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Where to begin - and how to continue


MaRo

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Hi, I am new to this forum, new to stretchtherapy, but not new to stretching at all. I’ve read a lot in the forum and finally registered.

I was labeled “not flexible” as a child. I’m a professional ski instructor and also working as a coach for leisure artistic gymnastics for all ages.

I feel that my inflexiblitiy impacts on my joints and restricts my gymnastics – a problem at 48 years! I always tried every stretching trend – to no results. About three years ago, I started doing “mobility” with the help of a PT, which opened some range for me. At first shutdown last spring, I started yoga-based long passive stretching. It improved my flexibility a bit. Now on next shutdown (gyms closed, skiing closed) I am on a platform. I tried PNF stretching, but I get too sore, I have to add it more carefully.

Screening youtube/vimeo, I found videos by Kit and Olivia and tried “pancake”, hamstrings and piriformis follow-alongs. I like this “exploring” kind of stretching where I recognized the “relaxing into the stretch” which I know from the long passive holds, aspects of my flexibility exercises as well as the PNF concept, here as contract-relax.

I guess I could find useful input for me in stretchtherapy. As much as I love a strict exercise plan (it is so easy when someone just tells me what to do), I completely understand the “open approach” of the stretchtherapy concept.

The biggest problems I have is the “spilitability” of my legs (I don’t need the splits, but more angle eg. in the roundoff). My hips are pretty tight. I can hardly sit straight up in “pancake”. I improved on butterfly, but seem to be on a platform. I work on piriformis (thanks Olivia for the great session on youtube), but I need more variety.

What do you think, is it recommendable, to dive into the “pancake” program? Or what shall I do?

I do work on shoulders, they need work, but there I am not stuck yet.

Every comments are very welcome. I feel a bit alone with all this, my skiing friends don’t care about flexibility and in gymnastics, most of the people are kind of naturally flexible.
Thanks in advance.

Picture: my butterfly progression since may to august, stuck there since

0820.jpg

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Welcome to the forums, MaRo!

First of all, I just want to say great work on that butterfly pose! The first thing I would do is raise your bum onto some kind of platform, bolster, etc. to allow you to really focus on rolling the pelvis forward. I suspect you hit a wall because your body doesn't "understand" how to roll the pelvis and is trying to get more range from the back instead. Raising your bum will also allow you to use gravity in your favor so that you don't have to pull on your feet so hard. Give it a shot and see how it feels.

On 12/30/2020 at 1:58 AM, MaRo said:

Or what shall I do?

Taking everything you've shared into consideration, I would recommend starting off with the ST Starter Course. You've picked up bits and pieces along the way, but you're not really sure how they all fit together or how to implement them effectively. The Starter Course will give you a solid foundation in the ST system (and thus stretching in general), and the follow-along format will satisfy your desire for a set plan while also better preparing you to move on to the more beneficial "open approach" required by the Mastery courses. It will also cover the whole body, so you can get to know your body better and find out if you have any "blind spots" that you should be working on.

That would be my recommendation based on what you've written. Of course, there is no one right answer. There are many paths, and the most important thing is to choose one that you can stick with and be consistent.

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Hi Nathan


Thanks so much for your reply

I do the butterfly stretching sitting on a block. The pictures taken are only the progression pictures which I take sitting flat on the floor for comparability.

I will have a look at the starter course. As far as I understood, mostly the principles are explained which I think I have basically understood. Not that I don't think I can learn more about them - I am convinced I would learn! You´re certainly right that there is not one correct answer ore guideline about how to work or which program to pick, it is just that it can be very helpful reading others' thoughts. I agree that consistency is important, this is why I don't just pick "something" because I want to feel on a good path when I stick to something.

