We asked Leah Sarago, creator of the Ballet Body series of workout DVDs, to share some dance-inspired exercises that will tone, lengthen and strengthen your body from top to bottom. “Ballet body workouts sculpt the physique by creatively blending beautiful, dance-like movements with eccentric contractions, all while working the muscles at greater muscle angle lengths to elongate the entire body,” she explains.
Start by lying on your side with your legs folded in half and your forearm parallel to edge of the mat. Turn out the top leg with the top of the kneecap pointing toward the ceiling. Your foot can rest on the floor or on your lower leg while lengthening and extending your free arm towards the ceiling. Lift your hips up, pressing away from the floor and drawing your navel in toward your spine to engage the core, and press firmly into the mat with your forearm to activate your shoulder and lats. Hold this position for two counts. Lower your hips and rotate your leg into a parallel position and lower the extended arm towards the floor. Repeat these two movements 12 times on each side.
For this arm toning move you’ll need two dumbbells (2 to 5 pounds). Start by standing in a side lunge position with your toes pointing out toward the corners of the room and your arms down in front of you, but slightly rounded. Lift your arms strongly into an L-shape (one out to the side, one above your head) while holding the weights lightly in each hand to work the shoulders, then lower your arms. “Imagine resisting through the space and lengthening with each movement,” advises Sarago. Repeat this move eight to 12 times on each side.
You will need a chair or barre for balance for this exercise. Start by placing your legs in a wide second position — your feet outside of the hips and toes pointing to the corners of the room with heels lifted. Lower into a plie position and segment the exercise into three levels. Lower into the plie on count one, go lower on count two and the lowest level on count three. Make sure to go as low into the plie position on the third level while keeping the knees above and in line with the ankles. To return to the starting position, lift up for three counts by again lifting higher on each level. Repeat these “accents of three” for eight sets.
You’ll need a sturdy couch, door frame or a wall-mounted barre to pull away from for this exercise. Start with your hands on the barre and turn out your front leg from the hip while gently bending at the knee. Fold your other leg in half with the toe pointed and foot in line with your knee (called attitude parallel position). Shift your hips back and sit back as if you were reaching for a chair and pulling away with your arms to get deeper into the position. Keep your hips square while maintaining the attitude parallel position. Go lower into the sit-back to challenge the glutes and thighs more, but make sure to keep the knee over the ankle on the supporting leg during the movement and don’t let your back arch, says Sarago. Perform 16 reps on each leg.
Begin on a mat with your feet together and knees open in a butterfly position. Inhale, lift tall through your spine, stretching through your chest and reaching the arms open. On the exhale, draw your navel into your spine while rounding your spine and drawing into your center as you round your arms toward your navel. “Continue to resist through the movement and challenge the core more by pulling back and going lower toward the floor,” Sarago says. Repeat this movement for eight reps.
Lying back on your mat and resting on your forearms, round your spine by drawing your navel in to make contact with the mat. Fold both legs in half, turning out from the hips and pointing the toes (known as an attitude position). Draw one leg in toward your shoulder while the other leg hovers above the floor. Using the strength of your abdominals, tilt your pelvis to draw your legs in toward your chest making a rocking motion without moving your legs. “This is a small movement,” notes Sarago. “Strongly draw the navel in to allow the pelvis to perform the movement, not the legs,” she says. Exhale as you tilt the pelvis and draw the navel in. Perform eight reps on each leg.
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