Active Recovery

‘I’m a 62-Year-Old Retired Ballerina, and This Is What I Do Every Day To Stay Limber’

Kells McPhillips

Photo: Getty Images/BONNINSTUDIO
Ballet dancers typically end their careers between the ages of 30 and 40. Just because they're no longer executing pirouettes on stage doesn't mean that they stop strength training and stretching like a dancer. Just ask 62-year-old Mary Paranicas, a retired New York City Ballet dancer and current dog trainer (talk about a dream career path). Her daily stretching routine proves that once a dancer, always a dancer—and you can copy it for yourself.

"I retired [from ballet] when I was 25 years old. It has always been important for me to remain physically active in my life so I've always worked out," says Paranicas. Nowadays, she mixes two days of cardio (swimming or running) with adult ballet classes, chasing dogs in her training facility, and (of course) plenty of stretching. "After retiring from ballet, I spent some time working in medical research, which involved a lot of time sitting at a desk. The stretching routine I have has helped keep me moving even when I was more sedentary," she says.

Below, Paranicas shares the 10-move stretching sequence she completes daily. Curtain up: Grab your mat and let's get stretching.

The 10-move stretching sequence a retired ballerina completes every day

1. Child's pose: Come to a kneeling position on your yoga mat. Bring your toes together and your knees apart and walk your hands forward as far as you can until your butt starts to lift off your heels. If your head can't quite reach the ground, bring a block or a pillow beneath it. Rest into the pose and breathe deeply.

2. Downward dog: Press into your hands and lift your hips up and back into downward facing dog. Bend your knees deeply so that your lower back elongates. Make sure to relax your neck.

3. Forward fold: Walk your feet to the front of the mat and bend your knees deeply to come into a forward fold. Clasp your hands behind your neck and feel it release toward the ground. "This creates a gentle stretch of my back and legs," says Paranicas. Release your neck and slowly roll up to standing, vertebra by vertebra. Paranicas says to repeat this spine-rolling move three times.

4. Standing back bend: Come up to standing and place both hands on your lower back. Engage your belly and lift your chest up toward the sky. Make sure you don't go back so far that you can no longer breathe deeply. Come back to standing and repeat this two more times.

5. Side stretch: From standing, reach your arms overhead and grab your left wrist with your right hand. Arch your body over to the right, spiraling your chest up toward the sky. See if you can keep the same weight distribution on both feet. Engage your core to protect your back. Switch sides and complete four more reps on each side.

6. Plank: Forward fold and walk your legs back until your wrists are directly below your shoulders. Engage your belly to bring your back completely straight, spiral your triceps back, and squeeze through the legs and glutes. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.

7. Leg lifts: Come to your hands and knees and engage your core. Bend your right knee so the bottom of your right foot is parallel to the ceiling. Pulse the leg until it starts to feel fatigued, then straighten it and do the same thing. Switch sides and feel those glutes burn.

8. Crunches: "Then I lie on my back and do crunches with my hands behind my head," says Paranicas. "It's important to do these crunches properly, forming a C shape and not pushing the stomach out or straining the neck when coming up."

9. Clam shell: Lie down on your right side with your ankles together your knees bent at an angle in front of you. Squeeze your glutes to drive your knees apart, then bring them back together. Complete as many reps as it takes for your left glute to burn out, then switch sides.

10. Piriformis Stretch: Lie down on your back. Bend your right leg and place your right ankle on top of your left thigh. Switch sides.

Ready to dance? Queue up this ballet barre workout to work up a sweat:

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