 

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Looking at that photo, it seems to me that you are trying to do two different things at once. You are 1. Getting the knees to the floor in the tailor pose (what I call what I guess you are calling the butterfly pose, though with the torso vertical). This is an inner thigh stretch of all the inner thigh muscles. And 2.Leaning forward, which is a different move needing a rotation of the thigh-bone on the pelvis (which is partly a piriformis stretch, though it involves the upper inner thigh muscles as well). I suggest you  do these two aspects in separate stretches before combining them into one pose as in your photo. There are lots of different ways of doing these two different types of stretches, and I suggest you try them. Also, if you want better sideways "splitability" of your legs, you will sooner or later have to try it with your legs straight. I have also found that getting the muscles as tired as possible before stretching lets them stretch easier, and you need to find exercises to  tire the different muscles first (experiment with the moves, and see what you have to do to work the muscles that you feel are limiting you).

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Thanks for your reply, Jim.

In Butterfly, I concentrate on the "leaning forward" and try to just let the knees fall. You're completely right, it is actually stretching in two differen ways.

But I also do a variety of stretches for different parts of my hips:

The work on the knees approaching the ground I do sitting and here I try contract-relax or so said PNF, but I struggle with the amount and rhythm of it. It already got better, though.

I also do "frog" stretching (I don't know if ths expression is common - it is legs angled like in Butterfly ,but lying belly down on the floor) - which I feel does not lead to anything at the moment.

And I do kind of "straddle" stretching, lying on my back, legs up on a wall 90° and let them sink to left and right into a "straddle" position (which I am far away from). Here, I feel some relaxation of the aductors, but my biggest problem is that the knees "fall inwards". I am very thight in the adductors and I don't know where this comes from.

Then, I do pike stretching, just leaning forward with legs straight. Here I got a lot of improvement, I can hold my feet easily now after a couple of minutes. But I feel that I don't work with my pelvis, it "hangs backward".

I also work my piriformis in "Thread the needle", lying and sitting as well as work in pigeon pose. There is still a lot of work to do, but I don't feel lost.
The same for work in a deep lunge position, very hard, but I think I feel how I can keep work on this.

I also do a leaning forward stretch with legs apart, siting elevated, but this is really hard for me. My knees keep falling inwards, I am hardly able to keep legs straight at an about 90° angle. I feel that here I don't get anywhere and I think, here a stretchtherapy approach could help me the most (this is why I thought about the "Master the pancake" serie).

For the problem with the knees falling inward (which I have since childhood, also while walking) I hope I get the chance to work with the approach of "Spiraldynamik", I have a good coach, but I can not geht hold of her at the moment (Corona).

I am not sure about the getting the muscles tired and stretching then. When I go running, I absolutely have to stretch afterwards. My muscles tend to tighten up after this - it is very hard to relax them. For me, not the best moment for stretching, although absolutely necessary.

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Its a difficult region to stretch, and the more different ways you try the better. There are so many different muscles going in so many different directions that no one stretch is most effective for them all. In general, I think its best to use separate stretches that work on the different elements in isolation as much as possible (though because of the large amount of crossover in muscle action, its impossible to isolate completely). In addition, there is a lot of fascia and other connective tissue that can be tight. And it will take time (a long time; years). However I'm a bit puzzled by the remark "When I go running, I absolutely have to stretch afterwards. My muscles tend to tighten up after this - it is very hard to relax them." It is generally found that the best time to stretch is after exercise. Maybe you are going too hard at the stretching, or maybe you are really tight and tighten up further during the exercise. Others will know more about this than I do, and I hope they will comment, because I've not found this situation before.

Also its a good idea to avoid (as much as possible) stretches where you use the arms to pull the torso forward to stretch the legs - because then the legs (strong) will resist a force applied through the spine (weaker; and very vulnerable if damaged). There are stretches that reduce this effect; also doing one leg at a time will halve the force on the spine (though care needs to be taken to maintain the correct direction of the stretch, which will tend to go sideways). If leaning forward against the resistance of the legs, I tell my students to "use the deep muscles in the torso", "think of pulling the points of the hip-bones down towards the thighs", and "stick out the tailbone". I'm not sure what muscles are actually being used, but it makes the action needed, and avoids force on the spine.

