Healthy, injury-free ankles require three things: mobility, stability and strength. But achieving this trifecta is easier said than done. That's why Dance Spirit turned to Abigail Bales, DPT, CSCS, for a series of exercises that'll strengthen, support and stabilize your ankles—and your dancing, overall.

"The ankle has multiple joints and moves in multiple planes of motion: sagittal, frontal and transverse. All three must be addressed when assessing mobility, stability and strength," Bales says.

Pro tip: First try the exercises without relevé, then advance to relevé to amp up your workout.

(All photos by Jayme Thornton. Modeled by Jessica Barr.)

Without Relevé

A. Sagittal

1. Stand with your feet in parallel, balance on your left leg and bend your left knee.

2. Reach your right foot forward and tap your toe on the floor, then return to the starting position.

3. Reach your leg behind you and tap the ground with the top of your foot, then return to the starting position.

Repeat 5 times, then add relevé.

Sagittal exercise, part 1.

And part 2.

B. Frontal

1. Stand with your feet in parallel.

2. Balance on your left leg, keeping your left leg straight and reach your right leg across your body (no hip rotation), leaning to the right.

3. Reach your right leg to the right side in parallel, bending your left knee and leaning to the left.

Repeat 5 times, then add relevé.

Frontal exercise, part 1.

And part 2.

C. Transverse

1. Stand straight on your left leg in parallel.

2. Reach your right leg straight in front of your body and rotate your hips to the left, tap your toe to the ground.

3. Reach your right leg around and to the rear of your body, rotating your hips to the right, tapping your toe to the ground.

Repeat 5 times, then add relevé.

Transverse exercise, part 1.

And part 2.

We all know that girl who basically lives in crop tops and sports bras to show off her insanely chiseled abs. But strong stomach muscles aren’t just amazing fashion accessories—they’re also the key to everything from powerful jumps to proper technique. Dance Spirit spoke with Jessica Sander, a personal trainer in NYC, about the most effective exercises to help you score your dream core.

 

Exercise 1: Supine Opposition Extensions

Purpose: Strengthens your posterior core (a chain of muscles that wraps around the back of your body) and psoas

1. Lie on your back with your arms and legs extended toward the ceiling.

2. Extend your left arm behind your head while lowering your right leg, holding it just above the ground.

3. Return your arm and leg back to the starting position, then repeat with your right arm and left leg.

Repeat 12 to 15 times.

Pro tip: Make sure your stationary arm and leg, as well as your pelvis, stay stable while you lower and raise your working arm and leg.

(photo by Erin Baiano)

(photo by Erin Baiano)

 

Exercise 2: Side Plank with Rotation

Purpose: Builds endurance in your core and promotes overall ab and back stability

1. Start in a side plank, resting on your right forearm with your left arm extended towards the ceiling and your feet stacked.

2. Reach your left arm under your torso, slowly rotating your body as your arm follows through.

3.  Once you’re fully rotated, switch arms so you’re supporting yourself with your left arm. Reach your right arm to the ceiling.

4. Repeat the exercise to the other side.

Repeat 12 to 15 times in each direction.

Pro tip: Pull your abs up and in, as though there’s a wall in front of and behind them.

(photo by Erin Baiano)

(photo by Erin Baiano)

Exercise 3: V-Sit with Trunk Rotation

Purpose: Increases overall ab control and strengthens your obliques

1. Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and your legs extended in front of you.

2. Lift your upper body off the floor and draw your knees toward your chest, maintaining a slight curve in your spine and balancing on your sitz bones.

3. Stack your forearms and slowly rotate your torso left, then right.

4. Return to the center and slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.

Repeat 12 to 15 times.

Pro tip: Exhale on your way up to engage your abdominals. Imagine you’re an accordion—the goal is for your whole body to move in unison.

(photo by Erin Baiano)

(photos by Erin Baiano)

Christina Pazcoguin, a teacher at Pure Barre in NYC and a former ballet dancers, walks us through three stretching and strengthening exercises to help you achieve your best possible turnout. (Click the image to zoom!)

Want to see these exercises (and a bonus!) in real time? Check out the tutorial video here.

 

Ah, feet—we point, stomp and crack them (and everything in between). And though dancing all day makes them strong, they need special attention to help prevent injury. DS spoke with former professional ballerina and conditioning expert Rachel Hamrick, who recommends these four exercises to keep your feet in tip-top shape—and improve their overall look, from arches to insteps.

Modeled by Ashlyn Mae (Photo by Nathan Sayers)

 

You'll need: FLX ball (or small exercise ball), exercise band

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

 

Doming

Purpose: To stimulate and strengthen the core muscles of your feet

1. Begin by sitting with your foot planted on the ground.

2. Press your toes firmly down and pull them back into the floor, keeping them as straight as possible. Simultaneously raise the arch of your foot. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times per foot.

