Highland dance exercises
Some suggested exercises. These suggestions have been collated from the
highland-dance mailing list
NB All information in here should be treated as a friend's
suggestion - ie while we believe the information to be mainly correct, you
should apply common sense about following it. If it hurts, if it looks wrong
for you, don't do it*.
- [Posted by Justine Griffith]
Have them hop for a 6 step fling holding onto a barre. Don't worry about WF,
just turn SF out, up on ball, and elevate. 7 hops and a spring.
Then, almost straight away have them come to the centre and do the same thing.
Then at the end, another 1/2 minute break, and a proper 6 step Fling.
- [Posted by Emily Murer]
You can try the froggy-sit. I find it quite comfortable, and
it stretches your hips out well. Lie on your tummy, bend your
knees, and put the soles of your feet together. Then press down
your knees and feet against the floor without letting your hips
come off the ground. It's helpful to have someone spot you at
first so they can put (gentle) pressure on your feet and/or hips,
whichever one is popping up.
Also, try sitting in the splits (or as close as you can get) and
then stretch forward, trying to lie your tummy on the floor.
That one just sounds painful, doesn't it? Don't try and stretch
too much at one time - turnout is one of those things that comes
gradually. If you force it, or turnout from your knees instead
of your hips, you could end up really hurting yourself.
- [Posted by Marnie]
I tell my dancers to work on turn out by imagining they are face to face
with a wall and only the insides of their knees can touch the wall. (An
extreme idea, but it works for these ones!) Also, sleeping on the tummy if
you can with legs and feet in first position.
- [Posted by Debbi Rummery]
I have a turn-out trick - but I usually make sure I have understanding
parents before I suggest it.
When sitting at the table for dinner etc, and you know how kids wind their
legs around the legs of the chair and the parents then tell the kids to sit
on the chair properly? - well, that's my trick.
I hesitate to think how it would look if someone ducked under the table -
but, if you do that and then press back using the muscles it is a rather
good exercise that you can do that takes no more time than eating your
dinner. At each meal you can gradually extend your legs until you have the
turnout you want, and it can also be an exercise you can do to promote turnout.
Good turnout takes time to develop - because not many people have a natural
turnout. Don't try to hurry things along as that usually results in injury.
Many years ago I heard the proverb "Hasten Slowly" which seemed to me to be
quite stupid - but, over the years I have learnt the meaning of that.
- [Posted by Emily Murer]
I learned a really strange trick regarding turns last week. It
helped me, but I don't know if it will help anyone else. I tend
to pull my upper body up and back, and so my teacher figured out
that if I lean forward while I turn then I don't get off balance.
Plus, it looks like I'm pulling straight up, even though I feel
like I'm bowing while I turn!
- [Posted by Marnie]
I try to show the dancers a spot on the floor and imagine doing
the turn on a dime.
For the upper body:
"I have major problems with my upper body and would appreciate any
suggestions regarding this. All and any answers are welcome, b/c it
drives me crazy, and I can't seem to fix it. Two major and possible
related problems are:
1) My hips, particularly my right one, always pop up when I take my
foot to 3rd aerial or thereabouts. This then sets my whole upper body
wiggling, particularly in backsteps or high-cuts when I'm changing
feet a lot. I can see it in the mirror, but I can't find the muscles
to pull them down.
2) I can't seem to use my turnout muscles in 3rd aerial or thereabouts
without tightening the muscles in my supporting knee. This makes
elevation really difficult, so I usually cheat, and only go out to 70
degrees or so, which I can achieve without using muscles. However, I
know I should go out to 90, but my knee tightens every time, even if
I do it lying on the ground or in the air.
If anyone has any suggestions regarding these or any other ideas for the
upper body, particularly in relation to up and down hip wiggling, I
would really appreciate it."
- [Posted by Debbi Rummery]
I don't have a sure fire way to fix your problem. The good thing is that you
know what is wrong. I had a dancer with the opposite problem - she used to
'sink' into 2nd position and she used the following exercise in reverse - ie
- when her 1st position felt pressure she knew she was O.K.
Practice in front of the mirror, 2nd, 3rd rear aer, 2nd, 3rd aer, using
alternate feet and with arms in 1st. The arms should recognise the movement
of the hips and, with lots of practise, you may be able to correct the hip
alignment. It may be a case of holding/pushing down the arm in 1st pos while
the leg is raised until you get the hang of it and then adjusting the
pressure of the arms until the leg is right.
