Modeled by Brittany Larimer. Emily Giacalone.

Get a Leg Up: Stretches and Strengtheners to Increase Your Extensions

If you're aiming for a higher développé, chances are you might not be working toward it in the most effective way. "Everybody focuses on the splits. That's fine, but there are so many other ways to gain flexibility that don't perhaps overstretch the wrong tissue in your hips," says physical therapist Michelle Rodriguez, founder and director of Manhattan Physio Group.

"Having a higher extension to the front or side not only requires flexibility in your hamstrings and adductors, but it also requires strength to lift the leg and hold it in that position," she continues. When working in arabesque, the mechanics are a bit different: Stretching should focus on opening up the front of the hip and creating length, not compression, in the lumbar spine.


Here, Rodriguez offers safe stretching and strengthening exercises for improving your extensions to the front, side and back. Always make sure you're fully warm before doing any static stretches. If you have a break before développés at the barre, that's the perfect time to incorporate these exercises.

You'll need:

  • strap or resistance band (optional)
  • barre
  • physioball

Devant: Stretch

Lying on your back, hold on to your ankle (or loop a strap around your foot, holding an end in each hand) and extend your right leg toward your chest. Keep your left leg extended on the floor, and try to minimize how much you tuck your pelvis. As you pull your leg closer, your pelvis will move a bit, says Rodriguez, but the straighter you can keep your spine, the purer the stretch you'll get through the hamstring. Hold 60 seconds. Repeat on both legs in slight turnout and parallel.

Devant: Strengthen

Angle into the barre with your right leg placed on it in front of you. Engage your abs and lift the leg a few inches off the barre, without gripping your quad. Hold for 2 counts, slowly control to return. Work up to a hold of 4 to 6 counts.

À La Seconde: Stretch

Lying on your back, reach your right leg front and then carry side, keeping it turned out. (Depending on your flexibility, you can hold on to your ankle or use a band.) Keep the pelvis as level as possible. Hold 60 seconds and repeat on the other leg.

À La Seconde: Strengthen

Face into the barre with your right leg placed on it in à la seconde. Engage your abdominals and think of spiraling the leg to maintain your turnout as you lift it a few inches off the barre. Hold for 2 counts, slowly control to return. Work up to a hold of 4 to 6 counts.

Derrière: Stretch

Kneel on your right knee with your left foot on the floor, slightly in front of your left knee. "Zip up" from pubic bone to belly button, says Rodriguez, to activate your abs. Tighten the right glute and slightly tuck your pelvis to stretch the front of your right hip and thigh. Meanwhile, reach your right arm to fifth, lengthening the torso toward the ceiling. Hold for 60 seconds on each side. If desired, finish the stretch by extending into a slight cambré back, being careful not to compress your lower back.

Derrière: Stretch-and-Strengthen Combo

Face the barre with your right leg in a low arabesque, resting the foot on top of a physioball. With your abs lifted and engaged, roll the ball backwards and plié the supporting leg. Focus on lengthening through the front of your torso and hip, while maintaining space in the lower back. Stay in plié for 2 deep breaths, roll back in and straighten. Repeat 10 times on each leg. To build strength, practice lifting your leg slightly off the ball.

All photos by Emily Giacalone, modeled by Brittany Larimer

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Eighteen-year-old Sarah Patterson (foreground), with her classmates at New Ballet School. She's decided to stay home this summer to take advantage of outdoor, in-person classes. Courtesy New Ballet School.

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Chris Hardy, Courtesy LINES

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CALIFORNIA

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Adult Dance Intensive (virtual only, via Zoom)

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KENTUCKY

Lexington Ballet Adult Ballet Intensive

July 12–16, Lexington

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A group of eight smiling adult ballet students\u2014seven women and one man in the middle\u2014pose in a line and stand on their right leg in tendu crois\u00e9 devant.

A group of dancers pose at a past Lexington Ballet Adult Dance Intensive.

Ayoko Lloyd, Courtesy Lexington Ballet

Louisville Ballet Adult Summer Intensive

May 31–June 4, Louisville

Polish off a glass of sweet tea (or two), and then work up a sweet sweat at Louisville Ballet's Adult Summer Intensive. Geared towards beginning through advanced levels, students ages 18+ can take part in half- or full days of training. Classes offered include technique, pointe and jump strengthening, modern, Pilates and yoga. Students will also perform in a livestreamed performance on the final day.

MASSACHUSETTS

Brookline Ballet School Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

June 23–27, Brookline

The Red Sox and New England Patriots may get a bulk of the glory in Beantown, but the city is also a mecca for ballet. At Brookline Ballet School's Adult Summer Ballet Intensive, students (beginner or intermediate level) will spend three weeknights and two weekend mornings in technique and repertoire classes, wrapping up with an informal performance on Sunday afternoon.

NEW YORK

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June 14–25 and July 12–23

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A group of older adult ballet students in leotards, tights or leggings, stand in two lines with their left foot in B+ position and holding hands, as if rehearsing a ballet.

Kat Wildish (far left) working with adult students at Peridance Capezio Center

Matthew Venanzi, Courtesy Kat Wildish

OHIO

artÉmotion Adult Ballet Summer Workshop

June 14–19, Cleveland

Head to the Buckeye State for a week of training under the tutelage of Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona and principal Rex Tilton. In this Adult Ballet Summer Workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced students will fine-tune their skills in two classes every morning: a 90-minute technique class followed by a one-hour class in one of the following disciplines: pointe/pre-pointe, acting, men's and women's variations, conditioning.

PENNSYLVANIA

Amy Novinski

May 24–28 and June 28–July 2, Philadelphia

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SOUTH CAROLINA

Ballet Academy of Charleston Adult Summer Intensive

July 26–30 and August 2–6, Charleston

Embrace the low-country charm in historic Charleston, where a weeklong Adult Summer Intensive at the Ballet Academy of Charleston invites beginning through advanced students to take classes in technique, stretching/Pilates/yoga, pre-pointe or pointe (for advanced students), variations, jazz, modern, contemporary and choreography. You may choose the half-day or full-day program.

TEXAS

Houston Ballet Adult Intensive

June 1–5, Houston

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UTAH

May 31–June 5, Salt Lake City

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A group of four men in dance practicewear face the right corner of the room and raise their arm as if beckoning someone. Three of the men stand in parallel, which the man in the middle sits in a wheelchair.

A men's class at artÉmotion Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

Logan Sorenson, Courtesy artÉmotion

INTERNATIONAL

The August Ballet Retreat in Leeds

August 28–30, Leeds, UK

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July 2–10, Morlaix, France

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