A relaxed foot (left), and a domed foot (right) (Photos by Nathan Sayers)

 

(Photos by Nathan Sayers)

Relevé with FLX Ball

Purpose: To improve your arch and discourage your toes from knuckling under. This exercise also strengthens the muscles that help you rise from demi-pointe to pointe.

1. Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you. Place your left toes flat on the surface of the FLX Ball.

2. Lift your heel while pressing your toes flat into the ball.

3. Point your toes, maintaining contact with the ball’s surface.

4. Return to a high relevé position by flexing your toes, keeping your heel held high. Do two to three sets, repeating the exercise 10 times, then switch feet.

Toe extensions

Purpose: To promote stability on pointe by strengthening the toes

1. Sit on the floor and wrap the exercise band around the toes on your left foot. Place your right foot on top of the free ends of the band. Use your hands to pull the band ends away from your feet.

2. Flex your left foot towards you, focusing on maintaining neutral alignment.

3. Return to starting position. Repeat 10 to 20 times, then switch feet.

(Photos by Nathan Sayers)

Evertor strengthening

Purpose: To strengthen your ankle muscles and promote all-around stability

1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you, hip-width apart. Loop the exercise band around your toes, pulling the ends with both hands so that it’s taut.

2. Keeping your arches pointed, wing your toes up and away from each other. Slowly return them to their original position—you should feel a slight resistance. Repeat 10 to 20 times.

(Photos by Nathan Sayers)

Ear-grazing développés, 180-degree turnout and a back that folds in half are items on every ballerina’s wish list. But hyper-mobile dancers know extreme flexibility comes at a cost: It takes an incredible amount of strength to keep their joints within a safe range of motion. “You see a lot more hyper-mobile dancers at the student level than at the professional level,” says Brynn Jinnett, founder of NYC boutique fitness studio Refine Method. “So many of them get career-ending injuries at a young age.”

Super-bendy? Support your flexibility with these stabilizing exercises. (Photo by Erin Baiano)

Beyond the risk of injury, there’s an aesthetic downside to hyper-mobility. Without proper stabilization, bendy ballerinas can appear weak or flimsy, particularly when partnering. Don’t be a limp noodle! Jinnett has four exercises to help balance and support your flexibility.

Banded Squat

Purpose: Builds stability in your hips and knees by strengthening your glutes, quads and abdominals

1 ) Begin standing, with your feet parallel and slightly wider than your hips, a Thera-Band tied around your thighs and your arms behind your head.

2 ) Press your legs outward against the band and squat as low as you can while still maintaining a neutral spine. To keep from falling backward, think of reaching the top of your head on an upward diagonal while sitting your hips back.

3 ) Return to the starting position. Do 12 squats, rest and repeat.

Note: At the  base of your squat, your weight should be so far back you could lift your toes off the floor.

(Photo by Erin Baiano)

Airplane

Purpose: Promotes total body stability by strengthening your hip, abdominal and back muscles

1 ) Begin standing, with your feet parallel and your arms by your sides.

2 ) Tilt your torso forward as you lift your right leg to the back, keeping your right foot flexed (with your toes pointing toward the ground), until your torso and leg form

a straight line, parallel to the floor. Reach your arms forward on a long diagonal.

3 ) Bend your left leg, keeping your torso and right leg lifted.

4 ) Straighten your left leg. Repeat steps 3 and 4 10 to 12 times, then switch legs.

Jinnett says: “If you have a flexible lower back, concentrate on keeping it neutral by squeezing your abdominals and lengthening from the top of your head to the heel of your working leg.”

(photo by Erin Baiano)

(photo by Erin Baiano)

Bear Crawl

Purpose: Builds stability in your torso by strengthening your abdominals, back and shoulders

1 ) Begin on all fours, with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tuck your toes and lift your knees one inch off the ground.

2 ) Slowly crawl your right hand and left leg forward, maintaining a neutral spine.

3 ) Crawl your left hand and right leg forward. Continue crawling forward for 30 seconds. Repeat two more times, with 15 seconds of rest between each crawl.

Jinnett says: “This exercise is great for preventing shoulder strains from partnering, and for developing the coordination necessary for solid pirouettes.”

(photo by Erin Baiano)

Banded Bridge

Purpose: Builds stability in your hips and knees by strengthening your glutes and hamstrings

1 ) Lie on your back, with your feet planted beneath your hips, your arms by your sides and a Thera-Band tied around your thighs.

2 ) Squeeze your glutes and push your feet into the floor to lift your hips. Lift as high as you can while maintaining a neutral spine and tension in the Thera-Band. Hold for 5 counts.

3 ) Lower your hips to the starting position. Do 12 hip lifts.

Jinnett says: “Dancers with hyper-mobile hips often struggle when working in parallel, because their legs have a natural inclination to turn out. Strengthening the leg muscles in parallel helps balance that inclination.”

