Professional ballerina Eliza S. Tollet, who runs The Ballet Spot fitness studio in New York City, says that her chosen sport can benefit workout warriors of all kinds by improving flexibility, strength, coordination, posture, and balance.
Adding a few signature moves into your own exercise regimen, she says, is also just good for cross-training purposes, as you’ll be getting to muscles you might not otherwise reach. Just be prepared: “You’re fighting gravity in every move,” she explains. “This expends a lot of energy.”
Keep reading for 4 ballet moves to add to your workout warm-up, stat.
For all exercises, Tollet advises holding your arms out in a round position slightly in front of you, keeping your shoulders down. “If you have one- or two-pound dumbbells, you can hold them in your hands to help strengthen your back,” she says.
Grand plié in second position
Good for: An active stretch
Directions: “Stand with feet in a wide position, toes pointed comfortably out to the side with straight knees,” Tollet instructs. “Begin by thinking of rotating your legs open from the tops of your thighs, then slowly bend your knees over your toes, going as deep as you can while staying straight up and down with your heels on the floor.” Then, she says, reverse the motion all the way back up to standing and repeat four to eight times.
Pro tip: “Be sure to keep your abdominals lifting the entire time, and think of lengthening up as you lower into the grand plié,” Tollet says. “Then, press down through your feet to stretch your knees.”
Good for: Leg strength and balance
Directions: “Begin in first position, with your toes pointed comfortably to the side and your knees straight,” she says. “Keep your left leg strong to support your body, and keep your hips square as you brush your right foot along the floor drawing a diagonal line with your big toe out from first position and gradually coming to a full point.”
Then, she says, reverse the action back to first position, keeping both legs as long as possible as you close. Repeat eight to 16 times, then repeat with the other leg and, for “extra credit,” repeat to the front (image 4) and back (image 5) as well.
Pro tip: “The action of brushing should feel like massaging the floor, so there’s pressure in your foot and toes,” says Tollet. “Try to keep your toes spread on the floor as long as possible before pointing, and reverse the same way.” You’ll be surprised with how hard your legs need to work when you focus on your feet, she says.
You’ll also want to keep both legs active, so that even the leg you’re standing on is working during the tendue, according to Tollet. “This is a balance and core exercise as well—lift up fully through the standing hip and keep your abdominals and back tall, trying not to wiggle,” she explains.
Good for: A dynamic stretch which also works abdominal strength and balance
Directions: “Begin with your foot pointed in a tendue to the side, remembering to keep your leg slightly in front of your hip,” Tollet says. “Next, send energy down and out through your toe, kicking your leg up as high as it can go without changing your form, and then place it quietly back to tendue.” Repeat four to eight times, she says, and then again on the other leg.
For a bonus burn, she suggests repeating the move to the front and to the back as well. “To the front, keep your back tall and straight as the tendency is to round, which is incorrect,” she explains. “To the back, it’s okay to let your torso come forward, but keep your abdominals engaged and your chest high.”
Pro tip: “Think of the kick initiating from your hamstrings and inner thighs, rather than from the quads and hips,” says Tollet. “Just like with tendue, this is also a balance and core exercise, so keep lifting up fully through the standing leg, and keep your abdominals and back strong as your leg kicks.”
Good for: Increases heart rate and endurance
Directions: “Begin in first position, and then demi plié by slightly bending your knees over your toes, keeping your heels down and your back tall,” says Tollet. “Then push and jump up and open, landing in a second position demi plié.” In second, your feet should be a little more than shoulder-width, still turned out. Repeat the action back to first position and stretch up, she advises. Then, repeat 8 to 16 times.
Pro tip: “During the plié before and after the jump, keep your abdominals [tight] and your pelvis in neutral,” Tollet says. “Even though a plié goes lower, think of lifting through your body as your knees bend.” Your feet, she adds, should work on the floor as with tendue, using your toes to help you get up in the air and land softly back down.
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