So you do ballet… Perhaps you’ve asked some of these questions:

“What’s the best exercise to increase my turnout range of motion?”

or

“Will training in turned IN positions and in parallel make my turnout worse?”

or

Why can’t I be Svetlana Zakharova????!”

The above are really great questions. Many of us wish we had more turnout, have tried without success to improve it, and have possibly even become injured somewhere along the way.

Turnout is a tricky thing. Despite advancements in the dance sciences there is still no consensus between dance teachers and dance healthcare professionals on how safe and effective it is to attempt improve turnout beyond a certain extent. There will also come a time in your training where you’ll just have to accept the range of motion you were given and move on with life. Sorry, but grinding bone (femur) against bone (acetabulum) doesn’t actually help anything.

And that leaves the other question, “Will training in parallel reduce turnout?”

Short answer: No. 

I wish I could end this post here. But I guess you probably would like an explanation.

First I want to say that I empathize. My turnout is naturally terrible (though within normal ranges for life in general, my hip external rotation is not optimal for classical ballet).

Next, I totally understand the concern that training in parallel could reduce your turnout ROM. This is actually a linear rationalization if you don’t have a good understanding of functional dance anatomy.

Unfortunately, this line of “more is better” thinking doesn’t take into account things like muscle overuse, soft tissue tension-holding patterns, strength imbalances, changes in neuromuscular control, alterations in boney alignment, and injuries. Things are little bit complicated for ballet dancers who dedicate their lives to turnout to the extent that it can kind of screw some joints up.

Working to optimize turnout is like managing a nutrient deficiency. You don’t want to jump to the conclusion that you need more of  a nutrient, megadose without a professional opinion or doing much research, and then somehow expect things to miraculously get better, not worse.

You don’t need to be worried about cross-training in parallel reducing your turnout and, if you dance, you probably need to work on getting more hip internal rotation (turn in) before starting on the quest for maximum hip external rotation. Why? Because if you can’t internally rotate your hips enough, you probably have some other range of motions that are limited too. I would bet money that if you can’t turn-in enough, you probably have trouble getting to neutral spine and pelvis. And by the way, neutral spine is MANDATORY if you are attempting to improve your turnout, as stated HERE on the IADMS website:

The use of core support and an awareness of pelvic alignment are also crucial if turnout is to be fully functional in dynamic dancing. Generally, muscles are at a biomechanical disadvantage in poor alignment; if the pelvis is in anterior tilt (swayback) or posterior tilt (tucked), it may not be possible to use the muscles that contribute to turnout optimally.

Also, in terms of injury prevention (particularly to the hips, back and knees), having enough turn-in is kind of a big deal, as loss of hip internal rotation on one or both legs can increase the likelihood of hip and back injury.

So all that said, I highly recommend doing parallel hip activities like yoga, strength training with weights, and walking around with a more parallel hip alignment (which will feel pigeon-toed, I know).

To boot, going beyond mere parallel by using specific exercises to improve your hip internal rotation is probably the best idea you’ve ever had as a dancer. If you don’t already follow Miguel Aragoncillo’s blog, he is on a roll with his posts on hip internal rotation. I suggest you read THIS, and THIS. They make me so happy.

And if you are one of those people who think that the way to better turnout is by doing MORE things that require turnout, like just doing more ballet classes, and forcing your turnout harder (and possibly from the wrong places), and that dancers shouldn’t cross-train, then I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to fight.

I came across one of such people, who believes in the dance-only-approach, HERE. The author, Mary Fernandez (a ballet teacher), states:

I don’t have anything against pilates or yoga,  just not for classical dancers! The reason for this is that ballet requires turn-out, and those other disciplines actually work against turn-out.

I think it only stands to reason that the classical ballet lesson in and of itself ought to be completely sufficient, completely capable of producing a masterful classical artist. Anything less reveals that the training is inefficient.

Ahhhhhhhh. I’ve had teachers like this. And I disagree completely. It would be great if dance classes alone were sufficient, but unfortunately the research states otherwise.

Many studies such as this one, suggest that methods of supplemental strength training, can reduce injury rates and improve technical performance. It’s just science, guys…

Oh and one more thing: Lifting weights once or twice per week WON’T make you bulk up, if that’s something you’re worried about (many dancers and teachers are). In the picture below you’ll see my client Sam, who is a dancer at Ryerson University, just killing it.

won't bulk you up

She has been training with me for the past 2 years. She squats. She deadlifts (like a champ). She can do excellent push-ups. Does she look particularly bulky? Nope. But her ballet teacher is still scared she’ll instantly hulkify. Don’t hold your breath for that, is all I can say.

Main points to remember:

  • Training in parallel positions won’t worsen your turnout.
  • Training in parallel can help correct muscle imbalances and overuse caused by excessive forcing of turnout.
  • Training to get a better range of motion in hip internal rotation is important and should be assessed before trying to increase hip external rotation.
  • Loss of internal rotation at the hip is correlated to hip and lower back pain.
  • Cross training with yoga and weights will not destroy your dance technique and turnout.
  • Loss of hip internal rotation interferes with your ability to get into neutral pelvis and spine.

Stay tuned for a post in the future that talks about this in more detail, because I swear I could go on and on for days.