(photo by Erin Baiano)

As dancers, we talk a lot about “finding our centers”—but what does that actually mean? It refers to the invisible pole of support in your core that makes you feel like you could

balance for days. Once you experience the freedom that sense of stability can provide, you’ll want to find a way to access it every time you dance. Professional dancer and Figure 4 Barre instructor Lindsey L. Miller shares three stabilizing exercises to help you conquer even the toughest balance challenges.

The Toe-Heel Rock

Purpose: This exercise strengthens the muscles in your ankle to promote stability in relevé.

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuck)

Stand sideways about one foot away from a wall. Lightly touch the wall with your right hand and lift your left leg to a parallel coupé. Place your left hand on your left hip.

Rock forward onto the toes of your right foot, lifting your right heel as high as you can.

Miller Says: “When balancing on your heel, it’s natural to want to stick out your butt. To keep your weight centered over your foot, think of almost tucking your pelvis.”

Rock backward to the starting position, then lift the ball of your right foot off the floor as high as you can, keeping your body upright and your hips centered over your foot.

Repeat 10 times, then switch sides.

Incorrect

Because dancers’ big toes tend to be stronger than their pinky toes, rocking back to the heel often looks like this, with the pinky-toe side of the foot tilted toward the floor.

Correct

Focus on lifting up the pinky-toe side so your metatarsal stays even.

The Roll-Down

Purpose: This exercise helps you access your deep transverse abdominal muscles, which are essential to balance.

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuck)

Stand with your back against a wall, your feet parallel and hips-width apart and your arms by your sides.

Curve your head forward and begin to roll down through your spine. Keep your hips and heels connected to the wall.

Miller Says: “It’s difficult not to fall forward during this exercise. To find your balance, focus on contracting your lower abs and pressing your hips and heels into the wall behind you.”

Once you reach the bottom of the roll-down, grab on to opposite elbows to keep from relying on the floor for balance.

Beginning at the base of your spine, roll your body back up to the starting position.

Repeat two more times.

The Horizontal Tilt

Purpose: This exercise promotes balance in turnout by strengthening your oblique muscles and the external rotators in your hip.

Begin in a “T” position, standing on a straight, parallel right leg with your left leg reaching behind you (foot flexed and parallel). Tilt your torso forward, so your body—from the crown of your head to your heel—forms a straight line parallel to the floor. Reach your arms toward the floor with your palms facing each other.

Bend your right leg, making sure your knee tracks over the center of your right foot and your left leg stays in line with your torso. Hold the rest of your body still.

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuck)

Miller Says: “To give yourself an even greater balance challenge, try looking up at your top hand when you unfold into the turned-out position.”

Stretch your right leg to return to the starting position.

(Lucas Chilczuck)

Open and unfold your body by turning out your left leg and reaching your left arm to the ceiling, so your body faces out instead of down. Gaze down at your right arm as you continue to reach it toward the floor, and squeeze your abdominals. Hold for a count of three.

Return to the starting position.

Repeat five times, then switch legs.

We’ve all heard it: the chorus of cracking joints that comes with the first plié of class. A lot of dancers treat barre as their daily warm-up, but a ballerina jumping into class cold is kind of like the Tin Man trying to move without his oil can. Conditioning expert and former professional ballet dancer Rachel Hamrick has four pre-barre exercises that will get your body ready for that aggressive dégagé combo.

You’ll need: an FLX ball or a medicine ball

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Vinyasa Flow

Purpose: Yoga is a great way to prep your body for ballet class. The repetitive nature of vinyasa flow gets your blood pumping and your body temperature rising, helping to gradually increase your range of motion.

1. Begin in a full plank position with the FLX ball between your ankles. Your body should form a straight line, starting at your heels and continuing through your neck. Think of pulling your belly button towards your spine and rolling your shoulders back and down. Hold this plank position for 10 slow counts.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Hamrick says: “Throughout the vinyasa flow, squeeze your inner thigh muscles together to hold the ball in place. This will generate extra heat and keep you from hyper-extending your knees.”

2. Untuck your toes and lift your chest so that your back arches. Squeeze your quads so that only the tops of your feet touch the floor, and think of lifting your chest up and forward to avoid crunching into your lower back. Hold this upward dog position for 10 slow counts.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

3. Lift your hips toward the ceiling so that your body forms an upside-down “V” shape. Reach your heels toward the floor while keeping your spine lengthened and your shoulders away from your ears. Hold this downward dog position for 10 counts. Repeat the entire sequence 3 times.

 

Lizard

Purpose: This position stretches your hips’ external rotators so you can maximize your turnout throughout class.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Get into a low lunge, with your right leg forward at a 90-degree angle and your left leg stretched behind you. Place both forearms on the inside of your right thigh so that they’re parallel with your right foot. Think of trying to get your chest as flat and long as possible. Hold for 30 counts and repeat on the other side.

