6 Moves a Ballerina Swears by for Longer, Stronger Legs
Katie Boren is always on the move.
While most of us are waiting for our morning coffee to brew, Boren has already completed a yoga flow or core quickie and is out the door with her dog Murphy for a two or three mile walk. After that, she slips out of her sneakers and into her pointe shoes to get ready for her day job as a corps de ballet member at the American Ballet Theatre.
Between the early morning workouts and the all-day rehearsals, being a professional ballerina is no joke. “We start our day with a one-and-a-half-hour technique class,” Boren explains. “Class is usually followed by six hours of rehearsals with a one-hour break in the middle. If I have a light day, I use that break to work in a cardio or strength workout.” When it’s time to go home, Boren is usually spent (can you blame her?), but she always tries to squeeze in a stretch before bed to mitigate some soreness for the next day. On her off days, the work doesn’t stop. “I typically use my free days to work in more intense strength and conditioning workouts,” like cross-training with different types of movements outside of her usual dancer routine. “I believe this is a very important part of keeping my dancing body healthy.”
With a passion for dance and a desire to provide more people with an opportunity to experience the intricacies of ballet training, Boren teamed up with Equinox instructor Chris Vo to create a new take on the classical ballet class for gym-goers alike. “We created this class for everyone to enjoy and be challenged by with both ends of the fitness spectrum in mind,” Vo says. “[It] may serve as a gateway to those who desire to take their barre workout to the next level and/or to satiate those who want to rekindle their love for dance in their past.” The Ballet by Equinox x ABT class features across-the-floor combinations (jeté! Plie! Pirouette!), athletic jumps and Thera-band sequences to help improve posture, flexibility and balance.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A BALLET-INSPIRED WORKOUT?
If you gave up ballet in the third grade (with no intentions of picking it back up), there are still a ton of benefits you can gain from incorporating ballet-inspired moves into your workout routine. “[Improved] posture is definitely at the top of the list,” Boren explains. “Ballet technique really focuses on proper alignment, and that carries over into these workouts.” And unlike other modalities, it allows you to stretch while strengthening or lengthen while toning, rather than one or the other. “You’re building strength and at the same time you’re increasing your mobility.” These types of moves are also low impact, meaning they require less stress on your joints and bones (which, ultimately, is better for your body in the long run).
Inspired by the Ballet by Equinox ABT class, here are six lower-body moves this ballerina swears by for longer, stronger legs.
1. Hamstring Curls with Stability Ball
*Works your glutes, hamstrings and core.
Step 1: Lie on your back with your arms out to your sides, palms facing down. Bend your knees and place your feet up on the stability ball about hip-width apart. Flex your feet and squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to lift your hips up off the ground until your body forms a straight diagonal line from your shoulders to your knees.
Step 2: Engaging your core, extend your legs straight out, rolling the ball away from you. Drive your heels into the ball to roll it back in toward your bum, all while keeping your hips lifted as high as possible. Complete three sets of 8 to 12 reps.
2. Side Plank Clamshells
*Strengthens your hips, glutes, obliques and inner thighs.
Step 1: Lie on your side in a side plank position with your left forearm anchored on the floor. With your upper body lifted, bend the knees so that your heels, hips and shoulders are all aligned.
Step 2: From here, separate your knees into a clamshell, keeping your heels glued together. As your top knee extends, simultaneously lift your hips up off the ground and extend your top arm up and over your head. To modify, place your hand on your hip or on the floor in front of you for added support. Lower back down to the starting position and repeat, completing three sets of 12 to 15 reps on each side.
3. Modified Side Plank Leg Lifts
*You’ll feel this in your inner and outer thighs, shoulders and obliques.
Step 1: Begin in a modified side high plank position, stacking your hand beneath your shoulder and your knee beneath your hip. Extend your top leg straight out to the side with your foot pointed, toe resting on the ground.
Step 2: From here, lift your top leg up until it is slightly higher than your hip (or as far as your mobility allows). Engage your core to keep your hips square, stacked and steady. Extend your arm up over your head and keep your neck in a neutral position. To modify, rest your top arm on your hip. Lower back down to the starting position and repeat, completing three sets of 12 to 15 reps on each side.
4. Side Lying Grand Battement
*Targets your hamstrings, inner thighs and core.
Step 1: Lie on your side, resting your head on your bottom arm. Place your top hand on the ground in front of your chest to help steady your body and make sure your hips are stacked directly on top of each other.
Step 2: From here, grand battement (that’s ballerina for ‘big kick’) the top leg up towards your shoulder keeping your toe pointed. Extend as far as your mobility allows. As you lower the leg back down to the starting position, engage your core and flex your foot to help activate your hamstrings and control the movement. Repeat, completing three sets of 12 to 15 reps on each side.
5. Calf Raises
*No surprises here, this works your calves! It can also help prevent ankle injuries and shin splints.
Step 1: Using a chair, couch, wall or ballet bar for balance (if needed), begin standing on one leg with your feet parallel.
Step 2: Lift the heel of your working foot and rise up on the ball of your foot to demi pointe. Slowly lower the heel back down and repeat, completing two sets of 10 to 15 reps on each side.
6. Grand Plié Second with Weights
*Targets your hamstrings, inner thighs, glutes and core.
Step 1: Begin in a wide second position with two dumbbells resting on each shoulder (stick to 8 to 15 pounds). Bend your knees into a plié and lower the hips down to knee height, keeping your core engaged, spine neutral and upper body lifted.
Step 2: At the bottom of the plié, squeeze your glutes and inner thighs to lift the hips up, returning to the starting position. Keep your shoulders (and weights) stacked directly above your hips throughout the movement. Complete three sets of 10 reps.