Parallel vs. “Turn Out”/External Rotation
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!***
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