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How to Improve Ballet Leg Extensions

In the ballet world, leg extension refers to lifting your leg in front, to the side or behind your body. Professional ballerinas often extend their leg beyond 90 degrees, which can be quite challenging for less-practiced enthusiasts, according to Richard Giorla, author of “Raise the Barre.” Improving your extension requires consistent practice but takes only a few minutes each day.

  1. Stand in first position with your left hip next to a ballet barre. Place your heels together and engage your seat. Rotate your legs from your hips to your heels, ending with your toes in a wide “V” position. Lightly grasp the barre with your left hand.

  2. Imagine a corset drawing tighter as you lengthen your spine and draw in your abdominal muscles. Float your right leg forward and up, directly in line with your hip. Keep your leg fully extended, even if this means you cannot lift it very high. Lift your leg in 10, 1-inch pulses. After completing your pulses, hold your leg up in a front extension for 60 seconds. Lower your foot to the floor with control.

  3. Slide your right toes along the floor behind your hips, then lift your foot behind you. Pull your navel inward as a counterbalance to your leg movement. Squeeze your seat and maintain your turnout position. Lift your right leg in 10, 1-inch pulses, then hold your leg in back extension for 60 seconds. Lower your leg to first position with control.

  4. Lift your right toes to touch your left ankle, then slide your right foot up your left leg. Allow your thigh to rotate outward as your knee rises up beside you. If your hips shift to the left, lower your leg until you can maintain a stacked posture with your hips directly below your shoulders.

  5. Extend your right leg away and to the side. If you cannot fully extend it, lower the leg a few inches until you can create a long line with your leg. Maintain your stacked posture as you lift your leg in 10 1-inch pulses. After completing your pulses, hold your leg in side extension for 60 seconds, then slide your foot down to the floor.

  6. Align your right hip with the barre and repeat all three exercises with your left leg.


    Intensify these exercises by extending your hold positions for up to 10 minutes.

    Stretch your leg farther by looping a latex band over your foot, recommends the dance website iSport.


    Do not perform your exercises with poor posture. Square your shoulders over your hips and do not jut your hip to the side to assist with balance.

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Things Needed

  • Ballet barre or a sturdy counter

About the Author

Based in Portland, Ore., Christine Binnendyk has written about health topics since 2001. She is the author of the book "Ageless Pilates" and her work has appeared in "SELF" magazine and "Pilates Pro." Binnendyk holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Connecticut and certifications from YogaFit, ACE, IDEA, Oregon School of Massage and the Pilates Studio of New York.

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