How to Get a Toned Physique Like a Ballet Dancer

person at the ballet barre

JOVELL RENNIE / Stocksy

Ballerinas have a way of carrying themselves with grace, strength and confidence. Their training not only teaches them poise, but also works their body in a way that creates long and lean muscles. You can also train like a ballerina (minus the bruised toes and fierce competition) with these ballet exercises that will sculpt and strengthen your entire body. “It's a method of movement that allows you to connect to the body, to sculpt a feminine physique, to balance posture, and to burn calories without heavy impact,” says Christine Bullock, former ballerina and creator of the Evolution 20.

Ballet dancer and director of the Steezy Studio Ballet Program Brittany Cavaco agrees, saying that ballet gives you strength, flexibility, coordination, endurance, and lots of energy. “I find that even doing just 20 minutes of a ballet barre or ballet toning class gives me a lot of mental clarity,” she says. “The repetition of the movements, along with the artistry, allows you to do a full body workout without even realizing it.” 

Meet the Expert

  • Brittany Cavaco is an American Professional Ballet dancer and is the director of the Steezy Studio Ballet Program. Her career highlights include dancing with companies such as The Washington Ballet, LA Ballet and English National Ballet.
  • Christine Bullock is a former ballerina, fitness expert and creator of the Evolution 20, Super Shred, and Body Reborn fitness series, as well as co-creator of KAYO Better Body Care. She is certified in yoga, Pilates, postnatal fitness, and nutritional counseling.

Safety and Precautions

These ballet exercises are low-impact, so they are easy on your joints, while also strengthening your muscles to prevent injury. “These ballet-inspired toning moves are very inclusive,” says Cavaco. Even so, it is important to check in with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have existing health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure.

 Start slowly with any exercise program, stopping if you have any pain, and work your way up with intensity and duration. If you have prior injuries or conditions like arthritis, Cavaco recommends listening to your body and stopping if you have any discomfort. “I would suggest that people with arthritis take the plie’s very slow and don’t go as deep down.”

One of the benefits of ballet toning and ballet barre exercises is it can help prevent future injuries.  "Even if you love heavy weights or HIIT workouts, it’s beneficial to your body and goals to add barre,” says Bullock. “This type of workout can build the small muscles around joints to protect from injury, it incorporates mobility and flexibility to balance posture and sculpt longer musculature, and it still blasts calories.”

Ready to get started? Here are 10 total-body exercises to get you a toned physique like a ballet dancer.

Plié in First Position

Plie in First Position

Steezy Studio

Plié means "to bend" and it is the best exercise for your glutes and legs. "This traditional ballet exercise is the first step we do in every ballet class and it is the bread and butter of all ballet moves," says Cavaco. There are two types of pliés—a demi plié (meaning small or half) and a grand plié (meaning big or full). She recommends doing each type of plié in this exercise sequence.

  • Start with a demi plié in first position. Your heels should be touching and toes pointed outwards.
  • Your legs will be straight to start, glutes engaged and your pelvis will be slightly tucked.
  • Bend your knees, going down about half way with your heels still on the floor.
  • You will create a diamond shape with your legs. This is your demi plié.
  • To do a grand plié, you just continue all the way down until your glutes are hovering over your heels.
  • In between each plié, you come back up to straight legs.
  • Do 3 - 5 sets of three demi plié’s and one grand plié. 

"Try to keep your pelvis and glutes under you. It’s temping to let them go back like a squat, but try to avoid that if possible," says Cavaco. "Also, make sure to have your knees go over your first and second toes in each plié to avoid any knee discomfort."

Plie in Second Position

Plie in Second Position

Steezy Studio

This is the same exercise as the first position plié, however you will be standing in what ballerinas call the second position. You will also perform both the demi plié and the grande plié (pictured above) in this sequence.

  • Stand in second position, with your feet hip distance apart and the toes are turned out.
  • Perform the demi plié in which you go half way down.
  • Return to standing.
  • Perform the grand plié, in which you bring your pelvis in line with your knees and your heels stay on the ground.
  • Do 3 - 5 sets of three demi plié’s and one grand plié. 