Hamrick says: “To increase the stretch, think of hugging your right knee into your midline, rather then letting it open to the side.”

 

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Single-Leg-Switch Abdominals

Purpose: Working your core before class will prepare you to engage those same key muscles during balances and pirouettes.

1. Lie on your back with the FLX ball between your shoulder blades. Bring your right knee in toward your chest and curl your upper body so your knee is in line with your forehead. Place your hands on the top of your right shin, keeping your elbows wide and your shoulders down. Extend your left leg on a high diagonal and pull your belly button in.

2. Switch your legs so that the left knee pulls in toward your chest and your right leg extends on a high diagonal. Do 20 repetitions.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Hamrick says: “Think of pushing your knee into your hands to help you engage your core.”

Modification: Scissor Abdominals

For a more advanced abdominal warm-up, straighten both legs and hold your top leg from behind your calf or thigh. Keep both legs straight as you switch legs. Do 20 repetitions.

 

 

Toe Roll

Purpose: This exercise strengthens the intrinsic muscles on the bottom of your feet, prepping them for everything from relevés to grands jetés.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

1. Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bend your left knee slightly so you can place the FLX ball beneath your left toes with your heel resting on the ground.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

2. Straighten your left knee so that your left arch shapes around the ball as it rolls away from you. Push down on the ball with your toes and arch as you hold the extended position for 10 counts. Repeat 15 times with each foot.

Hamrick says: “Keep your toes straight throughout this exercise to train your foot not to knuckle when it points.”

 

We’ve all seen her: that dancer whose jumps just seem to defy gravity. From suspended sautés to soaring grands jetés, she takes the audience’s breath away every time her feet leave the ground. What’s her secret? She’s got backup—of the gluteus maximus variety.

Strong glutes can take your jumps to the next level, giving you the lift you need to squeeze in a switch leap or an extra tour en l’air. We turned to Giulia Pline, a yoga- and barre-certified instructor in NYC, for four exercises that will give your booty a boost.

 

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuk)

Bridge-Pose Leg Raise

1. Lie on your back with your feet planted beneath your hips and your fingertips reaching toward your heels. Raise your hips so they form a straight line with your torso and thighs, balancing on your shoulders.

2. Lift your right leg to the ceiling, pointing your foot and extending the back of your knee.

3. Inhale as you raise your hips even higher, then exhale as you lower your right leg so it’s parallel with your left thigh. Do 10 of these leg raises. Repeat with the left leg raised, then repeat the whole sequence again, coming down between each side to give your legs a rest.

Pline Says: “Engage your glutes to keep your pelvis lifted and your hips square throughout the exercise.”

 

(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)

Modification

For an extra challenge, lift the ball of your supporting foot off the floor so you’re balancing on your heel.

Pline Says: “Balancing on your heel helps activate the hamstring and glute of your supporting side.”

 

 

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuk)

Tabletop Pulse

1. Get on all fours, with your shoulders over your wrists and your knees under your hips

2. Lift your right leg in line with your torso, bending your knee to form a right angle. Flex your right foot.

3. Inhale as you push through your flexed foot, raising it toward the ceiling.

Pline Says: “Keep your spine lengthened and your abs engaged throughout this exercise. Don’t allow the pulsing of your leg to arch your back.”

4. Exhale as you lower your right leg, bringing your thigh back in line with your torso. Do 50 pulses. Repeat with the left leg raised, then repeat the whole sequence again.

 

 

 

 

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuk)

Tabletop Cross

You’ll need: a tennis ball

1. Begin in the same starting position as the tabletop pulse.

2. Place a tennis ball behind your right knee, squeezing your hamstring and calf together to keep the ball in place.

3. Lift your right leg so your thigh is in line with your torso, flexing your foot.

Pline Says:  “Really concentrate on squeezing the ball throughout this exercise. The added effort will activate the hamstring and glutes of your working leg.

4. Inhale and pulse your leg up, then exhale and bring it down and across your standing knee.

5. Lift your right leg so that your thigh is back in line with your torso. Do 15 lift-crosses. Repeat with the left leg raised, then repeat the whole sequence again.

 

 

 

 

 

(Photos by Lucas Chilczuk)

Grand Plié Wrap

1. Begin in a wide second position with your hands on your hips.

2. Do a grand plié, tracking your knees over your second toes. At the bottom of the plié, pulse your knees outward, so that they now track over your pinky toes. Pulse 20 times, then come up and repeat.

Pline Says: “Think of the wrap coming from the backs of your legs. This will help you initiate your gluteus muscles.”

(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)

Modification

For an added challenge, lift your heels at the base of your grand plié, holding strong through your ankles as you wrap your knees outward. Pulse 20 times, then repeat.

 

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