10 Whole-Body Toning Moves, by Ballet Beautiful's Founder

person stretching at the ballet barre

TEMPURA / Getty Images

While preparing for one of the biggest fashion shows of her career, Gigi Hadid went to celebrity trainer Mary Helen Bowers of Ballet Beautiful to pointe and plié her way to a Victoria's Secret runway–ready figure. Among the likes of Lily Aldridge, Lindsay Ellingson, and Erin Heatherton, Hadid tones and lengthens her muscles using Bowers's easy-to-master moves. (Seriously—you can do these from the comfort of your own home.)

Don't worry, you don't need to be a supermodel or former ballerina to nail these moves. "One of my favorite things about our workout is that anyone can enjoy it and dance experiences is not required," explains Bowers, who recommends practicing these moves three to five days a week for best results. "With Ballet Beautiful, we combine the artistry and athleticism of ballet with fitness in a transformative that targets and sculpts sleek ballet muscles."

Former ballerina Christine Bullock agrees on the benefits of ballet, saying combining ballet barre with dance cardio is a great way to get in both strengthening and cardio. "I love the endorphin rush and lymphatic detox you get from jumping the calories away," she says.

Meet the Expert

  • Mary Helen Bowers danced for a decade at the New York City Ballet before completing her bachelor’s degree at Columbia University and founding Ballet Beautiful. She has trained many A-List celebrities, including Natalie Portman for her role in Black Swan.

  • Christine Bullock is a former ballerina, fitness expert and creator of the Evolution 20 and Body Reborn fitness series, as well as co-creator of KAYO Better Body Care. She is certified in yoga, Pilates, prenatal fitness, and nutritional counseling.

Precautions and Safety

Ballet increases mobility and flexibility and actually strengthens the small muscles around joints to prevent injury, says Bullock. Although ballet has many benefits, some individuals should get the green light from a medical professional before beginning. If you have any health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, it is important you check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. If you are pregnant, you should also talk to your doctor about which exercises are safe for you to do. 

“One of the most important first steps when you are beginning ballet is to focus on building strength and mastering form,” says Bowers. “Ballet Beautiful has intro and beginner level workouts that walk you through proper technique.”

In addition, it is important you start slowly and stop if you feel any pain. “Our workouts generally include an opening stretch and gentle warm up. You never want to jump into something before your body is ready for it,” explains Bowers. 

When performing ballet exercises, you can be barefoot or Bowers also recommends pull-on satin ballet slippers. A mat is also a good investment to provide cushion when you are doing the floor exercises. 

 Have fun, listen to your body and gradually build up the intensity of the exercises. “I love these exercises because you need very little space, no equipment and dance experience is not required!”

Ready to get fit like a top model? Here are Bower's top 10 exercises for a typical Gigi workout.

Classic Hamstring Stretch

woman practicing ballet in red outfit
Ballet Beautiful

According to Bowers, every Ballet Beautiful workout begins with this stretch to release tension in the legs, hips, and back. "Stretching is an integral part of a dancer's daily training and a key part of our Ballet Beautiful program," she says.

  • Start by sitting on a mat with your legs in front of you.
  • Bend your left knee and extend your right leg out long on the floor in front of you.
  • Reach toward your right foot, keeping your leg straight.
  • Hold for 10 to 20 seconds as the muscles begin to open.
  • Repeat on other side.

"I like to stretch before our workout begins, in between exercises and again at the end of each session to lengthen and release tight muscles," says Bowers.

Ballerina Side Stretch

Ballet Side Stretch

Yelena Yemchuk/Ballet Beautiful

This side stretch is a great warm-up and cool-down ballet move. "This is a terrific movement at the beginning and end of a workout and I also use it when I am targeting my inner thighs," says Bowers.

  • Begin seated on the mat and extend one leg out to the side while bending the other leg in front of you.
  • Reach towards the foot that is extended side with the arm on the same side, lifting up and over with the opposite arm.
  • Look up towards the hand that is lifted, slowly releasing your breath.
  • Hold for 30-60 seconds, repeat other side.

Ballet Bicycle

Ballet Bicycle

Yelena Yemchuk/Getty Images

"I love starting out a workout with ab exercises because it helps me to quickly connect with and engage the core, something that I want to carry through the rest of my training," explains Bowers.

  • Begin seated on the mat and lift up onto the elbows.
  • Pull the abs in tight and extend one leg long ahead, lifting the leg and feet off of the floor.
  • Bend the opposite knee into the chest, scooping through the stomach.
  • Hold for one slow set of eight. Change sides and repeat.
  • Repeat one to two sets of eight reps on each side.

