It’s true, there’s no such thing as a ballerina body—but there is such a thing as a ballerina warm-up. So says professional dancer Eliza S. Tollett: “The purpose of a warm-up routine is to connect with your breath, and to prevent spine and leg injury by strengthening your deepest abdominals and stabilizing your pelvis,” she explains. “It can also be used as a cool-down after a workout, or a quick calming routine during a break at work.”
Tollett’s started teaching the series of stretches to the dancers at her studio The Ballet Spot in New York City, but says anyone can benefit from the moves, no matter where you are. All you need is 5–10 minutes of spare time and some floor space.
Scroll down to see a step-by-step guide to the warm-up routine ballerinas uses to keep their dancing en pointe.
Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Make sure your feet are in line with each other and hip-width distance apart. Your knees should be straight up to the ceiling and not falling toward each other or apart.
Steps 2 and 3
Place your hands on your rib cage. Take a deep breath in, feel your ribs expand into your hands, and as you exhale let them fall away from your fingers, gently knitting together. Repeat 3–5 times.
Then, move your hands down to your belly. Take a deep breadth, letting it expand into your fingers like a balloon. As you exhale, actively pull your abdominals in and up. It should feel like you’re sucking a scarf up through your pelvic floor. Repeat 3–5 times.
Steps 4 and 5
With your arms by your sides and a neutral spine—tailbone and ribs heavy on the ground, but with a small pocket of air under your lower back—gently inhale, and on the exhale use your low abdominals to scoop your pelvis back and up, flattening your lower back onto the floor. When you inhale, release your pelvis back to neutral spine. Repeat 3 times. Try to isolate your lowest abdominals and pelvis, keeping your head, neck, shoulders, and chest easy on the floor and glutes relaxed.
On your fourth set, continue the scooping action, press into your feet engaging the backs of your legs, and roll your spine up to a bridge. Your arms on the floor can help a little, but the work should be in your abdominals and the backs of your legs. Inhale at the top, lengthening your tailbone toward the backs of your knees, and then articulate back down to the floor, letting one vertebra touch the floor at a time. Make sure you roll all the way back to a neutral spine. Repeat 3–5 times.
Steps 6 and 7
Lie in a neutral spine. Take a gentle inhale and as you exhale, pull your abdominals in and up. Maintaining a pocket of air under your lower back, use your deepest abdominals to lift your right leg up to table top (leg bent at a 90-degree angle with your knee over your hip joint) and put it down, without letting your hips shift or abdominals pooch out. Repeat with the left leg. Do 20 lifts in all, alternating legs each time.
Once you can do that exercise while keeping your navel sucked up and in, hips still, and spine immobile, try this more advanced version: In one long exhale, lift your right leg up to tabletop, then left, then lower one leg back down at a time. Alternate which leg starts, and repeat 10 times.
For the most advanced version, once your pelvis is stable enough to execute the previous exercise without wobbling back and forth, try lifting both legs into tabletop. Then, on an exhale, extend one leg at a time; keep your abdominals flat and spine in neutral. After 5 sets on each leg, start extending your opposing arm backward, keeping your bicep by your ear, without displacing your shoulders and spine.
Extend both legs long on the ground. Using your deepest abdominals, keep your pelvis stable and your spine in neutral as your right leg folds into your chest. Give it a gentle tug, keeping the back of the right hip grounded. Hold for 3–5 breaths.
On an exhale, flex your right foot and stretch your leg up to the ceiling, point at the top, flex again, and inhale as you bend it back in. Repeat 3 times.
Keep your left hip grounded on the floor as you pull your right leg toward your right shoulder opening up your right inner thigh and groin, and the front of the left hip. Hold for 3–5 breaths.
On an exhale, use your abdominals to pull your leg across your body into a gentle twist. Hold for 3–5 breaths. On an exhale, use your abdominals to come back to center, give your leg one more gentle tug and release your right leg back to the floor next to the left one.
Before your repeat with the other leg, make sure your body is in a straight line, as our hips tend to move out of alignment during the twist. Repeat with the left leg.
When finished, turn to one side, sit up, and then stand. You should feel taller, straighter, and more clear-minded!