Higher and more stable relevés are not just about strength or flexibility. What’s the secret behind beautifully high and strong relevés then?
What’s in a relevé?
Your relevés happen at the ankle joint, not at your arch. A high arch looks fantastic and has its value and use, but for higher and stronger relevés it is more important to focus on getting strong and mobile ankles. You will find an exhaustive explanation in this Ask Cathy video: “How to reach my highest relevé (without injuring my foot)?” that I highly recommend you watch.
In relevés, we need to look at the heel bone (the calcaneus), the front of your ankle (the talus) and the shin bone (the tibia).
Your heel bone (the calcaneus) glides up and down while the front of your ankle (the talus) slides in and out under your shin bone (the tibia).
When you pointe your feet, the talus glides out and away from your tibia and you control the heel bone gliding up too much. The reason being that if you push the heel bone up it will constrict tendons and nerves pathways in your ankle. In other words, you will not have as much range and you will most probably feel pain. So yes, the heel bone glides up but what you want to feel is that you’re in control and you almost resist it moving up too much.
In the same fashion, when you flex your feet, your heel bone glides down and away from you while the talus slides in and under your tibia.
To give directions to find height
“Okay, I get it. But how does this information help me get higher relevés?” you might be wondering. Now that you are aware of what happens in your ankles when you rise up in relevés, you also know which directions to give to your calcaneus, talus and tibia to achieve the most range.
Giving directions and visualizing the bones gliding is as important as focusing on your calves. This applies to any movement. For example, to get a deeper plié you might not need to stretch and lengthen your calves and Achilles’ tendon, maybe you need to improve how your tibia and talus articulate.
To summarize, your ankle mobility is much more important than a beautiful arch to get higher relevés.
How do I apply all of this?
Do a couple of pointe and flex movements, focus on feeling your heel bone (calcaneus) and the front of your ankle (talus) gliding as we explained above.
Now practice mindful relevés as you keep giving the same directions to your bones. Notice how the bones move and how the ankles allow you to perform a really high relevé without impingement at the back of your ankle. Try this exercise, the ankle mobility drill, to instantly feel the difference.
Improving your relevés will take some time, but it’s just a matter of consistent practice and you will get there!