Ballet performers have some of the best legs in the world. We’re not even kidding. They’re the perfect blend of flexibility, strength, power, and beauty that normal human beings can only dream about. Well, your dream is about to come true.
Each and every leg movement in a ballet performance is designed to look like poetry in motion. These men and women perform these movements with such grace and skill that it looks effortless. In reality however, it takes a lot of hard work and sweat to get their legs to the point that it can look effortless.
What you may being wondering is “OK, what’s their secret then?” The answer is that there is no secret. Ballet dancers get those amazing legs by performing ballet. Ballet-inspired exercises help sculpt every major muscle in the legs and we’re here to show you how!
We’ve gone inside the world of a ballet dancer to show you how all those movements and positions contribute to getting perfect legs. Before we show you though, you first have to know a few different ballet starting positions.
Now, you’re ready to start sculpting! With these insights as your guide, perfect ballet legs can be yours.
Inner Thigh Lift
There are very few exercises that are designed to isolate the inner thigh, but a standard ballet thigh lift is one of them. This movement is great because while one thigh muscle is being worked, the other is getting stretched like you see above.
As you get down into your position, make sure that you are fully extending your leg and that you’re tightening your core. While raising your leg, focus on keeping your knee as straight as possible. Also, make sure you are keeping your toe pointed.
Outer Thigh Lift
Now that you’ve worked your inner thigh, it’s time for you to hit the other side and work your outer thigh. This exercise may look simple, but we promise you that your thighs will be burning by the time you’re done. Again, there are a few things that you have to remember if you want to get the most out of the movement.
First, you have to keep your leg straight. If you don’t, you won’t get as much out of the movement. Second, keep your toe pointed. It will keep you in a ballet mindset. It’s easy to get lazy with this movement, but if you focus on keeping everything straight and your core tight, you’ll be just fine.
Rond de Jambe Par Terre
You’ve hit both sides of your thigh, now it’s time to bring everything full circle. Well, not full circle, more like half. A “rond de jambe” means that you are bringing your leg around. “Par terre” means on the ground. So in this movement, you are bringing your leg around and on the ground.
Start with your feet in first position, extend the pointed toe out in front of you and bring it around behind you. Always make sure that your toe stays pointed and that it’s always touching the ground. If keeping your leg straight was important for the first two movements, it’s even more important for this one. Without a straight leg, your thigh muscles won’t get worked very hard.
Grand Plié (1st Position)
Let’s see. Is there a single movement that combines focused flexibility, precision strength and perfect posture all in one? Yes, and it’s called a grande plié. The key to this movement is to not do it too fast. Slow, concentrated pliés will have your quads screaming for mercy by the time you’re through with your workout.
Start in first position and make sure your toes don’t leave their mark. As you squat, keep your back straight and press your knees outward. Your heel will naturally rise to allow for the movement, which will also work your balancing skills.
This is another quad screamer. All of us have a tendency to put more weight on our dominant leg when we squat. As a result, one leg tends to get stronger than the other. Parallel pliés eliminate that tendency. All your weight is focused on one leg at a time, making everything balance out. Ballet dancers do these so that they can have just as much power on one leg as they do on the other.
As you perform the movement, focus on keeping your foot flat on the box and make sure your knee extends over your toe. Again, keep your core tight and your head up. In addition to your quads getting worked, parallel pliés will also help perfect your balance.
Plié pulses will definitely get your pulse pumping (wow, say that five times fast). This movement will test the strength and endurance of your quads like no other exercise can. If you aren’t comfortable with your flexibility yet, this will make you comfortable really quick.
Start the exercise in second position and make sure your feet stay flat to the ground. As you squat, push your knees outward. The key thing to remember is to not come all the way up when you squat. Stay in a flexed position going from 90 degrees, to 120 degrees and back down to 90 degrees. That constant state of flex is what makes plié pulses so hard yet effective.
Relevé (1st Position)
Like every well built house needs a solid foundation, every ballet dancer’s leg needs a strong calf muscle. Your calf muscle is really two muscles, one in the back of the leg (the gastrocnemius) and one in the front of the leg (the soleus). This first position relevé works the back part of the calf.