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16 hours ago, MaRo said:

As far as I understood, mostly the principles are explained which I think I have basically understood. Not that I don't think I can learn more about them - I am convinced I would learn!

Yes, the program is meant to build a strong foundation while learning about your own body. Anyone can benefit from returning to the basics, but if you feel your foundation is strong enough, then by all means jump into the Mastery series. It's generally recommended to start with Master the Squat. This will lay the foundation for lower-body flexibility. It includes things like the squashed frog stretch you mentioned, as well as piriformis variations, butterfly (diamond) pose, and internal/external rotation work (which is what I believe you are referring to when you talk about the knees "falling inwards"). You can definitely jump straight to Master the Pancake, but the focus will be primarily on adductors with much less emphasis on piriformis, rotation, etc.

13 hours ago, MaRo said:

I am not sure about the getting the muscles tired and stretching then. When I go running, I absolutely have to stretch afterwards. My muscles tend to tighten up after this - it is very hard to relax them.

Jim is right - in general, stretching will be most effective after a good warm-up when the muscles are warm with increased blood flow. A warm environment and clothing can help keep the muscles warm too. Pre-exhaustion as a stretching technique would be more extensive than a warm up and may not necessarily work well for all. You'll have to find your own sweet spot. If you're finding it difficult to stretch following running, then perhaps your running is more taxing than a good warm-up (for you) would be. You could try something like a hot bath following the run to relax and recharge a bit, and then stretch. Experiment and see what works for you.

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Thank you, Nathan, for your input and additional information about the programms.

Adductors are certainly one of my thightest spots - but there is a lot to work on everywhere.

Yes, I agree, that I stretch best when the muscles are warm. Eg I like stretching of the shoulder area most after about an hour of leisure bouldering (means not super though work, just like climbing along). Then the muscles are warm and "used", but not completely tired. But after running, it does not really work for ma to agood benefit.

I'll try Livs "whole body stretching class" on vimeo to learn more about the stretchtherapy and how I feel about my knowledge.

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Hi @Maro

Excellent advice here already. While it may sound silly may I suggest stopping to think of yourself as inflexible? 🙃
Once you let go of that picture in your mind a whole new world opens up. It will also affect the way you stretch and your
ability to let go in stretches. The mind plays a role too in all of this and it is not to be underestimated. Think of yourself
more cat-like. Enjoy the stretches, reach into new territories but never get frustrated when you do not get to a specific
range yet. You will get there!

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Thanks so much for your input, Markus. I think, I have to overcome the thought that I remain inflexible for the rest of my life and that there won*t be ayn progress. Unfortunately, this is what I experienced nearly my whole life so far...

I've tried working on my flexiblity for many years. Normally (if there is no shutdown) I face my limited range of motion every day as I am a coach. I do not sit there and think "oh , poor me, I am so inflexible, how sad", but I face the fact (e.g.) that I can not do a back handspring because it impacts too much on my wirsts because I am not able to open my arm-torso angle enough and bend my wrists enough. It does not help ignoring this, it's potentially dangerous. So I rather face the reality that I need more range of motion, which means I have to improve my flexiblity.

And I do enjoy my stretching, especially now in shutdown again. But to be honest, there has to be some improvement in the long sight at least. All my life long, I have tried all kinds of "stretching" and I never got anywhere with it which is really disappointing, I've nearly given up. As long as I feel some liberation when stretching, I am really, really motivated. Please respect that I am working on my flexiblity already for a long time and that I am certainly not expecting something like a 4-weeks-wonder.

It begun getting better  when I started doing more fascial and flexiblity work and when I started doing really long passive stretches. But slowy, slowly

I did start now with Pancake because I feel that I really need "Hip-Input" . I play around with the different stretches and try to find out how they impact on my body. I mostly did the L-stretches so far. I did the Tailor E-Stretch because I think I have some experience with this position. I did all the tailor session sitting a bit elevated because otherwise I cannot sit with my back straight.

