It is no surprise that ballet dancers need to be strong and powerful; they are constantly pushing the limits of the human body. The dancers of today need more strength than ever before to perform on par with their peers, but many hesitate to build the required muscle for fear of turning into the next Mr. Universe.
Whether you’re a pre-pro ballerina who needs serious upper body work or a recreational male dancer who wants to add some oomph to his core, this regime of strengthening exercises can—when done consistently—help you achieve your goals without adding bulk.
Follow these exercises for head-to-toe strength!
Core Warm Up
The best way to start your workout is with the Pilates One-Hundreds. It will jump start your circulation and engage the abs.
- Start lying on your back with arms pointing straight up to the ceiling and knees bent like a tabletop.
- Inhale. Then on your exhale, lower your legs to a straightened position at a challenging angle, taking your arms straight down, one inch off the floor at your sides. Your shoulder blades should be lifted; chin slightly tucked.
- Engaging your abs, pulse your arms up and down, lightly tapping the floor.
- Inhale, using short breaths, for five pulses. Then exhale for five. Your arms should tap the floor 100 times total.
Once you’ve finished your one hundreds, curl your knees into your chest and breathe for a minute. Now you can move on to the next ab strengthening exercise which will targeting your entire powerhouse.
Hot Tip: Pump It
If you have an mp3 player or stereo, use it while you work out. Music can take your mind off of the exhaustion you’re feeling and help you keep a consistent rhythm in the exercises.
Straight Leg Lowers
- Start lying on your back, abdominals engaged such that every vertebra of the spine is in contact with the floor.
- Stretch your arms out to the side, extending in a straight line from the shoulders to make a T-shape with your body.
- Pick your legs up and straighten them with feet pointed toward the ceiling.
- Lower your legs for eight slow counts till they’re about one-quarter inch above the floor.
- Raise them back up for eight slow counts.
- Repeat 32 times. Keep your lower back pressed against the floor and abdominals engaged.
Upper Body Power
Female dancers in particular tend to neglect strengthening the upper body (most due to fears of bulking up). These simple exercises can give your balances and turns a huge boost, without added mass. Remember, a beautiful port de bras is a strong one!
This exercise is especially beneficial for dancers, as it targets the muscles in the upper back—the ones that stabilize your pirouettes. It does, however, require a pull-up bar. These can be purchased extremely cheaply at most drug stores or used at a gym.
- Place a sturdy chair, facing you, just beyond your pull-up bar.
- Place your hands on the pull-up bar with palms facing away from you.
- Place your feet on the edge of the chair such that your heels hang off the edge.
- Bend your knees and hang here for a minute to get the feel of having your weight in your arms.
- Using your arms and back, pull yourself up. If you need to, you can use your feet to boost yourself a bit at the end of the pull up.
- Slowly lower yourself back to the crouch position.
- Repeat eight times.
- Lower yourself into a plank position (also known as a “pushup” position). Make sure your elbows point straight back toward your feet, and that your spine is straight—no arched back!
- Hold this position for two minutes. Keep your muscles tight and engaged, particularly in the abdominal and back region.
- Slowly lower down to the floor.
Lower Body Power
Founder, NYC Ballet
Your lower body is vital in ballet. Improve your strength—from butt to toe—with some simple floor and barre work.
- Stand facing a barre or countertop in first position.
- Do 16 elevés, taking four counts to rise and four to lower. Try and keep your knees touching from start to finish by engaging your quads and pushing your insteps outward.
- Take a few deep pliés to stretch out your Achilles.
- Come into sur le cou-de-pied, standing on your left leg.
- Do eight elevés in this position, then repeat to the right side.
- Repeat eight elevés in first position. Then take a few deep grande pliés to lengthen back out.
- Lie on your back on a flat surface (such as a yoga mat placed over your floor).
- Bend one leg and place your foot flat on a bed or chair.
- Take the other leg straight up, toes pointing to the ceiling. Keep your arms straight, palms on the floor, at your sides. Keep your chin slightly tucked and spine long.
- From this position, raise your pelvis as high off the floor as you can, then lower it.
- Repeat 16 times, then switch legs.
Lengthen & Relax
After you’ve gone through all of these exercises, lengthen your muscles out by taking 10-20 minutes to stretch. Stretch your calves, hamstrings, abdominals and back with the runner’s stretch, splits, cobra pose, and wheel pose from yoga. Your routine should vary depending on what areas of your body are tight.
Remember to do these exercises at least two to three times a week, every week, in order to see results in both your body and your dancing!