From first position, slowly bring your heels up to the point where you are standing on the balls of your feet. Hold that position for a few seconds and then slowly come back down. Make sure that your toes don’t leave their mark throughout the entire movement.
Relevé (2nd Position)
This second position relevé places more emphasis on the front part of your calf. Ever had a shin splint? Many athletes have. It sounds like your shin bone is breaking, but it’s actually the front part of your calf muscle getting over strained. Unfortunately, that part of your calf doesn’t get worked out too often. But with this movement, it will.
Many of the same factors from the first position relevé apply here. Make sure your toes stay on their mark and that your legs and back are straight. The wider start from the second position is what allows you to focus on your front calf muscle. Just a small angle change can make a huge difference.
Ballet Calf Raises
Just like you tend to put more weight on one leg when you squat, you tend to put more weight on one calf during calf raises. This isolated ballet calf raise can help balance that inequality out. Balance is another key component to this movement so make sure you’re comfortable before you try it.
Bring one leg to the end position of rond de jambe but lift your tow about six inches off the ground. On the other leg, slowly bring your heel up to the point where you are standing on the ball of your foot. Again, slow movements are what make this movement so effective so don’t go too fast.
Your hamstrings are hard to isolate. Think of your hamstrings as the ultimate reserve muscle. Just like reserve troops in an army are used wherever they are needed, your hamstrings distribute their power to other leg muscles whenever they are needed. However, an attitude derrière is one way you can specifically target your hamstring.
With both hands on the barre for balance, bring one leg up, behind, and slightly away from you. Remember, the slightly away part. Bringing your leg straight back won’t isolate your hamstring. While keeping the leg flexed and toe pointed, bring your toe up and down with your hip. The weight of your leg will then be focused on your hamstring.
A reverence is essentially a bow at the end of a ballet performance. How many other athletes can say that even their crowd acknowledgement is a legitimate workout? Not many. This may look like it’s more of an exercise for your quad, but your hamstring plays a vital role in the movement.
From fourth position, extent your back leg and point your back toe. Slowly start the squat with your front leg until your back knee lightly touches the ground. Then slowly come back up using your back leg and toe for support throughout the whole movement.
Your hamstring is the bicep muscle of the leg. The only way to work out a bicep is to curl it or keep it flexed. A battement derrière is the perfect combination of both.
Starting from first position and holding onto the barre for stability, extend one leg back behind you. Make sure you keep the extended leg straight and that your toe remains pointed. Remember, at all times, keep your back straight and your head up so that your posture remains intact. Nothing should move but your leg.
The booty. Let’s face it, our culture is obsessed with it. It just so happens that ballet dancers are obsessed with it too. Only for them, the glutes are an important tool to help maintain balance. A standing arabesque is a great way for you to give your butt a workout and put it on display at the same time.
From third position, slowly bring your front leg up, running your heel up your leg as far as it will go until you’re forced to extend it behind you. Focus on trying to keep your head up and in the same place as you extend your leg behind you, keeping your toe pointed at all times.
Your hip and glutes are closely aligned in almost everything they do. A kneeling arabesque extension is a great way for you to use your hip flexor to help work the middle part of your glute. It may look a little Jane Fonda-ish, but it really does work.
From a kneeling position being supported by your hands, bring your leg up to a straight position making sure that your toe remains pointed at all times. Be careful not to bring your knee to your chest when you come back down. Controlled movements are the key to getting the most out of this exercise.
You’ve flexed your glute and hip muscles together. Now it’s time to completely isolate your glute. An attitude scoop is a great way to build up your glute muscles so that your butt develops that nice round shape we all like.
From the same kneeling position as before, bring one leg up making a 90 degree angle with your calf and hamstring. Point your toe and push it upwards to turn that 90 degrees into 120 degrees. Then, bring it back down to 90 degrees. Keep your back straight and head up, and you’ll definitely feel the burn.
There you have it! Now you know a few tricks to get more out of your barre workout. Want the ultimate ballet dancer leg challenge? Do all 15 of these movements and exercises 10 times each for three sets. Giving all 15 their individual 10 repetitions one time will equal one set.
Good luck and keep on dancing!