Hey there! It’s me—your deep rotators. We’ve been together a long time, but this one-sided relationship has to change! I hold you, and hold you, and hold you, and then I hear you telling your friends that I’m not giving you enough! I’m sooo tired, and a lot of times I just feel totally shut down, and I know you agree; we just can’t stretch things out any longer!
If this letter could apply to you—here’s some #relationshiphacks for a more loving, supportive connection with your hip socket and deep rotators. Finding proper gluteal activation in vital for all movers, and the deep rotators are part of this gluteal support, whether your dance style utilizes turnout or not. These are the deepest layer of muscles that support the hip joint and provide stability and mobility as they work with all the layers of muscles and fascia in the gluteal region.
I see many dancers that are unable to access the full range of motion for their deep rotators, and are instead forcing turnout with their quadriceps, knees, and ankles. Dancers know this sensation of using the upper thighs like a doorstop to hold more turnout, even though anatomy books state that this is not a function of the quadriceps, dancers are masters of creative compensation patterns, and find ways to “grip” to maintain stability when it is needed.
This approach means dancers are controlling their turnout in a “closed chain” manner by using the floor as resistance to spin leg into external rotation versus finding the muscles at the hip and pelvis to externally rotate the leg. This can result in an isometric contraction of the quadriceps and adductors working to hold the legs in an externally rotated position.
Van Merkensteijn and Quin describe common patterns of compensations:
Their study also focused on injuries for dancers: “Dancers’ injuries most commonly involve the lower extremities and low back and the majority are a result of overuse. Compensations in turnout, specifically, have been identified as one such contributing factor to the high injury rate in dance.”
In addition to the stress on the skeletal and muscular system from forced turnout, the lack of strength can result in a more acute injury for dancers. Grossman, Krasnow and Welsh state, “Dancers, compensating or not, may be unable to control turnout in important movement situations such as landing from a jump.”
Their research also addressed the importance of finding proper pelvic alignment and hip extension.
“Sub-optimal hip extension from tight hip flexors (the pelvis is in anterior tilt, the hip is slightly flexed, and the leg cannot line up with the trunk) creates increased stress on the lumbar spine during certain dance activities. For example, when the dancer’s leg moves to the back (such as tendu battement to the back and in arabesque) and hip extension is restricted, the pelvis is pulled into anterior tilt and the spine hyperextends. The less hip extension a dancer has, the more contribution from the lumbar spine is required for all posterior movements of the femur.” (Grossman, Krasnow, Welsh, 2005)
In addition to pelvic alignment, helping the deep rotators and gluteal region function requires that all layers of tissue (fascia and muscles) can glide and slide properly. The constant, long-term holding in external rotation can result in tight, locked muscles. If you’ve ever carried around a basket or heavy bag on your forearm arm for a long period time (that quick dash to the grocery store that turns into major shopping?) without being able to bend or straighten your elbow, then you know this feeling! That “halfway” contraction of the biceps as you hold the basket is similar to the shortening of the deep rotators during a technique class. The muscles hold as long as they can, but by the time you’ve reached the cat food isle, it’s about done! Repeat this four to six times per week for several hours at a time, and those muscles are really done! If we compare this to the activation of the deep rotators, we can understand what is being asked of them. Most dancers try to fix this tightness by stretching the gluteal region, but a neurally locked muscle is generally unable to lengthen or shorten any further.
Anatomist Andrew Beil explains what happens to tissues when they are not being taken through their full range of motion. “A muscle serving as a neutralizer, fixator, or longstanding postural unit spends a great deal of time isometrically contracted. Even when you are relaxed, its tone can be excessive. This chronic holding pattern not only prevents arteries from delivering fresh blood, but also restricts veins and lymph vessels (which depend on the pumping action of muscle contractions) from fulfilling their tasks.” ( Beil, 2015)
I know many dancers can relate to the “even when relaxed, the tone can be excessive” sensation in the deep rotators, as excessive tone translates into excessive tightness. We can access the glide of the fascial layers and help restore proper fluid dynamics with some targeted release work. Watch the video for exercises to find greater ease in your deep rotators for improved stability and mobility at the hip socket that will result in a loving, supportive relationship for years to come!
Susan Haines is a Dance Kinesiologist based in Bellingham, WA bridging the latest research in fascia, biomechanics, and neuroscience into dance training. Susan is a Level III NeuroKinetic Therapy practitioner; a sophisticated treatment modality that addresses the causes of dysfunctional movement in the motor control center. This work led her to create Dance Conditioning Technique, a unique training system that focuses on foundational strength. She has worked with dancers from American Ballet Theatre, American Repertory Ballet, Ballet Austin, and Oregon Balle Theatre to create conditioning programs for greater ease in turnout, pointe work, and partnering. She has an MFA from UNCG-Greesnboro where she studied with leaders in the field of Somatics and Kinesiology: Dr. Jill Green and B.J. Sullivan. She is a certified Pilates instructor who studied under Carolyn Watson, MS, LaC, Karen Clippinger, and Franklin Method with Eric Franklin and Tom McCook. She is trained in functional movement patterning and taping with Dr. Perry Nickelston and is a certified FMT Mobility Specialist. She is on faculty at Western Washington University teaching contemporary, ballet, jazz, and kinesiology in her Apolla Shocks. She has presented her dance conditioning research at conferences nationwide.
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