The obvious answer is yes. Anyone who tells you otherwise is ridiculous and silly. Everyone goes on and on about if you should hyperextend your knees or if you shouldn’t hyperextend and blah blah blah. The answer is pretty obvious at looking at any ballet photo or video. Now, to be a little more precise, there is a right way, and there is DEFINITELY a wrong way to hyperextend.
The Pros of Hyperextension:
Hyperextension makes for prettier lines
Makes the leg look higher in extensions
More precise shapes.
The Cons of Hyperextension:
Prone to injury in weaker dancers
A smaller center of gravity
So, for a quick look at hyperextension: usually in ballet, when talking about hyperextension it is usually talking about the knees. Hypermobility usually refers to the back. Hyperextension occurs when the knees are pushed too far back, usually from over-stretching of the ligaments. Because of this, the Posterior cruciate ligament is prone to injury. The PCL is the strongest ligament in the knee and is pretty crucial for a ballet dancer. Hyperextension also causes weak external rotator muscles, which can cause rolling and if your are rolling in your foot out of a jump, you can sprain your ankle or hurt your knee. With that being said, anything in ballet can cause an injury.
But, hyperextension is sought after in post preprofessional dancers. Companies and school directors look for potential body types, and hyperextension is one of those things.
If you are gifted with hyperextension, don’t look at it as a curse (trust me, girls would kill to be hyperextended). There are plenty of ways to maintain and control hyperextension. When over stretching, don’t overstretch by putting pressure on your knee. Like putting your leg on a chair. Lay on gymnastic mats or anything lifted 8-12 inches off the floor and stretch on your back. Yes, your arms have to do some of the work, but let gravity take you backward instead of gravity pulling your body weight onto your knees.
Get into pilates twice a week. Whether you are doing it on your own for 45 minutes or getting into mat or reformer classes, pilates will be your maintenance.
At the barre, avoid locking back and shifting into the back of your knee. Keep your weight pressed forward in the balls of your feet and maintain that throughout barre exercises.
Lengthen don’t grip. Hyperextension usually causes dancers to lock back in their legs, causing the quads to grip. If you the weight is shifted properly and the energy is spiraling down through the leg, it maintains the support the knee needs.
There is a point of too much hyperextension, and until you are Misty Copeland or Lia Cirio and have mastered the control of your legs, avoid working in an over extended first position. In fact, avoid it. When you have the hyperextension like these two ladies, you have to become extremely aware of your legs and your rotation.
I’ve also noticed girls with hyperextended legs wear their legs out quicker throughout a class. Work smartly. Be conscious of when you are working, as you must constantly be working on maintaining the tension in your legs and they aren’t just flopping around, and you use your quads to compensate.
Finally, girls with hyperextension usually have a harder time trying to turn. In these situations, don’t hyperextend, even if you feel like your knee is bent. When you hyperextend your standing leg, the bend causes your center of gravity to shift. So, you have to move your pelvis and center of gravity over the arch of your foot. By strengthening this idea, and putting it onto your body will allow for a stronger, more heightened sense of where your center of gravity.
Hope this helps & here are some videos of gorgeous hyperextension of ballet…
Meet Lia Cirio… & her body
Misty Copeland…Under Armor
Sylvie Guillem, Queen of legs.
Svetlana Zakharova, Princess of Legs4Days
One response to “Should You Hyperextend?”
I’m a dancer and I know the struggle of having somewhat hyperextended knees. Strengthening has really helped and now I feel very strong. Well said!