Updated Improving Extensions

Want to improve your extensions, développés, leg lifts, and more?  Today’s blog post should help you get your legs up while maintaining correct alignment and turnout.

Keep reading if you want to know how to get your legs by your ears during class adagios, and how to do it all with proper placement.


Make sure to change the video quality to 1080p!

A Quick Anatomy Lesson

First of all, let’s clear up one common misconception.  An “extension” in ballet is not an extending of your hip joint, as is commonly assumed.  The term isn’t referring to the anatomical denotation of the movement itself.  If you were describing what an extension really is, you would call it a hip flexion (meaning bending at the hip joint).

To put this into an anatomical context – a doctor would call standing in fifth position a hip extension, and those beautiful ear-high extensions you do during class he would denote as above average hip flexion.

If you look up “muscles to increase hip flexion”you are basically looking up “hip flexors”.  Think about it – hip flexion …hip flexors …hip flexion …you get it.  Taking it further, the most important part of the hip flexor for dancers is the iliopsoas.  The iliopsoas is a long, curvy muscle that connects your torso to each leg.  Note however, that this muscle works very well, but it can’t do all the work.  Your inner thighs are also an important lifter.  And what do you need to use your inner thighs?  Turnout!

Your turnout comes from your quadratus femoris, one of my favorite muscles.  The quadratus femoris rotates so the inner thighs can lift the working leg.

To summarize this movement anatomically, here is the principle of extensions in ballet:

The more you use the quadratus femoris, the more you use your inner thighs, and the less you use your iliopsoas and hip flexors.

A Stabilized Side

Here is an analogy. Let’s say you are a photographer trying to capture a picture of a skateboarder mid-air.  That’s pretty hard, right?  It can’t be blurry, and it has to be taken clearly so that the viewer can see the rest of the image.

If you are moving your camera around and you move quickly and dart side to side to get the best shot, the photo won’t end up clear and focused – it will be blurry and you’ll see the wrong moment.

The stiller the photographer is, the greater things the subject can do.

The same ideas are applied to an extension.  If your supporting side is loose and moving around and not held extremely stable, the working leg won’t be able to go as high. It won’t be as clear and defined (it will be more like a “whack”).  

In this next section, we will talk about stabilizing muscles to support movement.

The number one muscle: the quadratus femoris.  Not a surprise!  This muscle works a A LOT during extensions.  First of all, as we said before, it has to rotate the leg so the inner thigh can lift it.  Two, it has to stabilize the entire supporting side so that the working hip joint is free to move.

This process within the hips is called hip disassociation.  I believe we talked about this in my adagio in center blog post and video, but we didn’t analyse it fully.  Basically, hip disassociation means that the more stable the supporting hip is, the greater the range of motion (ROM) there is in the working hip.  This is obviously a very important concept in extensions.

Remember that that stabilizing muscle that allows for more leg movement is the quadratus femoris.  However, the quadratus femoris on both legs have to work: the working hip rotates as the supporting hip stabilizes.

Another important stabilizing set of muscles are the abdominal.  As the legs are going up by your ears and swinging about, you have to stay stable and square through your torso at the same time.  This comes from your abdominals and obliques.  The three abdominal muscles are:

  • Transversus abdominis
  • Internal/external obliques
  • Rectus abdominis

The function of these muscles in an extension is to stabilize your entire body and intrinsically help lift the leg.  The best way to get this in your head and body is to practice it.

I show you an excellent exercise for the abdominals to help stabilization during extension in the corresponding video.  Make sure you watch it for more valuable advice!

Développés …It’s More Than Extension!

Développé is a tricky movement to understand.  Your leg is beautifully high and you manage to get your foot to your ear, but still your teachers want you to take your time and go through the sur le cou de pied, retiré, attitude… why?

Because it will help improve it!  In fact, each position you pass through during your développé indeed sets you up for the full extension.  The sur le cou de pied establishes the shape of the foot, the retiré the turnout, the attitude the height of the knee, and the extension – finally, the extension!

Yet, the most important part of a développé by far is the attitude.  If you don’t get your knee high and then extend out from there with your upper thigh already at its full height, you are going to have a lot more weight to lift to get to your full extension.

This is kind of tricky to understand, so make sure you watch the video at the beginning of the post as I do a visual demonstration for you.

Thanks for reading today’s post!  Make sure to keep an eye out for my social media posts (@gouletballet on everything!) and bonus posts on this blog.  See ya later!

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