- [Posted by Bill Weaver]
It's very difficult to tell what is wrong without actually seeing a
person dance. Having said that, your explanation was so good that I'm
going to take a stab at it. Actually I think the 2 problems may be
linked. In regard to your hip raising up. One of the major stabilizers
of the hip, but certainly not the only one, is called the gluteus
medius. It sounds to me as though you are pulling too hard with this
muscle whenever you are shedding, or whatever. This muscle is found on
the outside edge of your hip. To figure out what this muscle does,
stand in front of a dance bar or chair and hold on for balance with
equal weight on both feet. Keeping your knees together, lift your right
foot off of the ground and don't let your hips tilt. Now let your right
hip drop down. By doing this, you are relaxing the LEFT gluteus
medius. Now try to hike your RIGHT hip up. By doing this you are now
contracting your LEFT gluteus medius. I would suggest you stand on one
foot and practice lowering and raising the opposite hip to get a feel
for how to control this muscle. Basically, you need to maintain some
contraction of this muscle, but only enough to keep your hips parallel.
In my experience, I have found that, almost without exception, dancers
tend to under use this muscle. This results in the working hip
dropping, usually on each landing from a hop or spring. In your case,
it sound as though you are the exception to the rule and are over using
the muscle. This may not help with your body as there are many factors
involved with "wiggly" bodies.
For high cuts:
- [Posted by Cathie Gibbs]
The first thing to remember is that the more you practice the better.
Working to improve leaps is the best place to start.
- assemble, change, leap, leap -repeat 8x-
- assemble, leap, high cut, high cut -repeat 8x-remember to keep your
upper body still when you high cut, don't lean-
- stand with work foot as for a high cut, hop taking the hoping foot out
toward 2nd, the working foot isn't important here -do 3x on one foot then
change with a leap on the 4th-
- do 100 highcuts a day is always good. Yes 100.
"Any tips\hints for making split highcuts easier?"
- [Posted by MaryBeth Miller-Klein]
I should mention:
- Be sure your regular highcuts are very good before attemping these. If you
are unable to control the beating of your highcut...it will only get worse
with extensions. Each beat should be a controlled movement, not a rebound.
- Holding on: practice leaping and landing on one foot taking working foot
to 3rd rear aerial. Control this leg coming in. Glue it on to the leg!
(forget the beat right now...just, "leap-hold"
- Then Holding on: Practice hoping and executing an extension HC with one
foot only. Work slowly so you can control the beat. (hop, leap, hit/hold,
beat) Do 8 with R leg and then same thing with L leg. *This is a great time
to be working on getting your supporting leg as high as the working leg in the
- Then Holding On; Practice extension HC with controlled beat
One of the biggest problems when starting these is that dancers tend to extend
the working leg first to prepare and extend for the leap. When working on
these... think of your supporting leg being the only leg to leap. Your working
leg will naturally go out to 2nd aerial. If you think too much about the
working leg extending this leads to poor timing and uneven leaps.
Another thing.... have patience! These take a long time.
- [Posted by Bill Weaver]
The way athletes build their strength and endurance is by employing the
"overload" principle. For a muscle to increase it's present strength
level, one must force the muscle to do more than it is used to doing.
One way is to practice doing 8 step Flings, 4 & 2 Swords, etc. Another
method of employing the overload principle is by doing interval
training. To do this, you may still only need to do the number of steps
you normally do, i.e. a beginner or novice would only do 4 step Flings.
The difference is the number of Flings you do and the amount of rest
between each Fling. This is based on heart rates during the dance vs.
heart rate after a given amount of rest. After the heart rate drops
down to a specified rate, you immediately do the dance again. You would
repeat this upwards of 6 times. For a Fling, this may take 20 minutes
or less to get through. These types of training programs are best done
in what would be considered the "off" season or the "pre" season as this
is the time when one should work to improve ones physical condition. The
time during the actual competitive season is where we should strive to
maintain the level of fitness we achieved during the off and pre
seasons. A person can "maintain" his or her conditioning easily by
performing a program similar to that used in the pre season as little as
one day per week. It's important to note that doing one or two, 8 step
Flings a week is really not enough to experience any gains in strength
or endurance. The same can be said for the interval training method.
Yes, you feel as though you did a heck of a lot of work, and you did,
just not often enough to improve your conditioning. By the way, there
is much more to interval training than what I've explained here, so
please don't try this method until you can speak to someone who is
knowledgeable in the area. I certainly don't want anyone hurting
Treating shin splints
- These exercises were posted to the highland-dance mailing list by
Norah Link in response to a request for exercises which can help
with shin splints.
