Seeking the elegant posture and graceful arms of a ballerina? Swan arms is the move you’ve been waiting for.
No other movement gives you those long, sinewy arms, pressed-down shoulders and muscular back like swan arms, made famous by the ballet “Swan Lake,” for which the move was first choreographed to depict the movements of this elegant, graceful bird.
“People think you need to use weights to workout your arms,” says Mary Helen Bowers, the professional ballerina (and founder of Ballet Beautiful) who is training me for six weeks to whip me into shape after having my second child. “But the beauty of swan arms is that you use your body’s own weight to transform the arms and upper body. It’s my favorite exercise for posture and building upper body strength.”
Ballerinas make this graceful, fluid, undulating move look easy. It’s not.
In fact, actress Natalie Portman found swan arms to be one of her biggest challenges when preparing for her role as Nina in “Black Swan,” Benjamin Millepied, the movie’s choreographer, (who later become Portman’s husband) told The New York Times. The movement is pretty simple, but for those unschooled in dance (me), it goes against your inborn logic—if you’re exercising your arms, you should be using your entire arm. But the trick is to let your back do the work, not your arms. You lift from the back to the elbow, and then your lower arms and hands should simply follow. Now, channel your inner black swan, and get moving!
MOVE: Classic Swan Arms
WHAT IT DOES: This classic ballet move targets muscles in the arms, shoulders, center and back. It tones and sculpts lean, graceful arms, while building upper body strength and excellent posture—no weights required!
HOW TO DO IT: (watch the moving image to see Mary Helen Bowers performing swan arms.)
Starting Position: Stand with your neck and shoulders as relaxed as possible, your feet together in first position or parallel, and your knees slightly bent. Keep yourself lifted, but not stiff. Your hands should remain graceful and relaxed; let them simply follow the movement of your arms.
- Pull in through your stomach and open your chest.
- Keep your neck long and stretch your arms out to the side, into second position.
- Drop and bend your elbows down without collapsing your chest—keep your chest open and lifted.
- Lower your arms, then lift your elbows and raise your arms from the elbow, lifting your hands to your shoulders. You can begin slowly and add more speed as you become more comfortable with the movement.
- Lower your arms again and lift, staying lifted and open through your center and chest. Imagine that you are moving through water. Do 8 counts, 4 sets.