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Strengthening the Upper Body in Ballet

Generally, ballerinas are discouraged from using weights to cross train because heavy lifting is often believed to build bulk and tightness in the muscles. But don’t dismiss weighted exercises quite yet. When used correctly, light weights can help you have a gorgeously controlled port de bras without creating bulk.

So pick up your dumbbells and start with this easy and fast workout!  The exercises described below should be performed with five-pound dumbbells. Anything heavier will risk building bulky muscles, while anything less may not give you the workout you need.

Row Up

 The Row Up exercise focuses on creating strength in your shoulders and upper arms: 

  • Start standing, feet hip width apart. Hold the five pound dumbbells are your sides with the backs of your hands facing forward.
  • Lift the dumbbells straight up to the level of your chest, keeping the palms facing towards your body. Your elbows will bend, pointing to the side.
  • Lower back to the starting position.
  • Repeat this exercise 20 times.

Hot Tip: Every Breath You Take

Take deep breaths during each exercise, inhaling as you bring the weight up and exhaling as you bring it back down. By focusing on your breath, you’ll both distract yourself from the intensity of the workout and deliver much needed oxygen to your hard working muscles.

Curl In


This next exercise, the Curl In, focuses on strengthening your biceps:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold the dumbbells with your palms facing forward (the opposite of the last exercise).
  • Slowly curl your arms upward, lifting the dumbbells to the level of your shoulders.
  • Slowly reverse the curl, coming back to your starting position.
  • Repeat this exercise a total of 20 times.

Shrug

Shugs focus on strengthening your shoulders. Make sure to do them slow and steady:

  • Stand with your feet hip width apart and arms relaxed at your sides, holding the dumbbells such that your palms face inward toward your body.
  • Shrug your shoulders up to your ears, hold it for four counts.
  • Slowly release your shoulders.
  • Repeat this exercise a total of 20 times.
Heave Ho

The next exercise, known as the Heave Ho, focuses on strengthening your shoulders:

  • Find a level surface such as a bed or workout bench.
  • Place your left knee and left arm on it, keeping your spine parallel to the bed/bench.
  • Hold the dumbbell in your right arm, straight below the shoulder, with your right leg slightly bent.
  • Lift the dumbbell straight up, such that your hand comes up near your arm pit with the elbow pointing to the side and slightly back.
  • Repeat this exercise a total of 20 times.
  • Switch sides and repeat, holding the weight in your left hand.
 

Fly Away

Fly Aways are an easy way to strengthen your triceps muscles: 

  • Take the same stance as the last exercise with your left arm and leg on the bed/bench and spine parallel.
  • Hold the dumbbell in your right hand, palm facing inward toward your body.
  • Keeping the right arm straight, slowly lift until it is level with your shoulder.
  • Slowly lower the arm back down to the starting position.
  • Repeat this exercise a total of 20 times, breathing deeply and maintaining control.
  • Switch sides and repeat, holding the weight in your left hand.
Hot Tip: Sip Water, Don't Chug!

You should drink water between every exercise. Take moderate, slow sips from your bottle or the water fountain between each set. If you find that drinking water makes you more out of breath, you may be chugging down too much, too fast.

Stretch Out

These five exercises will do wonders for your upper body strength, the endurance of your port de bras, and even your stability in turns. Since the weights are light, you’ll avoid building up heavy, bulky looking muscles, but it is still important to stretch your arms out after the workout.

Simply straighten one arm and pull it across your chest, holding it down with the other to stretch out your biceps and triceps; then switch sides. Finish up by giving yourself a really tight hug to stretch out your upper back.

Getting strong, yet delicate looking arms can be tough for aspiring ballet dancers. But fear not! Check out this guide for simple exercises you can do at home.
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