I was lucky.

As for the often asked question: "Is it possible to train your knees over time to stretch out in this way? "

To the extent that the student can be taught how to work with a moderately swaybacked knee or a moderately bowed knee - one cannot change the actual construction of the bones of the leg or how the joint of the knee is put together. The knee is not a ball and socket joint - it is a hinge. It is meant to have a large range of motion and is weight bearing. For these three reasons (type of joint, motion, weight bearing), it is fairly vulnerable.

I have seen and heard of some absolutely horrific attempts to alter the shape and line of the knees to suit an artificial notion of how it should look to accommodate ballet. Any attempt to alter the knee joint itself - is a prescription for disaster. You can't alter bones. You can learn to use a moderately hyper extended knee with the correct usage of the supporting muscles but you can't change the bones or the joint. The same is true for a bowed knee - you can't change the shape of the bones or the construction of the joint.

I remember one teacher who looked at that gap of one inch between my knees in first position and swore she would get my knees to touch - I ran from that teacher. Years later I had a conversation with an experienced physical therapist who told me of the many patients she had who had suffered injury from just such circumstances - someone trying to straighten a knee which is naturally bowed.

I am purposely not describing the various tortuous (abusive, really) attempts to alter knees - I don't want to aid or abet anyone who wants to do this who may be reading this board. In addition, when one considers that this is done to young people who need to walk for many years - long after their dance days are over - makes me want to weep.

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This has appeared before - perhaps it will be  helpful:

 

 

Knees are very interesting

 

If you lined everyone up with feet either in parallel or in first position, you would find that everyone is different.

 

However, you can roughly divide knee construction into two basic types from hype rextended (swayback) to bowed. The hype rextended knee can be seen when the dancer stands in first position and the knees touch but there is a space between the heels. It can also be seen when the dancer stands with feet parallel and the line from the back of the knee is past the back of the heels.

 

In the bowed knee the heels touch while there is a space between the knees. This can also be seen when the dancer stands in parallel and the bow of open space is seen between the knees.

 

These two basic constructions (hyper extended or bowed) go all the way from a huge space between the heels (severely hyper extended) to a huge gap between the knees while the heels touch (severely bowed).

 

Most of us are somewhere between these extremes.

 

The severely swaybacked knee offers many problems and is a weak construction. If it is severe enough the dance student - even though well taught - will have increasing difficulty in controlling the muscles of the leg. In the more moderately hyper extended knee construction the dance student learns never NEVER to push back into the knee to straighten it (which in fact over straightens it), but rather to pull up - engage - the muscles of the leg - moving upward into the strength in the core of the body. Learning how to engage these muscles is crucial. The student has to learn how it feels - rather than how it looks.

 

The swaybacked knee if not used in conjunction with the correct muscles of the leg can throw the dancer off the central line of balance which runs from the foot on the floor (flat, demi or full pointe) through the body. For this reason as well as the dynamics of rotation - it gives the dancer trouble- and looks wobbly and distorted in pirouettes.

 

For these and other reasons the hyper extended knee is a weaker construction, difficult to learn to use correctly and prone to injury. However, in a moderately hyper extended knee which is correctly engaged - it is a beautiful line and compliments (and complements) a well arched foot.

 

On the other side of the equation, the severely bowed knee is almost impossible to work with. No matter how the dance student tries - it will never look straight though all the muscles are engaged. It, too, throws the central line off balance. It will affect pointe work buy not allowing the dance student to come fully onto the platform of the shoe - the knee will always look and be bent.

 

However, if the knee is slightly bowed, with only a minimal gap between the knees in first position while the heels are touching - this need not be a career ender. It is a strong construction, seldom gives problems and the student can be taught to minimize the look of the knee not looking entirely straight. When I stood in first position with heels touching there was a one inch gap between my knees. This gave me a strong construction and I never had knee problems. I learned how to minimize its look and my knees in my pictures look straight. Of course, one inch is a minimal problem - so I was lucky.

 

As for the often asked question: "Is it possible to train your knees over time to stretch out in this way? "

 

To the extent that the student can be taught how to work with a moderately swaybacked knee or a moderately bowed knee - one cannot change the actual construction of the bones of the leg or how the joint of the knee is put together. The knee is not a ball and socket joint - it is a hinge. It is meant to have a large range of motion and is weight bearing. For these three reasons (type of joint, motion, weight bearing), it is fairly vulnerable.

 

I have seen and heard of some absolutely horrific attempts to alter the shape and line of the knees to suit an artificial notion of how it should look to accommodate ballet. Any attempt to alter the knee joint itself - is a prescription for disaster. You can't alter bones. You can learn to use a moderately hyper extended knee with the correct usage of the supporting muscles but you can't change the bones or the joint. The same is true for a bowed knee - you can't change the shape of the bones or the construction of the joint.

 

I remember one teacher who looked at that gap of one inch between my knees in first position and swore she would get my knees to touch - I ran from that teacher. Years later I had a conversation with an experienced physical therapist who told me of the many patients she had who had suffered injury from just such circumstances - someone trying to straighten a knee which is naturally bowed.

 

I am purposely not describing the various tortuous (abusive, really) attempts to alter knees - I don't want to aid or abet anyone who wants to do this who may be reading this board. In addition, when one considers that this is done to young people who need to walk for many years - long after their dance days are over - makes me want to weep.

Thank you! I found this very interesting. Yes, of course before I do any exercise or technique, I `m going to ask a specialist. I have already been injured for doing things I was not supposed to do, so I ve learnt the lesson haha :)

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I am not sure about this but I think there are also some people who because of the shape of their leg and muscle structure etc may always appear to not have quite straightened the knee even though making valiant efforts to do this. The shape of the leg seems more curved behind the knee than in other people.......perhaps the opposite of sway back legs!!

 

So it may be better to get some advice first from a physio........However this is easy to say but for some people unless you have an actual injury or are a young person hoping to possibly make a career out of ballet going to seek the advice from a physio for this may seem over the top and rather expensive!!

 

Sometimes clinics have sort of open days when you can talk with the practitioners for a "taster" session.......may be worth looking out for one of these type of events.

Thank you :)

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Perhaps the best thing to do first of all is to see a specialist dance physio, as they will be able to assess whether this is down to tightness at the back of the legs, or the construction and shape of the joint. Then, depending on what they find, they will be able to advise on exercises which will allow you to develop the fullest range of movement available to you.

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Like others say physio is best to help with this

However I know a girl who has the same problem and was given an exercise where you sit on the floor with your feet up on a sofa or a chair or even better something smaller(closer to the ground) and using your muscles pushing your legs down. But this has to be done very gently without pressing on your knees (this is very dangerous).

Remember that it will take time to Improve your legs so don't loose hope or try too hard or too much straight away.

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