Classical Ballet Beautiful Bridge

woman doing ballet wsorkout
Ballet Beautiful

Next comes this bum-lifting exercise guaranteed to give you some Gigi-esque glutes.

  • Start by lying on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor (or bring your toes to a demi-pointe like in the photo for a more advanced version).
  • Press your shoulders and upper back into the floor and tighten your stomach muscles, keeping your feet together and knees closed to work your inner thighs.
  • Next, lift your hips high toward the ceiling while keeping your stomach tight to reduce stress in your lower back and tighten your bum.
  • Finally, lower your back without letting your hips or bum touch the mat.
  • Repeat four sets of eight reps.

Single Leg Bridge With Extension

Single Leg Bridge with Extension

Yelena Yemchuk/Ballet Beautiful

"Ballet training engages and strengthens the butt and the back of the legs and this is one reason why I love a one leg bridge exercise!" says Bowers. "This movement quickly targets and lifts those hard-to-hit muscles in the back of the thighs and butt—and even works the core."

  • Start by lying on your back, both knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • For a more advanced and challenging exercise, lift the toes onto your demi (half) point.
  • Pull the stomach in tight, don't arch the back and press your shoulders and upper back into the floor while lifting your hips high towards the ceiling.
  • Extend one leg long but keep it off the floor. Keep the core engaged.
  • Lower and lift the hips for one to four sets of eight, depending on your level. Repeat on the other side.

"If you take the leg straight up it will be less challenging," says Bowers. "Extending the leg long along the floor (pictured) is more advanced."

Ballet Twist

woman doing ballet wsorkout
Ballet Beautiful

This exercise strengthens your abs, obliques, and core. "Dancers engage their core in almost every step and at Ballet Beautiful, we do the same," says Bowers.

  • While seated on the floor, extend your legs and pull your stomach toward your spine.
  • With your upper body extended, place your arms in first position (as indicated above).
  • Twist your upper body to the right, scooping your lower abs in.
  • Continue twisting from left to right.
  • Complete four sets of 10 reps.

Arabesque Leg Lift

Arabesque Leg Lift

Yelena Yemchuk/Ballet Beautiful

This exercise will target the lower back, along with the legs and butt.

  • Start by laying on your stomach and stretch one arm in front of you, stretching the other arm back.
  • Stretch long through both knees, pull the stomach in tight to engage the core and lift one leg (the same leg as arm extending back) up and off the ground.
  • Tap the toe down, lift and repeat for two to four sets of eight.
  • Hold higher for two to four sets of eight.
  • Repeat on both sides.

Classic Inner Thigh Lift

woman doing ballet wsorkout
Ballet Beautiful

Next in the series is the inner-thigh lift for those "long, lean muscles that define a ballet leg," explains Bowers.

  • Lying on a mat on your side, bend your left knee and place your foot either in front or behind your extended right leg.
  • Next, pull your stomach in to engage your center and stretch long through your right knee.
  • Raise and lower your right leg, never fully releasing it to the mat.
  • Complete four sets of eight reps, and repeat on both sides.

Fondu Side in Parallel

woman doing ballet wsorkout
Ballet Beautiful

The outer thighs are a hard area to target, but this move will help.

  • Lie on your mat on your side. Extend both legs out straight.
  • Keeping your hips stacked and legs parallel, stretch and lift your right leg slightly above hip level.
  • Next, bend your leg so that it's parallel, and then extend it out straight, returning to the starting position.
  • Do four sets of eight reps.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Arabesque Lift With Swan Arms

woman doing ballet wsorkout
Ballet Beautiful

The final step of the series is this graceful movement to get the blood flowing and work all of the muscles that were previously engaged.

  • Start by standing with your right leg in front of your left, and slightly bend your right knee, keeping it over your toes.
  • Next, extend your left leg straight out behind you (this is called a ballet lunge).
  • Then, straighten your right knee and lift your left leg off the floor.
  • This is where it gets a little tricky—while you lift your leg off the floor, tighten your stomach muscles, and lift your arms up above your head in a V position.
  • When you reach the floor, bend your right knee to return to a ballet lunge, and lower your arms down by your side at the same time.
  • Repeat for three sets of three reps.

Want more Ballet Beautiful? New Byrdie subscribers can use code “BYRDIEBB” for their first month FREE to use and enjoy the online Custom Workout subscription. Kindly note that the subscription auto renews after 30 days at full $39.99/month price. 

Quotes have been edited and shortened for content.

Article Sources
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  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Safe Exercise. February 2018.

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