Turnout is an essential part of classical ballet technique and like many other aspects of technique is worked on every day! You may say it is one of the more difficult qualities to master, considering how unnatural it is to the human body. However, with proper training, care, and repetition, you can be on your way to improving your turnout!
Turnout Safety First
Before starting on some exercises and tips for improving your turnout for ballet, the first thing to remember is always approach turnout from a safe and practical view. This means not forcing turnout, but working on it consistently so that you gradually improve both your look and function. Nothing ever good comes from forcing turnout.
Tip 1: Stretching Your Muscles
It may seem obvious, but stretching your muscles is very important for improving your turn. Besides your skeletal structure, your muscles are one of the most limiting factors for turnout.
Fortunately, unlike your bones, your muscles can be stretched! There are tons of stretches you can do, and some may work better for you than others. Whichever exercise you do, you want to focus on stretching with your legs rotated outwards (turned out!). There are benefits to stretching in parallel (turned in) to target different muscles, but those are for another lesson.
In particular, stretching and sitting in splits can help improve your turnout. This includes both sides and your center split.
Stretch #1: The Gravity Split Stretch
One of the most useful stretches for both your center split and turnout is the gravity split stretch. All you need is a wall! You may have seen some dancers doing this stretch, or maybe that’s you, but here’s some tips to make sure you’re getting the most out of this stretch.
- Don’t worry about how far your legs go down. Dancers can often be self conscious, but fight the urge to move or “cheat” your hips by arching your back or move away from the wall so that your legs go down further just for show.
- Keep your back flat on the floor. Not only does this promote good alignment while stretching, but you’re also working your core a bit.
- Keep your foot perpendicular to the wall. Thinking of this, or keeping your toes and heels in line, helps promote keeping your turnout as you stretch.
- Relax! You get the most out of stretching when you are relaxed and allow your muscles to, well, stretch. This is one of the easiest stretches to relax in because you’re simply letting gravity pull your legs down.
- But then engage! Every couple minutes, try engaging the inside of your legs for 10-15 seconds, lifting them just an inch from where you were stretching. When you relax them again, you may notice your legs move down even further after another minute.
- Persistence. You will want to do this stretch at least once a day for 5-15 minutes.
Stretch #2: The Tube Stretch
Another simple stretch that can help improve your turnout for ballet is stretching your center split using a large stretching band or bike tire tube. You can do this sitting upright but be sure to focus not arching your back and keeping good posture.
Like the gravity stretch, it helps to engage your muscles every few minutes trying to move your legs in just an inch, then relax so your muscles can stretch even further.
Stretch #3: The Frog
The Frog is another popular stretch to gain more flexibility in your hips. However, it’s important to do this stretch correctly: you shouldn’t feel any pain in your knees. Much like the gravity stretch, the point isn’t to “show that you can sit in a frog” but that you’re actually stretching correctly and safely.
- Start by laying on the floor facing down.
- Bend both of your legs at the knees.
- Slowly “walk” your knees to the side.
- Keep your stomach and pelvis on the ground, and your feet will remain in the air.
While you are sitting in “the frog,” you can slowly try to bring each foot closer to the floor by alternating them or at the same time.
Gravity also plays a role here. Again, you should never feel pain or a lot of pressure on your knees. If so, you may not have enough flexibility yet and should try other stretches first.
Tip #2: Strengthening Your Turnout Muscles
Much like getting higher extensions, improving your turnout requires both stretching and strengthening your muscles. Now with a couple stretches under your belt, it’s time to focus on strengthening your leg and buttocks muscles. Here are some simple strength building exercises.
Exercise Band Rotations
This exercise is great for strengthening your leg muscles and all you need is an exercise band.
- Start by sitting upright on the floor with your legs stretched out in front about a foot apart.
- Flex your both feet and wrap your band around one foot and then hook it around the other.
- Engage your muscles and lift your leg that has its foot wrapped just a few inches above the ground.
- Slowly rotate your lifted leg to the outside without your heel moving.
- Keep your leg muscles engaged throughout, maintaining your good posture, and hold for 5 seconds.
- Slowly rotate your leg back in and lower your leg.
- Repeat 10 times from step 3, and then again with the other leg.
As you’re doing this exercise, pay special attention to moving your leg as one unit, without bending your knee or twisting your ankle.
Slow and Fast Tendus
For many, standing in a turned out position becomes easier enough, but maintaining your turnout through movement becomes the next level of focus. This is where simple fast and slow tendus in first and fifth position come to the rescue for any skill level.
Turnout does not improve drastically overnight. You can improve it over time if you consistently and safely work on it with these simple exercises. This way you have much less chance for injury and your technique can adapt at the same time. Overall, you’ll have a much better understanding of not just how to allow your body to have more turn out, but also how to use it!