How to Get a Toned Physique Like a Ballet Dancer

Updated 09/23/16

Perhaps it's our unfulfilled childhood dreams of dancing Swan Lake in the New York City Ballet, or perhaps it's just the fact that every ballerina we can think of has an amazingly toned body, but we're pretty much obsessed with stealing fitness tips from dancers. For a lower body worthy of a leotard, we defer to the expert, Studio Allongé founder and former ballerina Alison Trumbull. Scroll through for her five favorite moves to sculpt your buns, hips, and thighs!

Michael Franco

Attitude Lifts

“This series will strengthen the hamstrings, butt, and even work on posture positioning,” Trumbull says. If you’re not near a ballet barre, just use a chair. You can do this with or without the Pilates Mini Exercise Ball ($11)—the ball just makes it more challenging.

1. Facing the barre (or chair) on a diagonal, place the ball behind the knee of your outside leg. Bend at your hips, making your back a tabletop. Next, place your outside arm long and straight on the barre, and bend your inside arm, resting it gently on the barre.

2. Begin the exercise by lifting the leg up while keeping the ball tight. After 10 lifts, hold the position at the top, and start to squeeze your heel to your butt for 10. Rest and repeat three sets through.

Note: For more, externally rotate the legs (both standing and working) and repeat the same sequence in an attitude position (with the ballerina turnout you always dreamed of using).

Michael Franco

Side Leg Series

Trumbull says the Magic Circle ($22) helps to create resistance, but you can do this series with a resistance band or nothing at all. “This exercise strengthens the hip abductors and adductors, increases hip rotation, and strengthens the torso,” Trumbull says.

1. Starting on your side with your upper body lined up with the back half of your mat and legs diagonally in front of you, making an obtuse angle with your body, place your feet inside the ring.

2. Keeping your legs straight, lift your top leg up so it’s pressing into the circle, and hold for 10 counts. Next, begin to pulse the leg into the circle for 10 counts. Rest, and repeat up to three times. This area will fire up and activate the abductors.

Note: Another variation is to place the top leg outside the circle. Now, move the leg from the front, up and over to the back of the circle. Keep your stomach held tight and the movement rhythmic.

Michael Franco

Grand Battements

Trumbull says this is a great exercise for the legs, quads, inner thighs, butt, and spinal muscles. Just try not to sacrifice alignment—pay attention to both your upper and lower body; don’t focus on the height of your kicks.

1. Face the barre (or chair) at a diagonal in a small first position (an open V shape). Hinge at the hips, extending the outside arm long and keeping your inside arm slightly bent and resting on the barre.

2. Keeping your standing leg turned out, lift the outside leg up and tap it back down to gently touch the ground 30 times.

3. Hold the last grand battement up at the top of the movement, and make one-inch pulses up for 30 times.

4. Repeat the entire sequence with a bent standing leg.

Michael Franco

Bridge Series

Trumbull calls this move “simple and effective.” It targets the butt, hamstrings, and inner thighs all at the same time.

1. Lie on your back, arms by your side, feet flat, and knees bent with the ball between the knees.

2. Pressing down into the floor, lift your hip bones up toward to the sky. At the top, give the ball a squeeze then slowly lower the spine back down one vertebra at a time. Repeat 10 times.

Note: For more of a challenge, at the top extend one leg out long, squeeze the ball, then place the foot back down and roll down throw the spine one vertebra at a time. Repeat, doing 10 sets for each leg.

Michael Franco

Stretch in Forward Fold

And in true ballerina form, Trumbull recommends the one exercise 99% skip or skimp on: stretching. “Stretching allows for better understanding of posture and prevents muscle problems. Done before and after exercising, stretching helps to elongate the muscles, loosen stiff muscles, and work through the areas that have added tension and tightness from everyday activities. When you stretch, regardless of your flexibility, feel lengthened, tall, and proud.”

1. Standing parallel (in relevé on the ball of your feet if you want to test your balance), inhale your arms up above your head, and then open them wide to the side as you swan-dive forward. If you have tight hamstrings, place your hands on your shins or knees. Try to feel the crown of the head pulling down as your tailbone is lifting up.

2. Hold for a count of 10, and then slowly begin to roll up one vertebra at a time. Repeat to create space within the spine and length in the body.

What lower body–toning moves do you swear by? Tell us below!

Related Stories