Want a Ballerina Body? Exercises Professional Dancers Swear By

It’s no wonder why so many people click on workout plans online that claim to give you a “dancer’s body.” Why wouldn’t you want the body of a dancer? Those toned arms! That tight midsection! Those legs, like works of art! Whether you dream of looking like a prima ballerina or aspire to resemble a music video queen, adding dance-friendly moves to your own workout repertoire is very doable. Here are some exercises that professional dancers swear by — high bun and Danskin shoes sold separately.

1. Calf raises

ballerina's pointed toes

Calf raises will shape your legs in no time. | iStock.com/Fedinchik

Whether they are on pointe or in a jazz class, dancers across the board are lifting up into relevé and giving their calves a workout. In addition to giving you shapely legs, this exercise is also great for stabilizing your ankles. Try some basic calf raises — slowly lifting up onto your tiptoes and then slowly lowering back down. Want to copy what they do in ballet? Do this exercise with your feet turned in to first position.

Pro tip: When doing an exercise in a ballet position, make sure you are turning out from your hips, not at your knees. It doesn’t matter how far you can turn your feet out — if you do it improperly, you risk serious injury.

2. Demi pliés in second position

woman dancing in a ballet position

Get ready to work your inner thighs with this move. | iStock.com/inarik

Think of this as the dancer’s twist on doing squats. This rendition, which stems from old Russian and Italian ballet practices, will give your inner thighs an even better workout given the rotation in your hips. (Your legs will get a workout when you plié in any of the five ballet positions. But for a basic squat-type workout, second position is your best bet.) Ballet To The People has a nice breakdown on how to properly do a demi plié with knees half-bent into a grande plié for a maximized lower-body blast.

3. Floor barre

ballerina stretching on the floor

Try taking your exercises to the floor. | iStock.com/prudkov

Taking warm-ups from the ballet barre to the floor is an effective workout — and one that you can easily mimic at home. (Bonus: It doesn’t require any equipment.) Floor barre is great conditioning found in many dance classes, as it strengthens muscles all over the body while working on coordination and technique. “Floor barre is a fantastic way of maintaining core, hip, and foot control whilst not bearing weight down through your feet,” The Ballet Blog summarizes. “It is often more challenging than a normal barre and an effective way of improving your technique whilst you are not allowed to do normal classwork.” Not sure where to start? Try this step-by-step floor barre routine from Fitness Network.

4. Rotating plank

woman doing a side plank on a yoga mat

You’ll feel this workout in your core. | iStock.com

A standard plank is already a good core exercise. But adding side to side movement makes the plank a full-body workout and is the best way to shrink your muffin top. This exercise also works the entire upper body, which helps dancers stand tall and carry themselves through their movements. And since you are propping yourself up and stabilizing with your lower body, you can bet your glutes will get a workout as well. Check out this how-to from Fitwirr.

5. Curls with legs extended

Young woman exercising outdoors

This exercise is great for the lower abs. | iStock.com/StudioGrandOuest

The rotating plank isn’t the only core workout that can be stolen from dance class. A modified curl with outstretched legs is great for engaging the core while keeping your muscles working from head-to-toe. The use of all of your limbs — in comparison to doing standard crunches with bent knees — also makes this technique good for your circulation. There are many effective versions of the extended-leg curl, and PopSugar details a couple so you can add them into you dancer-inspired workout regimen.

6. Arabesque

Classical Ballet dancer

Your glutes will thank you. | iStock.com/Milkos

There is really only one way to mimic a “dancer’s butt.” And that is to do arabesques. But this leg-lifting move actually works your entire leg and is a premiere piece of any barre routine. Like with pliés, proper form is very important for maximizing results and minimizing the chance of injury. (Improper upper body positioning puts stress on the lower back and can turn an arabesque routine into a reason to visit the chiropractor.) Classic Ballet News has a great how-to on doing a proper arabesque, complete with a video. Bonus: Your core will get a workout from holding your upper body up, so you will have tight abs and buns from doing this ballet staple.

7. Resistance band workout

Woman exercises with resistance bands

Resistance bands are great for building strength. | iStock.com/ebstock

Even dancers take time away from the studio, so they use other methods to stay in shape. One such workout that is popular and effective is working with a resistance band. Myosource explains, “Dancers will experience better blood flow and a slight elevation in heart rate as the bands aid to fire up and activate more muscles to increase endurance and allow dancers to be better prepared for the training session, practice, or competition ahead.” Add a resistance band to your floor barre workout, or to your arabesques. Heck, it will even help you stretch out your feet!

8. Light cycling

woman doing yoga next to her bike

Try cycling at a low resistance for some cardio. | iStock.com/YanLev

To stay in tip-top “dance” shape, there are many exercises that dancers have to steer clear of. While extensive bike riding is a no-no, a light ride to and from class is a good choice. “Biking is ideal if you want to strengthen your quads and glutes, but dancers should ride at a lower resistance to prevent bulking up their thighs and legs,” physical therapist Michelle Rodriguez tells Dance Spirit.

9. Swimming

Swimmer in action inside swimming pool

Swimming puts less strain on your joints. | iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

A water workout benefits everyone. For dancers, it is a great way to mix resistance training and a bit of cardio during the summer months when many companies are on holiday. Dance Spirit explains that a water workout is great cross-training for dancers because it allows the muscles to work and the joints to loosen without the stress of gravity or hard surfaces under the feet. The same article recommends treading water in the deep end of a pool for a cardio workout, and swimming backstroke to open up the chest muscles.

10. Any workout set to music

Woman setting the music playlist

Don’t forget an awesome playlist. | iStock.com/Kikovic

Whatever workout you choose from this list, setting it to upbeat tunes is the best way to make it dance-friendly. In fact, doing any exercise with your headphones in has many health benefits, as Virtuagym explains. One such benefit is becoming more coordinated due to your body’s efforts to match the beat of the music. (If there’s one thing every dancer needs, it’s coordination, right?) There are many “dance playlists” out there, but we suggest creating your own with songs you know will boost your mood while you exercise. Create a five- to six-song playlist consisting of tunes with similar upbeat tempos, and then keep up with the beat as you go through your dance-inspired workout.

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