All About Your Turnout
Whenever I ask students to tell me what they know about their turnout, they often answer with a wishy-washy explanation about random muscles in the backside, or just point to some vague area in the hip. Education is lacking amongst young dancers about what their ‘turnout’ actually is and how to control it. There is so much misinformation about the ways in which (or even if you are able) to increase the amount of rotation you have. Without this knowledge, dancers are at risk of developing severe damage to their hips and other joints by practising unsafe methods of ‘turning out’.
So what is ‘turnout’?
‘Turnout’ is the term used in the dance world to refer to the external rotation of the femoral neck (the area of the femur (thighbone) that connects to the hip) in the hip joint. Dancers often use the term ‘flat turnout’ to describe the desired range of 180 degrees external rotation. The range of rotation is completely individual and varies from person to person.
What limits our turnout?
External rotation of the hip joint is something that every person is born with and along with it, we are born with an individual limitation to our range of rotation. The amount that your hip will naturally externally rotate cannot be increased. However, for dancers with limited rotation - all is not lost! Often a lack of turnout can be partially due to tightness and tension in specific muscles, tendons and ligaments around the hip joint.
How can we reach our full range of turnout?
To be able to utilise your full range of turnout, a mixture of releasing and strengthening the muscles around the hip joint is necessary. Begin by warming up your muscles with at least 1-2 minutes of cardio to promote elasticity in the muscles. Then, using a small ball, you can trigger-point (apply pressure to) any muscles around your hip that may be overworked or tight, which may be reducing your ability to fully turnout to your maximum range.
After releasing the tight muscles, lengthening the muscles that are limiting your range of turnout (often the adductors, glutes and internal rotators) to enable greater flexibility, should assist in increasing mobility and access to your full range of turnout. Stretching of the muscles must only occur when warm and with utmost caution, as too much rigorous stretching can damage ligaments and cause a lack of stability in the hip and lead to serious injury.
After releasing and lengthening these muscles, you should be able to realistically see what your natural range of turnout is. To then allow access to this full range while dancing, strengthening of the weaker muscles around the hip is needed.
What muscles control our turnout?
The external rotator muscles control your turnout. This is a group of muscles including:
Gemellus (superior and inferior)
Obturator (inturnus and externus)
Teachers tend to refer to this muscle group as your ‘deep rotators’ or just your ‘turnout muscles’. The Quadratus Femoris (QF) is a vital muscle for engaging your full range of turnout while dancing, but because this muscle is so small and naturally weak, larger muscles like the Gluteus Maximus and Medias tend to take over and hold unnecessary tension. This is when tightness in the hip can occur. Using the wrong muscles to try and control your turnout (or not attempting to engage any muscles at all!) results in misalignment of the hips, knees and ankles and can cause serious damage to these joints if not corrected.
How can we strengthen our external rotator muscles?
Exercises such as clams (lying on your side with your knees bent, rotating the top leg to open and close) are good for strengthening these muscles - however if not controlled properly, those larger muscles can again try to take over the movement. Therefore, focus is essential to activating and strengthening the QF and other external rotator muscles. Try to simplify exercises at first until active engagement of these specific muscles is achieved, then work on adding resistance (like using a theraband) to build strength.
Working with strength in your full range of turnout not only improves the aesthetic of your movement, but also increases stability in the lower body and legs, and freedom of movement. Therefore, fixing the way you use your rotation could also correct many other aspects of your technique. A dancer who works intelligently and understands their physical limitations will improve far more quickly than a dancer who doesn’t! So get those brains working at home and in class to achieve the best results in your dance practice.
2nd April, 2020