Well, I'm not an expert, and e-mail is a poor medium to relay exercises (wish I
could recommend a book!), but I'll try to describe some of the exercises / massage
techniques I've learned from my osteopath, yoga instructor ( & massage therapist)
and some things Laura Scott did in warmups. I've seen many variations of these
exercises on my travels, so I hope I'm not just telling you what you already know.
A squash ball rolled under the foot does a great preliminary massage, and is small
enough to get at the small articulations in the foot. Roll it under the heel, the
arch (inside & outside), the ball of the foot and the toes. If it hurts, rub
gently but do rub: this is the tight area that needs help. (Note: if a few days
with the squash ball doesn't help, or if it's not a cramped muscles kind of pain,
seek medical advice.)
With the hands, pull on & separate the toes. Massage through the arch & ball of
the foot so you can move each pair of metatarsals back a forth relative to each
other. Also each metatarsal has articulations you should be able to manipulate
along the length of the foot. Get the top & sides of the ankle (also inner arch
on the side of the foot - a muscle that gets used lots for pointing the foot),
then into the back of the ankle, achilles and calf. Keep breathing deeply as you
massage, and I'm not sure exactly how it works, but the best massages I've
received almost always involve changing the foot position as you massage
(point/flex of foot or toes, and inner/outer rotation). Rule of thumb: if it
feels good, keep doing it. If it hurts like crazy, it may be that it REALLY needs
a massage, or you may want to get some expert advice. If you can't tell, I'd
recommend the latter: at least if they tell you it just needs a good massage, you
know you're heading down a good path. Tight muscles can start pulling things out
of alignment, which causes the muscles to work improperly so they get tighter, and
it goes in a vicious circle.
A good orthotic helps to introduce spaces where you need them & have lost them,
gives support & a bit of massage as you walk. But you can't just keep using the
same orthotic for years: as the problems start to correct themselves, you need to
adjust the orthotic to new needs.
In addition to some of the strengthening exercises that have been mentioned in
previous posts on improving a sickled foot, there are some warmups and stretches
In yoga class, we generally worked the feet while sitting on the floor or lying on
our backs. When lying on our backs, we used progressive pelvic tilts (right up to
the board position) to lenghten the spine and massage the sacral region first,
then worked on extension of the leg from the hip through the heel (with flexed
foot, heel pointing to the ceiling with straight leg, other leg bent & if possible
supported on a bench or bar) to open the hip & knee joints, then worked on
pointing and flexing the foot rolling through the foot (i.e. keeping toes flexed
into the point, then pulling them down last). The heel was stretched throughout,
and the feeling was one of introducing space through the ankle joint & using all
the foot articulations. We also did foot rotations with the leg stretched (this
can also be done with knees bent & both feet up, taking care to keep the weight
over a flat, stretched back). The thing to watch for is that you aren't moving
your legs at all - no rotation from the knees or hips! Think of very loose ankles
& lots of space in the joints. If one foot snaps and the other doesn't, try to
transfer the feeling of what's working in the good foot to the other one.
Other exercises included trying to articulate the toes independently of each
other. I can do my baby toes and big toes, but not the ones in between. It makes
a really nice sequence of stretches, though, to point your big toe while flexing
the others, then vice versa.
In morning warmups, Laura started us out on a chair with our feet flat on the
floor. We started by flexing the toes, then laying them out flat and long. Then
we rolled the feet side to side, trying to get each toe to down in turn. Then we
started to move the feet back to stretch the achilles & alternated this with
rolling through the foot up to the ball & point. All before taking any weight on
the feet! She also used lots of point & flex exercises in warmups & cool-downs to
differentiate between a pointed foot & pointed toes.
For strengthening, I once had a ballet teacher who did really SLOW releves. We
didn't just shoot up onto the balls & stay there for 8 counts: we'd use 8 counts
to go from flat to the ball, and 8 counts to come back down. We usually did them
turned in to make sure we were mainting proper alignment of the foot to the leg.
A series of those and then some plies to stretch out will really work the foot!
Hope this helps.