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@MaRo: Don't forget that the relaxation component (stressed in the starter course and the back pain course) is a fundamental part of the system, but we do not explicitly teach it in the mastery series, because we assume that you already know all about that! 

I have written much about this here and elsewhere, and there are many reasons to acquire this habit, but nowhere is more practically useful than when one is trying to become more flexible. There are many things to say about this, but perhaps you could start here:

https://kitlaughlin.com/forums/index.php?/topic/1570-the-secrets-of-stretching/

I should add that Master the squat's many exercises and movements are crucial, too, as very often something seemingly small, but locked, can hold you back with respect to larger muscles (and movements like the pancake!).

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Kit, thanks so much for this input! I will  certainly read this.

I think I know a bit about the relaxation aspect - although I did not learn it as part of the stretchtherapy program which is certainly an enhancement.

Since last may, the biggest part of my stretching program was about relaxing the muscle, relaxing into the stretch. I did it by doing pretty long passive stretches. As I had quite a bit of time (Corona...) I really had time. I was spending around an hour or more per day for stretching which allowed me to learn a lot about my body. I learned to feel how the muscles relax. This was  when I felt I can improve my flexiblity for the first time. It's tiny steps, though... and I feel that I don't want to leave it there. I tried adding PNF, but I can not handle it  good, it gets quickly too intense. So I think Stretchtherapy might lead me the way using contract-relax in a helpful way (beside everything else).

At the moment, when I play around with the pancake stretches, I spend most of the  time remainig at a short part of a certain stretch (eg. one side of wide elephant walk) just trying to relax into it, doing tiny movements (hard to explain). I hope this is a good way approaching it. I am still "feeling into it". And I have to take care not to do too much, not to get too sore and to spend days with low intensity- "not doing days".

As far as I know me, I will get at a point where I feel I can not get any further and then I will go a step back, maybe squat - and later on to expand onto the whole body for which I think I'll go back to the basic programm. Maybe not the best way working with a programm, but one the keeps me motivated.

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I am still exploring new movments... I really have to take care not to get too sore.

Genereally, I don't have big left/right differences in my body (they are everywhere, but not significant), but there is a big difference in the adductors as far as I feel. All right side hip work feels more restricted, but I feel that the tightes part is in the adductors. But there are so many muscles involved in hips, maybe I'm wrong..

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Today, after a series of limbering exercices, I followed again the "Pancake moving sequence" (I love this sequence). Although I don't use a wide straddle - my legs are about 90° apart - I have the problem of my knees falling inward. I have to tense some muscles on the side/back of my thigs to prevent this. I don't know the reason of this. It is difficult to combine the movement of releasing my inner thigh/adductors and holding the knees up (=keeping the knees more or less straight)

Altough there is no big difference in the pancake itself so far there was quite a difference in some side movments today, when I placet the elbow in front of my inner tigh and lent sidewards, other arm above my head. This was surprising and a very nice feeling!

I keep feeling a strain on the inside of the right leg which I got months ago. I guess it is on gracilis, but I am not totally sure. It is a bit like a "wandering strain", it is not always on exactly the same spot. I don't really know how to confront this (I already tried to rest for a couple of weeks but it is still there).

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I tried the straddle  stretches with props. Well, apparingly, my body goes more into the direction of Olivias (less flexible, though). I think it is not useful yet to do any of these stretches as my knees fall completely inwards. It is just not leading me in a good direction. So I wait with them. Instead I work on my hips while seated in a straddle position (a bit like Olivia explains), there I have more contron on my knees.

But I found that the "lying pendulum" is very helpful in the sense of working with the outher tighs against internally rotate knees.

I do half pancake and most of the oter L-exercices quite often. I also do the "loaded tailor" about once a week (my teenage daughter standing on it) which feels really good.

I work on several musclegroup with contract-relax (piriformis, "lying splits" etc.).

When sitting in straddle, again I feel more range to left an right, also bended sidewards. This feels really good.

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Suprise day!

