Parallel vs. “Turn Out”/External Rotation

August 14, 2008 at 10:55 pm 6 comments

Thank you, Troy, for requesting a blog on this topic!

When shall we work with parallel legs?  When in External Rotation?

Mr. Pilates intention is that legs are parallel and together in most exercises except when we bend our knees out shoulder width (to the limit of our Box) in which case we are in External Rotation:  Heels together, toes a fist width apart and parallel.

We work Parallel and Together creating a connection from the heels up to the inner thighs to create a core of the legs.  We create a core of the torso with our abdominals and spine, a core of the legs from our heels, up through our inner thighs that leads in to the core of the torso.

At first, it may be difficult to connect the heels with parallel legs.  If it is impossible, we may modify with a tiny bit of external rotation:  Heels together big toe knuckles (bunion knuckle, not the toes) 2 finger widths apart.  NO MORE THAN THAT.

Why no big external rotation or “turn out”? 

-First, let’s not call it “turn out”.  That is a ballet term.  Mr. Pilates was neither a dancer nor did he enjoy what dancers did to his work.  He didn’t like how “dancey” dancers made his workout.  They turned his technique in to a flowery dance.  It’s not a dance.  It’s a flowing workout, but not a dance.  So, let’s call it External Rotation because that’s what it is.  Let’s not use ballet terms in Pilates.

-Next, if you spend your workout in External Rotation all of the time, you make yourself sorely imbalanced.  only ballet dancers live in External Rotation all of the time and the find themselves needing hip and knee replacements.  No other athlete works in this odd rotation.  It is imbalanced.  With that constant External Rotation, you end up tightening your lower back, adding to compression, over work your rotators that are overly developed any way, and ultimately changing the shape of your pelvis…and not for the better.  From the top, your pelvis ought to be an ellipse.  When you rotate all of the time, and probably squeezing your glutes/sitbones, etc., then you change your pelvis to more of a triangle:  wide in the front and narrow in the back.  That compression in the back is the opposite of what we’re working to do in Pilates.  And who wants to be wider in the front? 

Where did this extreme rotation come from?  Well, I remember Romana always telling everyone to rotate as a tool and that eventually everything ought to come to parallel and together.  But then, the truth is, she never reminded anyone to go to parallel and then, over time, I never heard her mention parallel and together any longer.  I think I heard the last of it.  And…Romana and most of her students were/are dancers.  What do dancers know and think is proper alignment?  External Rotation/Turn out. 

Oh!  It suddenly makes sense!  When you don’t know answers to questions, you dig in to your bag of tricks and habits.  External Rotation/Turn Out was an uneducated answer to a question.

Wait!  But don’t we sometimes work in this External Rotation?  Sure!  Because we ought to externally rotate in life!   But…not all of the time.  Just some of the time.  Rarely in our workouts.  We need to work out the smaller muscles.  Isn’t that what we do in Pilates?  Let’s work the Adductors/Inner Thighs! Little muscles that need to balance out the big ones!

So, when do we Externally Rotate? 

1- When knees open the width of the shoulders:  i.e. First Footwork/Toes, Frogs, Pelvic Lift

2 – When we need greater support in standing.  We do “Military Stance”.  Heels together, big toe knuckles a fist width apart.  Some people call this “Pilates Stance”.  Let’s not forget that there are 4 Pilates Stances…so that one is not it!  Military Stance is what Mr. Pilates called it…so we shall, too.  It is a way to increase the surface area under us so we have greater support, yet still keep legs connected (of course, parallel and a fist width apart would be even great surface area, but doesn’t have the heel connection support).

3 – When we need a tool to connect the heels:  Heels together, toes 2 finger widths apart at the big toe knuckles.  And then make sure that you find your way to closing it up over time until you’re parallel and together.

4 – When we need a tool to lengthen the hip forward: i.e. Single Leg Circles, Side Kicks (Front/Back, but only use it for the front portion), Tree.  This little external rotation equivalent to 2 fingertip widths between the big toe knuckles assists a client to reach that side of the pelvis forward to square the box and/or to get out of hip flexors a bit.  Eventually at the solid intermediate level, less rotation, more parallel!

What about this parallel and together?  It’s a false parallel, isn’t it?  Sure.  True parallel has the middle of the heel behind the 2nd toe joint.  We work this false parallel.  And…eventually, after you’ve mastered the heel connection (and I mean master it!), then you connect heels and big toe knuckles strongly!  Yup!

Come take a session with me…take many and see how you grow over time!  As a teacher we must know where we are to be now and where we’re going in the future with our clients!  We mustn’t forget that if we use a tool of rotation, it’s supposed to become parallel at some point!

***As always if, you wish to comment, please do!  I welcome your thoughts!  And if there is something that you’d like me to blog on, please ask!  I’d love to answer your questions or give you my thoughts!  Enjoy!***

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Back to Basics: Honor Every Position…especially the last part! 4 Pilates Stances – Deeper discussion on parallel vs. external rotation

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Courtney Gordon  |  August 19, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Loved this topic! Will you expand on the 4 Pilates Stances a little more when you have a moment. Thanks again for the awesome workout.

  • 2. Troy  |  August 29, 2008 at 5:19 am

    “This little external rotation equivalent to 2 fingertip widths between the big toe knuckles assists a client to reach that side of the pelvis forward to square the box and/or to get out of hip flexors a bit.”

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. The quotation above was particularly interesting to me. Sometimes when I do what you describe, I grip less in my hip flexors and feel things more in the PH. Example, Teaser on the Mat, Reformer, or anywhere else. If I’m in parallel here, quads and hip flexors take over. When I soften and “rotate,” suddenly all those big muscles are deactivated and I feel a greater load in the PH. Not just me — I’ve seen this happen with people I’ve taught, especially men and yes, dancers, all of whom have big whopping leg muscles.

    Another example is the Hundred. To really feel like I have “long, soft legs” I think I have to do the slight turnout. Otherwise it feels like my legs take over.

    What does everyone think about the view that we humans do have a natural turnout? I’ve heard that if you view a skeleton, the feet and legs are naturally in a slight turnout.

  • 3. Shari Berkowitz  |  August 29, 2008 at 3:02 pm


    Yes, we all live in a natural little external rotation (please do not use the term “turn out” it is a ballet term and not appropriate to Pilates). Our Glutes and TFL are rather strong and overbearing and rotate us out a little bit. A little bit, though. They ought to be balanced out by our Adductor Group. We need a little bit of external rotation in our lives. Our gait needs it so we heel strike in the correct place to then roll on to our foot properly. But…but…in Pilates we work the adductor group more that is very easily neglected. We work the core of our bodies: Abdominals, spinal erectors and adductors.

    As for softening your legs and a big of external rotation…that is a great tool until your abdominals get strong enough to have strong straight parallel legs. It takes time to get strong enough abdominals. Yes…that means that you have more work to do in your Primary Powerhouse/Abdominals. And that’s just great! Work that tool and then one day you must discover when you don’t need the tool of softening and external rotation. One day the combination of your abdominals, quads and hip flexors will be in balance.

    I hope that helps!
    – Shari

  • […] Parallel vs. “Turn Out”/External Rotation2008/08/14 […]

  • […] Parallel vs. “Turn Out”/External Rotation2008/08/14 […]

  • 6. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    […] Parallel vs. “Turn Out”/External Rotation2008/08/14 […]


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