- [Posted by Bill Weaver]
PREVENTION AND REHABILITATION OF SHIN SPLINTS
Shin splints is a non-specific term for an overuse syndrome affecting
the lower leg. Poorly conditioned and new dancers are especially
susceptible to this condition. Usually shin splint pain is found on
the inside edge of the lower two thirds of the tibia (shin bone). The
pain is commonly attributed to tendonitis of the posterior tibialis
tendon and/or other ankle flexor muscle tendons along the tibia. The
posterior tibialis muscle is the main supporter of the inside arch,
and gets quite a workout in Highland dance. Other conditions that
can elicit pain on the shin area are irritation of the sheath around
the bones, stress fractures and compartment syndrome.
To prevent or reduce the severity of shin splints, we need
have an understanding of the 3 contributing factors so that effective
preventive measures can be included in the dancers' overall training
The next steps in a shin splint prevention program include:
- Biomechanical: Check for excessive foot pronation (rolling
inward while in 1st, for example), excessive turn in and other foot
conditions such as flat feet, fallen arches, excessively high or
- Muscular Strength and Flexibility: Often the Achilles is too
tight as well as being overdeveloped when compared to other muscles
at the front of the lower leg.
- The training program (practice sessions and lessons) may be
designed so that they are exceeding the physical limitations of the
dancer and not allowing him/her to progress at a planned, incremental
- Flexibility exercises to include the low back, hamstrings and
- Strengthening exercises for the quadriceps, hamstrings, abdominals
and anterior muscles of the lower leg.
- Dance on a "giving" surface as much as possible as opposed to cement.
- Use non-weight bearing activities such as biking and swimming in the
overall training program.
- Be sure to use proper methods of pre-practice warm up and
post-practice cool down.
- Be aware of the initial signs of shin splints, i.e. generalized
pain in the lower inside shin after activity and possible pain in the
area of the main arch of the foot.
After diagnosis by a physician, rehabilitation should start
immediately. Modified activity is important. While your dancer is
showing signs of shin splints, take time off from dancing. Stationary
biking and running (dancing) in water are excellent alternatives.
Besides biking and aquatics while not dancing, ice massage, oral
anti-inflammatories (if tolerated) and work on correcting the
biomechanical problems should be done, i.e. excessive rolling of the
feet, too short Achilles tendons.
Once your dancer's symptoms subside and they do start back to dancing,
be sure they start at a level of intensity that is lower
than before their injury. Use slow progressive steps to get them
back to pre-injury levels gradually. For example, if they practiced
1½ hours a day pre-injury, start back at 15 to 20 minutes a day for
a week. If there are no increases in discomfort then increase by 5
minutes a day each week until you reach the level you want. Also,
heat pre-exercise, ice post exercise, stretch (both anterior and
posterior lower leg muscles) and strengthen the muscle groups
mentioned above, but pay close attention to the anterior muscles of
the lower leg.
As is basic to any overuse type injury, the muscles are
unable to handle the stresses placed on them. Although it is a
muscular injury we are discussing here, faulty biomechanical factors
probably play larger role in this problem than, say, dancing one day
on a concrete floor. You may have started feeling the symptoms after
dancing on the concrete, but the problem may ultimately lie in a
biomechanical fault. Before allowing the dancer to return to
competition, the biomechanical and training errors must be corrected.
This point cannot be overemphasized. Without proper corrections,
the chance of re-injury is very high.
- [Posted by MaryBeth Miller-Klein]
"Shin splints is a non-specific term for an overuse syndrome affecting
the lower leg."
I'm so glad you stressed this Bill as an overuse syndrome. So many times
people refer to shin splints as the muscle tearing away from the bone which
only happens in VERY severe cases. Also these severe cases might actually be a
tibia/fibula fracture.. so wise to seek medical advice if serious.
"The next steps in a shin splint prevention program include:
Flexibility exercises to include the low back, hamstrings and
and don't forget the calf muscles. Of course if you're working to stretch the
achilles, you'll be stretching these as well. Highland dancers work so hard
to strengthen the calf, they forget to work the anterior muscles as well.
Interesting Bill should mention the lower back after my posting regarding
Something else that can be useful in addition to Bill's comments...
Ice massage and taking 2 aspirins before work out can be helpful. Do this
15-20 min. before class.
Watch how your student is landing. Are they landing toe-ball or just on the
ball? The stress of pounding on the ball can lead to stress on the anterior
muscles and ball.
And I agree, nothing is better than proper warm up and conditioning.
* In other words - if you follow this advice and get hurt, we're sorry,
and that was most certainly not the intention, but we don't accept any legal
responsibility. Or to put it yet another way: if you feel like suing, don't.
We never forced you to follow this anyway.
Extracted from postings to highland-dance, the highland and scottish step
dance mailing list.
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