As I did some loaded stretching for the hips yesterday, today I just moved around a bit in this area and concentrated on the shoulder area and spine twisting. Since last may, I work around backbends a bit: opening shoulder angle, arching spine, working wrists in all directions, stretching "front chain", opening hips etc. I do some "flowy" backbending against a wall (high up), lean backwards on my physio ball, work towards camel from kneeling etc. The first good effect this summer was that I can sleep on my tummy again. This was painful for my back before. The opening feeling when leaning back, wheater standing or leaning on the ball, is very, very relaxing and kind of uplifting.

Today I suddenly felt like trying a back bridge. I haven't done this since I was a child. Tried it once a couple of years ago and it just wasn't possible.

And you know what? It worked!

And it was a good feeling, it was not rushed or "extorted", it just worked! I could stay kind of relaxed  a couple of seconds and ease down then. I was able to lift my chest and open the shoulder angle. Shoulders are far from being vertical  above the hands and the knees are bent, but it is still a back bridge which makes me feel really good.

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On 1/22/2021 at 2:40 AM, MaRo said:

I think it is not useful yet to do any of these stretches as my knees fall completely inwards. It is just not leading me in a good direction.

Why do you say that? Some people's knees stay pointing to the ceiling, and some people's knees move perfectly in sync with the feet, which roll with the body and the inside edges lies on the floor in the final position. This is not a problem, just a transition. If your body naturally wants to move this way, let it, and once you are able to be relaxed in the full pancake position, you can work on the 'foot-pointing-up' version. IMHO, one is not better than the other, even if a particular 'look' is favoured in (say) gymnastics or dance. These activities are more about making shapes with the body as much as about function.

Congratulations on Bridge #1, too!

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Thank for this point of view and for the congratulations, too.

I know that in gymnastics, "we" have very clear ideas of how the posture in certain elements has to be. Mostly, there is a reason for this (it is healthy or it allows to develop further from this point), but not always. Sometimes it is also a "it always has been like this". As I am coming from skiing, and especially from the way I recognise, perform and teach skiing, I have sometimes a very different point of view - the way that something we like to achieve (eg a fantastic feeling turn in deep heavy snow) must not look the same for every body (intentionally written as two words). So I totally agree with you - I do not want to achieve a certain look.

But my knees falling inward is something I like to avoid.  My body establishet this movment apparently over years preventing doing movements I am not used to/ I have not been able to perform. The legs are also totally bent then. This "falling inward" has caused some problems: My kees begin to hurt on their inner side when running, and while skiing, I constantly hit my knee with the binding of the other ski and my knee joint is more used on one side than on the other. So this "falling inward" is something I don't  like - it does no good to me. 

At the moment, rather than doing this and not finding a good stretch and maintaining this pattern or holding the knees effortful outwards (which would not be a good stretch, I guess), I prefer doing other stretching exercices. Thankfule, there is a lot in the pancake serie.

I hope this is understandable. It is hard to explain in a foreign language.

 

Before I started working with the pancake program, I took a picture. I was able to sit upright on a cushion, but I could not lean forward at all .So far, I have not felt a lot of progress, but still, I have taken a picture again today-

Surprisingly, there is quite a bit of progress! I am very happy with this!

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@MaRo: it could be a language problem, as you note. Can you post an image of the "knees falling in" so we know what movement/position you are referring to? On the floor, if you can do the movement this way, it is safe because the floor itself stops any knee hyperextension and any tendency to genu valgus ("knock knee"). The latter is why I suggested letting the legs go where they want when you do any of these exercises on the floor while you get the full movement (pancake), because of this natural limiting factor. If you do have a tendency to either of these problems, floor versions are safer than standing versions for the same reason.

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Yes, I will post a foto, thanks for the suggestion! I already did my stretching this morning, so I'll take one tomorrow.
The biggest problem while stretching is that my body inhibits the stretching effect by let the knees fall in - but I guess it is a language problem to describe it correctly.

Today I did mostly half pancake/standing limbering/"slow" moving around in seated straddle. In this position, I found out that I can hold my tighs/knees with my hands and hold them upright/prevent them from falling in. It is not much effort (no dragging), but it allows a 'nice' stretching feeling.

