Types of Leg ExtensionsIn dance, a leg extension refers to lifting one leg to either the front, side or back. Leg extensions can be performed in ballet, jazz, contemporary, and other styles of dance. In ballet, a slow and controlled leg extension is called a developpe. In jazz, a high kick is a type of leg extension. Of course the goal of performing these moves would be to get your leg as high as possible.
Improving Leg ExtensionAchieving a higher leg extension requires two things: strength and flexibility. A dancer needs to have very flexible hips and legs as well as strong hip and leg muscles.
As every dancer knows, flexibility is extremely important for all types of dance. Every dance move can be improved by increasing your body's overall flexibility. Stretching is the only way to improve your flexibility, however, so you need to be doing it every day.
You need flexible hamstrings in order to straighten your leg when you lift it to the front or to the side. You also need flexible abductors, or upper thighs, in order lift your leg high to the side. Slow, easy stretching seems to be most effective. Concentrate on relaxing into the stretch of the area you are stretching. Stretches for splits are great for increasing flexibility in your legs and hips. A perfect time to stretch is after class, while you are warmed up. Your muscles are most receptive to stretching while they are warm.
Strong quadriceps, the muscles of the front of the thighs, are needed to be able get your leg up to about 90 degrees. The muscles of your back are used to get your leg to go higher. In particular, you need to have a strong iliopsoas, a muscle that connects the spine to the thigh. The iliopsoas is located behind your abdominal muscles and controls the movements of the hip joint.
If you can't seem to get your extension above the 90 degree mark, you most likely need to strengthen your iliopsoas. When performing an extension, pay attention to the muscles of your leg as it begins to extend beyond 90 degrees. Instead of using your quadriceps to continue lifting your leg, try to focus on using the muscles underneath. Your hip flexors will be responsible for any higher movement.
What You Can DoA good exercise to help improve your leg extensions is to place your foot onto a high barre. Using the muscles underneath your leg, or your hip flexor, raise your leg off the barre. Make sure you keep your leg turned out and your supporting leg straight. Visualize the muscles under your hip and spine engaging to lift your leg even higher. Hold your leg for a few seconds, then relax.
Increasing the height of your leg extensions takes time and hard work. Try to push yourself beyond your normal comfort zone to strengthen the muscles that will help you achieve your goals.