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ladder barrel ballet stretches

Ballet Stretches on the Ladder Barrel

exercise tutorials Dec 07, 2021

The story goes like this:

Joseph Pilates's studio was located in the same building as the New York City Ballet. Some of the dancers decided to train with Joe. Dancers love to stretch, so they supposedly came into the studio and threw their legs up on the High Barrel, like they would on a ballet bar. 

This scenario seems highly likely to me. So, does that mean that not Joe, but his students "invented" this series of exercises? 🤔

Either way, many people - especially non-dancers - can benefit from more leg and hip flexibility. 

There are three things I like about the exercises of the Leg Stretch Series on the Ladder Barrel:

  1. They are easy to instruct. Since these are isometric positions, there aren't as many details to remember.  This makes cueing much easier.  
  2. They are safe to practice on your own. The Ladder Barrel does not have any springs or moving parts that could hurt my student. When it gets busy in the studio, and I need another minute or two with a client then I can ask my next student to practice some of the stretches on the Ladder Barrel by herself until I can officially start her lesson. Why wait around, when you can do something good for your body? 
  3. They are easy to replicate at home. I like to give my students at least 2 or 3 exercises as homework so they speed up their progress outside of our sessions. Instead of the Ladder Barrel, place your foot on the arm rest of your couch or chair, or any other object at an appropriate height. (For some people the barrel might actually be too high, so the homework version will be perfect.)

 

Related:
An Ode To The Ladder Barrel

 

Increase The Duration By 30 Seconds Each Time You Practice

For isometric stretches like these to have long-term effects, you must hold them for a loooong time. The popular recommendation of 30 to 60 seconds is not nearly long enough to see lasting changes. Sure, start by holding the position for one minute and each time you practice, try to increase the duration by 30 seconds at an intensity level of 6-8 (on a scale of 1 to 10). You'll feel more sensation or less sensation over time.

If the intensity increases - choose an easier variation such as standing on a box - but keep the duration the same. 

If the intensity decreases, deepen the stretch (see suggestions for each exercise below) for the remainder of the duration.

All right.

Let's look at each of the stretches in a bit more detail:

 

Hamstring Stretch on the Ladder Barrel

As the name says, this exercise lengthens your hamstrings (the muscles running down the back of your thigh.)

To increase intensity,

  • bend your standing leg,
  • pull your toes back to your shin (ankle dorsiflexion),
  • rotate your leg to a position where you feel more stretch (try several angles until you find one that hurts better),
  • fully straighten your lifted leg,
  • reach the sit bone of your lifted leg to the heel of your standing leg,
  • reach your pelvis back (on the side of the lifted leg),
  • rotate your torso towards your lifted leg.

To decrease intensity,  

  • stand on a block,
  • bend your lifted leg,
  • point your toes forward.

 

 

Figure 4 Stretch on the Ladder Barrel

This position is also called Glute Stretch or Piriformis Stretch, that's because it lengthens your glutes and your piriformis muscle (one of the deep six hip rotators.)

The piriformis has a really confusing action. It's an external hip rotator. BUT, when you flex the hip more than 90 degrees, it turns into an internal hip rotator muscle. Whaaaaaat? 🤯

Crazy, right? 

To increase intensity,

  • bend your standing leg,
  • flex your ankle (dorsiflexion); this also stabilizes and protects your knee,
  • cross your lifted leg further over the midline,
  • rotate your torso towards your lifted leg.

To decrease intensity,  

  • stand on a block,
  • let the foot and shin of your lifted leg slide down the outside downslope of the barrel, which will open the knee range and decrease lateral hip rotation.

 

 

Adductor Stretch on the Ladder Barrel

This position lengthens your adductors (the muscles on your inner thigh).

To increase intensity,

  • bend your standing leg,
  • flex your ankle (dorsiflexion),
  • slide your lifted leg further back,
  • reach the sit bone of your lifted leg towards the heel of your standing leg (as a result, your hip will drop),
  • rotate your whole body towards the ladder, 
  • lift the arm on the ladder side and bend your spine over the lifted leg (lateral flexion),

To decrease intensity,  

  • stand on a block,
  • point the toes of your lifted leg away,
  • slide the lifted leg further forward.

 

 

Thigh Stretch on the Ladder Barrel

This position lengthens your quadriceps and your hip flexor muscles on the front of your thigh. 

To increase intensity,

  • bend your standing leg,
  • press your back foot against the barrel,
  • press your pelvis forward,
  • reach your tailbone (coccyx) down,
  • lift the arm on the bent leg side.

To decrease intensity,  

  • stand on a block,
  • bend forward over the ladder.

 

 

  

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