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So, I added two picures of my leg, once standing once sitting. It is pretty difficult to take a picture of myself while in straddle position showing the leg...

Well, this is what my legs do when I go into straddle position: In the region of the adductors, the muscles are really tight (especially gracilis). So instead of stretching these muscles, my legs tend to twist inwards and bend. Meaning: the knee falls inwards while the hips and foot are still pointing forward (standing) / upwards (sitting). My interpretations is that this is "the easy way out" for my body so that there is no stretch on the inner tighs.

I learnd from a "spiral dynamics" therapist that it would be good for me to learn activating the muscles on the outer tighe (in like an upwards-diagonal direction). I have become able to do this, but it is difficult for me doing it while stretching the hips/inner tighs. I am very tense in this region.

Any suggestions are very welcome!

2.jpg

1.jpg

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Thanks you for these images. I think that working on "turnout" will yield massive benefits for you in your pursuit of the pancake (and side splits). 

Some search results: https://kitlaughlin.com/forums/index.php?/search/&q=turnout&quick=1

And if you tighten quadriceps while doing any legs-apart work, the knee will be protected (this will lift the heel off the floor, too).

Having said this, some people's hip joints do allow full side splits with the knees and feet pointing fully forwards (so internally rotated femurs); a quick search of YouTube on "side splits" or "middle splits" will show you what this looks like in the end position. If done on the floor (so the natural valgus, the angle between the lower leg and the thigh is not increased), is safe. Most Asians get into SS this way. But many Europeans will need to externally rotate the femur maximally (so knees actively point up, or even slightly back) to allow the greater trochanter to move back to open the leg angle. This is due to the normal variation in hip structure seen in the population.

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Here's what I am talking about (inside of feet pointing forwards, knees pointing ~45° forwards:

Screen Shot 2021-01-28 at 09.16.03.jpg

That's one way; turnout is the other, and most people will be found between these two positions.

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Thanks very much for the information. To my shame I have to admit that I never thought of different ways of doing sidesplits. In gymnastics, I use to say "kneecaps pointing to the ceiling", but I never got to the bottom of this subject.

I've struggled a lot with the position of my knees, but I never heard the term "turnout" - altough its a logical description.

Yes, I felt that I should work exactly in this direction not only for improving pancake and "splitability", but to improve my leg position in general to keep my knees healthy. The actual position causes also problems while horseriding, I''m pretty "locked" in my hips on a horse. This might be based in this "turnout" subjects..

Thightenin the quadricepts and generally the outside part of my thighs improves the position a lot, not only in straddle. I try to integrate it in my usual movements.

You gave me a lot to think about and thankfully a lot to read about it. Thany you so much for this, I't try to digest it and start working with this theme...

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Yesterday, I spent the whole evening  reading the forum and watching videos about turnout. Why haven't I ever heard this term?

It is possible that this subject is key for some of my hip limitations and the knees falling inwards.
I am able to rotate my leg, but in many everyday (or gymnastics) movements or positions, I don't do it - I have to concentrate on it if I want my leg turned out.
And my range is very limited. I tried doing a plié - which I haven't ever done. My feet are about in a 90° angle which is not spread out wide. Like this, I can lower myself into plié about 4cm? Very little, then my feet move away from the line above the toes, I did not go further. Quite some muscle work is neede for this. But I think that I should be able to develop the muscles (outer tigh) and that this would help me a lot for improving the turnout. I think it will help just doing a plié every once and then.
I also looked up youtube about improving the turnout. Many of the videos are ballet-orientated which provides a good guideline. But for most of them, an more improved flexiblity in other body part is required. I still have to find movments that I can do properly for improving the turnout.

Meanwhile. I have bought Olivias follow-along class about pancake. I like her pace in class. And it is helpful to experience the movments I already know from the master the pancakes series  explaind a bit different.

Thanks again very much, @Kit_L for the "turnout" input!

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