In part one of this series we talked about what it means to get on your leg. What factors could be affecting your ability to get there, and the importance of screening movement to identify which requisite components of on-you-leggery you might lack.
If you’ve been struggling with balance for a while and have hit a plateau, practigin the same balances over and over won’t help much if there are fundamental components of your single leg stance that are holding you back.
We talked about mobility– The ability to get into these important pre-requisite ranges of motion passively:
- Hip extension
- Hip adduction
- Hip internal rotation
- Ankle dorsiflexion
- Ankle supination/pronation
- Lumbar flexion
And we also talked about Svetlana Zakharova’s feet and how disgustingly awesome they are.
So anyway, to get that requisite mobility it must mean it’s time to do some stretches and stuff, right? Not exactly. I would actually caution against passive stretching (on it’s own, anyway) as a method to improve mobility.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t believe dancers need to spend extreme amounts of time stretching, but first should identify which particular joints and segments are restricted that could be causing other areas to overwork and make things feel tight. Hence why I mentioned the importance of movement screening in part one.
To boot, sometimes a joint will lose mobility because another area of the body isn’t strong enough to do it’s own job. An example would be someone who has hips that can’t extend all the way, and who also can’t activate her abdominals. Maybe if she could activate her abdominals her hips wouldn’t have to hold so much tone and would finally be able to extend? This is sometimes the case, but not always. And the possibilities are infinite.
For this reason, I’ve put together a short list of exercises and drills that I have found helpful in restoring mobility limitations that relate to getting on your leg, and you’ll notice that none of them are true “stretches”. Rather, these are drills to improve mobility and control in an integrated way.
You’ll notice I’ve included breathing and core exercises for the above stated reason. Sometimes if you lack mobility, it’s simply because you don’t have the permission for it yet.
And please note I’m not implying that you need to do all of these exercises at once. In fact I suggest you don’t. That’s like taking 16 different medications to cure a disease- Maybe you get better after taking all 16, but what if you only needed one of them? Efficiency, people.
So I’d recommend to start with some breathing drills, retest your balance, retest some movements. Did it help anything? Oh, it did? Then add that exercise to your toolbox. Is the exercise hard, frustrating, or tiring? Then it’s probably one you should do more.
So here, go nuts. These my top drills (right now, anyway…) to help you get on your leg:
Deep squat breathing. Breathing is important. Nuff said about that for now. Bulge out the lower back as you inhale. Try to exhale more air out than you think you have. 3:1 exhale to inhale ratio if you can.
Knee to wall ankle mob. Experiment with angles of the foot that feel difficult to get into (pronating vs. supinating) while trying to get the knee as far over the toes as possible.
90/90 Hip lift. A great PRI drill for diaphragmatic breathing, relaxing lower back muscles, activating adductors, getting dorsiflexion, and getting out of fight or flight mode. Try to press the knees up to the ceiling to round out the lower back. Breathing is the key- same deal as the deep squat breathing (3:1 exhale/inhale)
Wall dead-bug. Because core activation is kind of a big deal. Push into the wall with your hands and try to crush down your lower ribs on the floor, spine neutral. Sorry the video below is kind of washed out by the beautiful morning sunlight. Feet are flexed and knees at 90 degrees.
Quadruped hip internal rotation mob. Keep everything neutral and rotate from the top of the hip. Try not to let the ankle flop around, but move in one piece.
Sidelying 90/90 reach to lift-off. In the video you’ll see my buddy David Wu, a movement specialist and overall awesome dude. Here he was doing a guest session with one of my dance clients. I stole this exercise from him and have no idea what he calls it. I like it because it helps improve a lot of ranges of motion at the hips while also addressing stability issues.
You’re trying to reach forward with one hip extended, one flexed, and lift the bottom hip off the floor. Challenges all planes at the hip- Extension/flexion, internal/external rotation, adduction/abduction, and stability from the core and shoulder. Make sure you’re not holding your breath!
Apologies for the less than awesome video quality.
Prone bent knee hip extension: To get pure extension at the hip without letting the lower back crunch up into itself. You’ll see in the video that she isn’t going super high off the floor, and that’s ok with me for now because she’s doing a hell of a lot of work trying to keep her spine stable. This one won’t work for everyone, but for some people it’s money, so use at your own discretion.
Single leg hip bridge: If you have trouble getting all the way up into hip extension with this exericse, then you probably have touble getting there standing on one leg, too. Keeping one leg flexed up to your chest takes away your ability to cheat by arching from the lower back. As you’ll notice, I am not quite getting up there all the way into extension… Work in progress, guys.
Half kneeling halo: Finally taking you up off the floor! To help you work on getting on your leg in a more stable position. The knee that is down on the floor is the supporting leg. Takes the foot and ankle out of the equation so you can really hone that hip extension/adduction in a weight bearing position. Ideally you’ll use a kettlebell, but here she is using a plate, or you could use a dumbbell or any other heavy object that challenges your ability not to face-plant.
Single leg dead lift: Adds the foot and ankle back into the equation. You’ll see that back at the time this video was filmed, I was pretty shaky (and SLDL’s actually hurt my hip, so they weren’t a good exercise for me to do). No judging. Balance is hard…
Single leg anti rotation press in retire: This one is fun. Only for those who are ready for it. You must keep tall (extended) in the front of the supporting hip. Supporting leg straight. Up leg should be at 90 or above. And try not to fall over. And breathe. And smile!
I will often use these exercises in a warm-up, or between sets during the main exercises in a training session, or depending how challenging they are, can be used as main exercises in a session until they aren’t hard anymore.
To summarize: To be on your leg you must be able to achieve the individual requisite components. Practicing balancing more won’t help if there is a fundamental range of motion or motor control issue that needs resolving first. Being on your leg will then become reflexive and awesome.
**P.S. David Wu (who’s coaching my client in one of the above videos) is a super-skilled movement consultant who I’ve watched (and personally experienced!) give dramatic improvements in mobility and function – resulting in smooth, graceful, and happy movement for dance (and life) in as little as one session. I owe a lot of my most recent rehab successes to him and his unique methods.
He’s offering 3 of you awesome Dance Training Project readers a free 20 minute consult near the end of September. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org subject title “DTP reader”, letting him know your biggest challenges training for dance and why it matters to you to improve it.