Recently I have been doing some acro with Cat Hamilton, a skilled lady base, acro teacher, and friend from the U.S. She's visiting Bali for a few weeks, and also shooting some content while she is here for a mini-acro-docuseries she is creating (which I will feature in) but more on that later... It's been super fun to share washing machines, play together, and have a different experienced acro person to share this practice with here in Bali.
Whilst sharing some machines with each other, we got on a topic to focus on:
Internal and external rotation of the legs! I was sharing one of my custom machines called "ankle breaker" and she shared a machine she's been practicing called "killer bee". Both of these machines required a lot of internal rotation, and some external rotation too. I am fortunate as a base that I have a good amount of both internal and external rotation. And it really helps a hell of a lot for machines like these. But I didn't always have such good rotation in acro.
Just to break it down in case you have no idea what I'm talking about... Internal rotation is where you turn your toes and leg in - so turning your toes to face towards each other, sometimes called duck feet. External rotation is the opposite, turning your toes and leg outwards so your heels come together, like a Charlie Chaplin or ballet dancers position.
The reason this is necessary as a base in acro is to help increase the rotation, and available movement of the flyer on top of you, especially in spinning washing machines. A classic example is in pickpocket or clumsy pickpocket. If you struggle with either internal or external rotation this machine will be difficult for you to base, and for your flyer to fly on you. And on the topic of flyers, internal and external rotation is not nearly as important, but it is useful to have a good range of motion in these movements for things like side stars, tik toks, and some of the more spinny washing machine.
So let's say I've convinced you that this is an important skill or ability to have, well how do you train it and build it up? That's a great question. In my case, I believe I built a lot of range of motion and mobility for internal and external rotation through my karate practice. We had to hold deep horse stances with toes turned out, we had to pivot, turn and kick with very open and closed hips and internally and externally rotated legs and feet depending on the specific kick. So I think building your strength and mobility in dynamic movements and active positions that work on your internal and external rotation is the way to go. However, that isn't enough. Even with my karate background when I started acro my internal and external rotation sucked. It has taken me time to really build a deep range of internal and external rotation in acro. My suggestion is to always work on it a little bit every time you practice. So in your warm up routines work your rotations. Put a flyer in a side star and work on how far you can rotate them in and out (and do both legs of course haha). Then actually doing a bunch of washing machines that require some rotation will be good for training and building that mobility and motion. The aforementioned pickpocket is great, but even working on simpler things like nunchucks and ballerinas will help too! I personally think just bringing the awareness and giving some attention to trying to improve and increase your rotations will already be a big step to slowly over time building that mobility. Then once you've got a hell of a lot of rotation working, let me know and I'll teach you my near-impossible machine "ankle breaker" ;) haha.