The long, lean lines of a ballerina's physique are hard earned with hours of barre work. Fundamental ballet moves, like plié, relevé, and arabesque, tone the legs and work the core. Learn these essential exercises, and more, directly from dancer and choreographer Michael Cornell, founder of the LA-based Align Ballet Method. He explains how to properly perform the basics of the ballet dance vocabulary, emphasizing the importance of posture with every move. Create your own ballet barre at home with a chair, press play, and get ready to bring out your inner ballerina.
Holding this wide ballerina stance, aka second position, will tone trouble areas around the thighs and get you up and off the mat. Bonus: you can also skip some of those bicycle crunches, because the obliques get stronger from doing this exercise. Try this Pure Barre move at home, and since no equipment is needed, there's no excuse to skip the exercise!
- Begin with your legs wider than hip-width apart, and turn your toes slightly out. Bend your knees, coming into a wide squat position and keeping your shoulders directly over your hips.
- Place your hands on your hips, and pulse up and down in a one-inch range in this position for 15-20 seconds. (If you feel unsteady, then place a chair in front of you to use for balance.)
- Keeping your knees bent, reach your left arm up and bend sideways to the right.
- Maintain the side bend as you pulse up and down, in a one-inch range; the further you reach, the more your obliques will work. Do this 15-20 times while keeping your hips even. Repeat on the opposite side.
Keep reading for two variations after the break.
In many ballet-inspired classes, the barre is used in most exercises, including ones that work the abs. The flat-back exercise, one of our favorite moves because it targets the deep abs (the transversus abdominis), usually requires a barre, but this prop-free version from Kara Kokorelis, owner of the newest Pure Barre location in San Francisco, means you can now work your low, deep abs and build a stronger core at home. This variation without a barre is more difficult than the original but all the reason more to try it! "The key is to engage your abs and pull them back and in," says Kokorelis. "You are using your abs and entire core to lift your legs while using a forceful exhale with every movement. Core work is a huge element of Pure Barre."
- You can try this exercise either against a wall for more support or in the center of a room for added challenge. Think about sitting tall against a wall so that your lower back is straight. Then, hinge your shoulders forward for more leverage. Do try to keep a flat back with the exception of your shoulder blades, which are at a slight angle forward.
- Open your legs into a diamond shape so that your toes touch and your knees open apart. By pressing your toes together will engage your inner thighs a bit as well. Keep your heels lifted for the duration of the exercise.
- Open your fingers away from each other and press your fingertips into the floor, making a cupping position with your palms.
- Try to keep the weight evenly distributed between all fingers for balance. Engage your abs by pulling them in toward your spine to prepare for the exercise.
See the exercise after the break!
Tone your tush and your inner thighs with one swift move. Standing with your legs wide in a second-position stance works your backside as it supports you, and your inner thighs work as you rotate your legs open. Try this exercise in your living room or the weight room at the gym where you can use a mirror to check your posture.
Note: all of these movements are so minute that you will hardly be able to see them. They are small yet effective, and you will definitely feel the burn when doing them correctly. The tinier the action, the more controlled and successful it is.
- Start in second position, with your legs opened wide to the sides and your toes turned slightly outward. Placing your hands on your hips, bend your knees, going as low as you can. Make sure your shoulders remain directly over your hips and your back stays in a straight vertical line. Use the mirror to monitor your posture. Do make sure to keep your heels directly below your knees to avoid harming the joint.
- While holding second position, in a pulsing fashion lower and raise your hips one inch for 10 to 15 reps.
- Stay at your lowest point and reverse the emphasis of the pulse and begin to lift your hips up one inch in a very tiny range of motion for 10 to 15 reps.
- Extend your arms straight out in front of you with your palms facing down and hold this position for 20 counts.
- Bonus burn: keeping your arms out in front of your body, pulse your knees backward — the movement is small. If you find that it is too hard to press your knees back slightly, bring your toes forward until they are almost parallel, for if your feet are too far turned out, you won't be able to rotate your thighs in the hip sockets. Do this 10 to 15 times.
