I am often asked by my students in class: how can I strengthen my glute muscles or how can I increase my turnout? Dancers rely on the gluteal muscles for turnout, to hold leg extensions and to support and stabilise the pelvis and spine. It is such an important muscle group to keep strong and more strength in this area will help to prevent injury.The gluteal muscles are the largest muscle group in the body and support much of the upper body weight. If these muscles are not strong enough it is likely that back pain will occur or lower body injuries (in the hips, knees, ankles and feet) may start to appear. It can also become more effort to lift and hold the leg, especially in those 2nd position developpes!
The gluteal muscles support the legs when they are in turnout (or first position). The rotation begins from the top of the leg, in the hip socket and the position is held in place by the gluteal muscles. If these muscles are not strong enough and a dancer is not used to working in these turned out positions, pain can start to make an appearance and potentially lead to further injuries.
The gluteal muscles are comprised of 3 muscles, which form ‘the buttock’. The 3 muscles are known as maximus, medius and minimus. The 3 muscles originate from the ilium and sacrum and insert on the femur bone (top of the leg). The maximus gluteal is the largest muscle in the body and potentially the strongest. It helps the hip to extend and supports the upper body. Considering the amount of leg extensions that dancers practice on a regular basis, it becomes increasingly important to keep this area strong. Strength will ensure the glutes are functioning at their fullest potential and help to support your body on an everyday basis in addition to dancing.
How can we strengthen this area? Here are a few simple exercises that you can try out at home to work your glutes!
1. Lie on your stomach with your hands either down by your side or rest your hands on your forehead. Lift your stomach muscles in and pull the shoulders down. Squeeze the glute muscles together and release. Repeat this 20 times. Rest for a moment and then repeat. You can increase the amount of repetitions to suit you. I recommend this 3 times a week.
2. Lie on your back and check your heels are in line with your sitting bones and your upper body is in a straight line. Come up into a bridge – this is where you lift the pelvis off the floor and come up onto your upper back. For an extra challenge you can lift the heels off but this is optional as it challenges the balance and core further. Lift the right leg off the floor and keep the leg bent. Pull the stomach in and squeeze the glute muscles. Drop the pelvis down and lift up and repeat 8 times on the right side. Swap legs and repeat 8 times on the left. Roll down onto your back to rest. Then repeat it all again. Again, you can increase the amount of repetitions to suit you. There shouldn’t be any ‘bad pain’ in the body as you do this exercise only the ‘good pain’ of working the muscles. If ‘bad pain’ occurs, stop instantly.
Come up onto all 4’s and make sure the hands are underneath the shoulders, the knees are underneath the hips and the stomach is pulled in. Raise the right leg and bend at the knee. Keep the leg in parallel and the knee in line with the hip. Drop the knee and raise it again and you will feel the glute muscle working. Repeat it 8 times on the right and then 8 times on the left. Alternate between the legs and repeat as much as suits you. You can build up the repetitions each week that you do it!
Finally, stretch them out!
1. Threading the Needle. Lie on your back and make sure you are in a straight line. Take the right leg across the left. Lift up the left foot and thread you hands through the gap and around the left thigh. Pull the thigh in towards your chest and you will feel a stretch in your glutes. For a more intense stretch, place the right foot nearer your left hip bone. Hold for about 1 minutes and then swap legs.
2. Pigeon pose. This is a more intense version of the previous stretch. Place your right shin at a right angle along your mat and sit over the right leg, dropping the hips down. Make sure your left leg is stretched behind you. You can rest forward and place your forehead on your hands. Hold it for a minute and then swap legs. This is quite an intense stretch and you can lessen it by reducing the angle of the folded leg.
3. Find a surface to hold onto and take the right leg across the left thigh. Try not to rest it on your knee as it will place too much pressure there. Bend the left leg that you are standing on and sit back in the hips. You will feel a very satisfying stretch!
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