Raising the Barre: A Ballet Body Workout

Ballerinas don’t just have tight buns on their heads!

Sylvie Guillem, ballet workout, how to get a dancer's body


In my last two posts, I’ve described just how hard dancers work for their bodies. I’m not one of these trainers who claim to have the magic formula known as  the diet and exercise plan that will give you the perfect body in only twenty minutes a day!  It takes time, commitment, and desire.

There is no replacement for the repetition, genetic predisposition, and physical dedication that ballerinas have. However, we can transform our bodies by applying these principles to our own training.  Even though I won’t promise you that by doing these exercises you’ll look like Sylvie Guillem does in this pic,  I can promise you that you’ll hold your head higher and feel stronger in your own daily routine.

Read on for a workout that will keep you on your toes at the gym!

Back On Track

Dancers are most notable for their poise and posture. There’s such an elegance to their long necks and heads held high. They also need strength to perform such feats as kicking a leg as far back as possible. Not the most natural movement for sure!  Ironically, we need just as strong of a back especially if you sit in front of a computer all day!

Try these moves to perfect your posture:

Seated Cable Row

There is a cable row machine in every gym.  If you are not using a gym, simply tie an exercise band around a railing, doorknob, or sturdy chair. the movement is the same either way.

Sit with your legs in front of you, knees slightly bent, palms facing each other, elbows straight.  Exhale as you pull the cable or band to your chest, focusing on squeezing your shoulder blades together.

Think of a ballerina’s posture as you press your soulders down and back, lifting your chest up and holding your abdominals tight.

Do 3 sets of 15 reps, with a weight that makes you feel your upper back working hard. Aim for 30-50 pounds.  If this feels easy, increase the weight in 5 pound increments.


Lay on your belly, looking at the floor, arms straight up over your head.

Slowly lift your legs and torso off the ground arching your lower back.  Be sure to keep your belly button pulled in even though you’re arching.  You always want to support through your abdominals, and try to keep your neck long.  Hold for 2 seconds and release.

Do 3 sets of 10.  When that gets easy, you can work up to holding for 30 seconds.

Ballet Buns

All my old Russian instructors called it a “popo.”  Apparently they didn’t want to say “butt” or “tooshie” around a bunch of impressionable thirteen year olds.  When standing with toes turned out as ballerinas do, it is impossible not to squeeze your butt. Do this for umpteen years, eight hours a day, and you too will have “buns o’ steel.”  For those of you who sit at an office job instead, here’s a few easy exercises to get those glutes firing!


Lay on your side with your knees bent at a 45 degree angle. Keep your feet together and open your top knee to the ceiling, without letting your top hip fall back.  Picture your hips stacked one on top of the other.

When you think you’ve opened your knee as far as you can, squeeze a little bit harder and try to get another inch.

Do 3 sets of 15.  When that’s easy, hold each rep for 5 seconds, or try tying an exercise band around your thighs.

Pelvic Bridges

Lay on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hip width apart.  Squeeze your glutes, press your feet into the ground and lift your hips up.  Think of tucking your tailbone towards your nose and engaging your abdominals so that you don’t arch your back.

Do 3 sets of 15. When that gets easy, hold each rep for 5 seconds.  When that gets easy, do the advanced version:

Single Leg Bridges

Keep your feet hip width apart and keep one leg up to the ceiling. Try holding a yoga block or small medicine ball between your knees so you aren’t tempted to bring the working leg closer to your center line.  That’s cheating!

Do the single leg version in sets of 8 or 10.

Stronger Stems

Spend your whole life on your toes and you’d have monster calves too!  This is perhaps one of the easier things to do, because you can do these anywhere, even waiting for the subway or standing in line at the bank or brushing your teeth.  Especially for all you ladies who wear heels, these are super important for keeping your ankles and lower legs strong.

Calf raises (Releve in dance-speak!)

To do the most ballerina-specific version, and work your “popo” at the same time, stand in a “first position” heels together, toes apart.

Hold your abdominals strong and chest up (think posture!) as you lift up to your toes, squeeze your inner thighs and keep your knees very straight.  Try to balance at the top for a few seconds without holding on each time.

Do as many as you can until you start to feel a nice burn in your ankles and calves.

Practice makes perfect! After a few weeks of these moves, you’ll be walking around with shoulders down and heads held high like you’re ready for your curtain call. With a strong core, perfect “popo”, and legs that won’t quit, I expect to see all of you New Yorkers dancing in the streets!

wendy reinert, fitfinelines.com, MAS, Manhattan Aesthetic Surgery, Nicholas VendemiaWendy Reinert, CSCS
Equinox Fitness Coach
Professional Dancer
Equinox Fitness Clubs NY

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Photo Credit: googleimages.com

NOTICE: None of the celebrities or individuals discussed here have ever received treatment, surgery, medical advice, or evaluations from any author, physician, surgeon, or representative of this blog. All images and photos in this article represent models only. No actual patients or clients are shown.

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Filed under Back, Butt, Legs, Workouts

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