Image: Puma Illustrations: Marelize Raubenheimer
Ballet isn’t just for the stage. Use these ballerina training tips to move better, avoid injury, plus get fitter and stronger.
Ever watched a ballerina in action and thought, how does she move like that? Bet you didn’t expect this answer: brute strength and endurance. Sure, ballerinas don’t spend hours hoisting barbells over their heads for time, but that famous ballerina grace comes from next-level muscle control. Every seemingly effortless, gravity-defying leap is an exercise in body awareness. That unwavering balance is the product of razor-sharp focus. And those pliées on pointe? Athletic muscle — all the way down to the tips of their toes.
Want in on that action? Of course you do! We spent a day with the New York City Ballet for the launch of Puma’s ballet-inspired Swan Pack collection. These are their secrets…
Balance like a ninja
When last did you try standing on one leg – oh, say, tree pose in yoga class — and find yourself flailing around like one of those inflatable men outside a car dealership? (Namastay on your own mat, lady). Chances are you blamed your bad ears or weak core. Good news: There’s a ballet hack for that! “Balance is focus plus placement,” says NYCB principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht.
Try this: Find a spot and look at it. Keeping your focus on that spot, raise one leg. Easy? Try the same thing on a Bosu ball, dome side up. Still easy? Turn the Bosu around. Still easy? Swap legs. Game changer, right?
Jump like gravity has no hold on you
Jumping can be terrifying. Whether you’re doing it onto a box or across the floor, there’s always that niggling voice reminding you that you could fall — which would be both cripplingly embarrassing and potentially painful. “If you’re tall, you won’t fall,” says Ulbricht. And no, he’s not referring to provincial netball players, but rather about standing up straight, keeping your tummy tight and pulling your waist out of your hips to lengthen your spine. “Stay tall and long to maintain balance,” says Ulbricht. And as you land, “bend your knees to absorb shock and land softly.”
Try this: Stand tall, with shoulders square, feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent. Jump high in the air, swinging your arms for momentum and tucking your knees to your chest, then land back on the same spot, bending your knees as your feet touch the ground. Feel good? Try jumping onto a knee-high a box.
Build strong feet
“Foot strength is imperative for ballerinas dancing on pointe and helps both men and women jump high and create aesthetically pleasing lines,” says Pilates instructor, Marimba Gold-Watts, of Articulating Body Studio, who trains many dancers from NYCB. “For the average person, foot strength can improve balance and proprioception, as well as increase agility in jumping and cutting movements — think explosive exercise.” Yes please!
Try this: Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you and feet bare and flexed. Curl your toes only. Keeping your toes curled, point your feet, keeping them in line with your shins. Flex all your toes. Keeping your toes flexed, flex your foot. That’s one rep. Repeat, reversing the order. Do 10 to 15 reps in each direction. Try get a rhythm going. Feel good? Add these to your workout two three times a week.
Want a ballerina body? Get Marimba’s full ballerina Pilates home workout in the April issue of Women’s Health, on sale now!