I have a confession: I haven’t worked out in three years, and I pretty much eat like crap.
I had my second child eight weeks ago. But exercise left my life after my first son was born in 2009. As a working mom, I became ridden with guilt if my every waking moment not on the job wasn’t spent with my little guy. My nutrition went kaput too. Using the kid as an excuse (cupcakes, why not?) I finished his dinners and instigated dessert.
Mine is a familiar story of a woe-is-me lifestyle that moms, and everyone who’s ever fallen off the “healthy wagon,” can empathize with (and anyone who hasn’t can roll their eyes at)—a vicious cycle of excuses and procrastination that becomes the one pound of weight the average person packs on yearly, which, over a lifetime, adds up.
Enter Mary Helen Bowers (that’s her, above, making a grimace-inducing abs move look impossibly graceful). The professional ballerina—who danced with the New York City Ballet before attending Columbia University, starting her business, and penning her new book, Ballet Beautiful—trained Natalie Portman for her Oscar-winning role in “Black Swan.” Her fans follow her with a cultish devotion normally reserved for David Bowie, because, as the actress Zooey Deschanel puts it, “Mary Helen knows how to make ordinary women [me] look like ballerinas [her].”
I, along with the five winners of our Ballet Beautiful Contest, are training with Bowers for the next six weeks. I’ll be reporting back on the moves I learned in each session so you can follow along at home. Here’s our first!
MOVE: The Ballet Twist from Side to Side
WHAT IT DOES: Works the obliques, the sides and the center part of your abdominals. “I love the way this exercise lets me quickly connect to my center,” says Bowers.
ME: This move was particularly hard for me because my stomach muscles are basically non-existent—during pregnancy, your abdominal muscles stretch to accommodate your growing belly, losing strength and tone. At first, I was barely able to complete these, and cheated by putting my arms behind me. After a few sessions, though, I was able to complete the full set. Progress!
HOW TO DO IT (watch the moving image for a visual!)
- Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you, knees slightly bent, arms in first position (coming together in a crescent over your knees) and your stomach pulled in tight.
- Extend back 30 degrees, twist your upper body and pull your stomach in tight, scooping your belly button in toward your center.
- Keep pulling your abs in as you change sides, rotating from left to right. “I find that moving a bit more slowly and taking a beat on each side to truly pull in and connect to my abs makes this exercise more challenging and rewarding,” says Bowers.
- Repeat, doing four sets of ten.
Take Your Ballet Workout To Go: Training Portman required Bowers to travel with her for a year, and in order to avoid bodily harm from her adoring clients, Bowers set up an online fitness studio where I (or you!) can join a butt-kicking session of pliés in Bowers’ SoHo studio from the comfort of my own home. Called BBLive, the interactive, full hour sessions stream in real time on your computer, and Bowers leads you through the workout just like you’re there in class.
Bowers also armed me with her Blast videos to squeeze in when I can. These handy, 15-20 minute sessions are intense; some focus on one area (the Butt Blast is a particular favorite). They help you feel the burn and more importantly, stay mentally on track—I’m much less likely to reach for the coffeecake my babysitter is dangling in front of my nose if my arms are still tingling from a 15-minute “Swan Arms” session. Check out balletbeautiful.com to get started on your own workout!