Crunches may be effective for toning your abs, but the exercise can also create some uncomfortable neck strain. Here are two neck-friendly ab moves where you use your arms to support your entire torso, not just your head. When done correctly, the exercises target the deepest part of the abdominal wall, which keeps the core taut. Try them at home; here's how.
- Start by sitting up with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Pull your abs toward your spine as you roll backward until your elbows make contact with the ground.
- From this position, tuck your hips so your lower back connects with the ground. Squeeze your shoulder blades together lifting your head nice and tall. You are now ready to begin.
Exercise One: Single-Leg Flexes
- Extend one leg toward the sky and flex that foot.
- Begin to bend and straighten your leg in the air; exhale sharply and contract your abs as you push through your flexed heel to straighten your knee. Complete 10-15 reps.
- Do press your shoulders down, away from your ears to keep your neck relaxed.
- For added bonus: Extend and straighten your bottom leg so it is parallel to the floor and hovering off the ground a couple of inches.
Learn the second move when you read more.
If you've ever been to the ballet, you've probably noticed the side dent, a muscle indentation from training, that a ballerina develops in the side of her butt. This is an area we all hope to tone come bathing suit season, or really any season, to get that rock-hard physique. Here is an exercise that mimics the moves dancers do every day to obtain a sculpted rear. This move standing up is tiny yet so effective, and you can even hold onto a chair for support.
Start with one hip touching your support item; chairs and stable bookshelves work great. Reach the arm closest to that item in front of you and hold onto it with your hand. Reach your opposite arm across your body to grab on as well. Make sure that forearm is touching across your core to get a good grip on the chair or shelf. Touching your heels together, separate your toes and bend your knees. Round your lower back until the arch disappears and your hips are completely tucked forward. Now extend your left toes behind you and retuck your hips; pulsate tiny holes behind you while you retuck at the same time. You should barely be able to see this move happening, just slightly initiating from your toes while your seat continues to press forward. Complete 20-30 repetitions.
Now switch sides, and that's it! This move is very simple with huge burn potential when done correctly. Stretching in between switching sides is a good idea since your standing side will be a little sore this time around. Just make sure to keep your standing knee bent close to the ground and stabilized. This move works double duty to make you burn on each side.
Chair is that move you love to hate in your barre class. It burns, you shake, and it tones your thighs like none other. Since this exercise requires a barre for balance, trying it at home can be just a bit of a challenge. Here's a way you can set it up in house to either prepare you for your first barre class or throw into your schedule between classes.
Start with your back flat against a wall. As you slide your back down, walk your feet out together until your knees hit a 90-degree angle. Make sure your ankles fall directly below your knees and your thighs sit parallel to the floor. Once you're there, press your arms against the wall behind you for support and try to hold the position. One-minute holds are recommended for beginners and two-minute holds for the more advanced. You can repeat this three times with stretching in between.
See a more advanced variation of this chair exercise after the break!
With the power of Pop Physique, you can work the entire body in 10 minutes! Grab a chair, but don't think for a minute that you get to sit down: it's just a prop that will work as your in-home ballet barre. Press play, and get ready to feel the burn in your glutes, core, quads, and just about everywhere else.
Step right down and take a shot at these moves for your rear with an exercise the works the entire booty. These simple leg lifts are sure to tone your buns to show off more than just your backside; this move targets the saddlebags, that troublesome area on the outside of your upper quads.
Start on your side with your legs extended, flexing both feet. Place your top hand on the ground in front of your abs and your supporting arm under your head. Make sure your bottom leg stays extended for the whole duration of the series.
Keeping the energy reaching out through your flexed heels, lift your top leg up about six to eight inches from the floor. From here, make tiny pulses upward 20 times. Holding your leg at the highest point of your lift, draw one-inch circles with your heel for 20 reps.