Stretching is a big part of a dancer’s daily workout. They stretch constantly—before, after and during workouts—lengthening their bodies into impossibly long angles, as I learned during my six weeks of training with Mary Helen Bowers, former City Ballet ballerina and founder of the ballet-inspired workout program Ballet Beautiful.
I’m extremely unflexible, but the good news with stretching is the more of it you do, the better you get at it—the results are pretty direct. “I look at stretching as a necessary luxury and an important part of my beauty routine,” says Bowers. “It keeps my muscles released and gives me a chance to relax, focus my body, and just enjoy the moment. It’s like a healthy addiction—my body always wants more!"
Here are two of Bower’s favorite stretches:
STRETCH 1: Standing Stretch for Legs (pictured above)
WHAT IT DOES: This full body stretch releases the muscles in your legs, center and arms.
HOW TO DO IT:
1. Bend your right leg while stretching your left leg straight behind you, opening up through the front of the hip and thigh, and your calf. At the same time, open your arms and lean toward your bent leg (which stretches your side). For balance, pull in through your center or hold on to the wall or chair.
2. Change legs and repeat.
3. Hold up to 10 seconds.
STRETCH 2: The Classic Hamstring Stretch (pictured above)
WHAT IT DOES: Stretches, releases and lengthens your hamstring muscles at the back of your leg.
HOW TO DO IT:
1. Sit on the floor, with your legs in front of you. Bend one knee in and stretch the other leg out long in front.
2. Lean your upper body up and over the extended leg with the goal of reaching toward your foot. If you cannot reach your foot at first, just focus on reaching in that direction, moving your hands down your leg and shin as you gain flexibility.
3. Exhale and extend forward, further down into the stretch, as you let your opposite hip drop down toward the floor.
4. Don't worry about whether of not your hip reaches the floor or how low it is; everyone's hips are different. Your hips will loosen and open over time.
5. Hold from 10 to 90 seconds.
WANT MORE? Try Bower’s Lengthen: Barre Stretch Ballet Blast, an intense 15 minute cardio workout session that includes swan arms—it's only $8! Check out balletbeautiful.com to get started on your own workout.
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