Jeté

Jeté ballet move

Steezy Studio

"This will ignite your inner thighs," says Cavaco, who explains that Jeté means "to throw."

  • Start in fifth position, with both feet are turned out and one in front of the other. Your front foot’s heel touches the back foot’s toe.
  • Your outside leg will go out to the side at 45 degrees, and then close in fifth position with this leg in back instead of front.
  • You will continue doing this movement, alternating front and back.
  • Repeat on the other leg.
  • Do as many as you can for one minute.

"Make sure that both legs stay as straight as possible the entire time," says Cavaco.

Leg Circles

Leg Circles Ballet Exercise

Steezy Studio

This exercise strengthens and sculpts your abdominal muscles.  The bigger the circle, the more challenging it will be! 

  • Sit tall on your sitz bones (the bony part of your pelvis) and lean back onto your hands behind you.
  • Bring your legs up to table top and have them glued together.
  • Circle your legs around starting to the right.
  • Do it 15 times and repeat to the left.

Bridging

Bridging Exercise

Steezy Studio

Bridging helps lift and strengthen your bum as it works your gluteus muscle, hamstring and even your core.

  • Lay on the ground with your head facing towards the ceiling.
  • Place your feet hip-distance apart with your knees pointing to the ceiling.
  • Engage your lower abdominals and start the movement by tucking your pelvis.
  • Slowly roll up into a high bridge, lifting each vertebra in your back one by one.
  • When you reach the top, hold for a moment and slowly reverse down. Make sure that the hips are even throughout the exercise.
  • Repeat 20-40 reps.

Standing Obliques

Standing Oblique Exercise - Ballet

Steezy Studio

This exercise tones and sculpts your oblique muscles, which are your side abdominal muscles. "Try not to let momentum take you up and instead let it be driven by your muscles," says Cavaco.

  • Stand up, feet hip distance apart. Make sure your shoulders, hips and feet are all in the same line.
  • Put your hands over your head.
  • Lean to the right and use your left oblique to slowly bring you back up.
  • Repeat 20-30 times on each side.

Ballet Arms

Ballet Arms 1

Steezy Studio

You know how ballerinas have such beautiful arms? It is partly due to this move, which strengthens your shoulder and back muscles.

  • Standing hip distance apart, open your arms to the side. Make sure the elbows are lifted and the forearms are curved in slightly.
  • Using your lats and back muscles, bring the arms together in front of you. Imagine that you are hugging a tree.
  • Reverse the arms back out.
  • Make sure to not let your elbows drop and to keep the arms at shoulder height the entire exercise.
  • Repeat this move for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Plank with Hip Dips

Plank with Hip Dips

Steezy Studio

This exercise strengthens and tones your midsection, giving you that lean and graceful look of a ballerina.

  • Start in a plank position, with your hands directly under your shoulders.
  • Try to be as long and straight as possible, from your head to your toes. Make sure your bottom isn't sticking up.
  • Engage your lower abdominals and shift your hips to one side, come back to the middle and then shift them to the other side.
  • Lift your shoulders up and out throughout the entire exercise.
  • Repeat 15 hip dips on each side.

Inner Thigh Lift

Inner Thigh Lift - Ballet Exercise

Steezy Studio

This thigh lift exercise will strengthen and tone your inner thigh muscles for strong and sculpted dancer's legs.

  • Lie down on your side and take your top leg and bring it over onto the floor in front of you.
  • Flex your bottom foot and lift it up about 7 inches and then back down.
  • Lift it high enough so you are feeling your muscle work. If you aren't feeling it, you aren't lifting your leg high enough.
  • Repeat 30-40 reps on each side.

The Swan

Ballet Arms Cooldown

Steezy Studio

"The goal here is to look like a beautiful swan," says Cavaco. "Let your arms be engaged, but not stiff."

  • Stand hip distance apart with your hands by your hips.
  • Let your elbows lead your arms as they travel up above your head and reverse them coming back down.
  • Make sure to not let your shoulders creep up towards your ears and avoid any tension in your head, neck and chest.
  • Repeat this move for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Safe Exercise. February 2018.

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