Think barre is the only warm-up you need for ballet class? Think again. Check out four pre-barre exercises to get your body ready for that aggressive dégagé combo.

Always give your muscles a solid stretch before you perform. (Matt Karas)

When it comes time to perform, you can’t wait to be onstage. But preparing for a show takes more than doing your hair and makeup. Your muscles need to be warm or you’ll risk getting injured—and a warm-up isn’t just a quick stretch or two. What does a good pre-performance routine entail? DS consulted the pros to find out.

Step 1: Get Moving

Start by doing some cardio to get your heart rate up. Christina Hampton, artistic director of Arizona Youth Ballet, suggests doing Pilates exercises like the hundreds. Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and your legs lifted in tabletop position. Tuck your chin to your chest and lift your upper back off the floor. Pump your arms, breathe and engage your abs. “Once you get your blood circulating, it helps the rest of your body get warm,” she says. You can also jog in place for a few minutes or do jumping jacks—anything low-impact to get you moving without exerting too much energy.

“Warming up increases tissue temperatures and makes them more supple,” says Kester Cotton, physical therapist for Oregon Ballet Theatre. “It allows them to be stretched, so you’re not just pulling on tendons and ligaments.” Cotton recommends non–weight-bearing movements, like a floor barre, to engage your abdominals and turnout muscles. Then, after you’ve generated some heat in your body, roll out tight spots with a foam roller or tennis ball.

Step 2: Stretch

Gentle stretching before you dance will help prevent injuries—but don’t force it. “Once you feel the resistance, don’t push too much into it,” says Cynthia Brown, certified personal trainer with Core Fitness. “Ease into the stretch to let the muscles loosen up.”

You might want to flop down into a split or throw your leg up over the barre, but resist the urge—remember, your muscles aren’t fully warm yet. Instead, ease into a split or hold on to something sturdy while you take your foot in your hand and lift it to the front and side. Then take your knee and guide your leg back into an extended arabesque. Whatever stretches you choose, keep them moving and don’t sit in one position for too long. Too much pull on one area can overstretch and weaken muscles.

Step 3: Activate Your Ankles and Feet

After you’ve done some cardio and stretching, target your ankles and feet. Work on Thera-Band exercises, practice “doming” (lifting your metatarsals while keeping your toes on the floor) and do a short barre. “Spend 10 to 15 minutes on pliés and relevés, especially if you’re doing pointe work,” Hampton says. “Then do exercises to center yourself, like relevé passés or single pirouettes.”

 

Your routine should take 15 to 30 minutes. “There’s no perfect warm-up,” Cotton says. What works for one person might not feel right to another. “You know you’re sufficiently warmed up when your heart rate’s elevated and you feel less stiff, less tired and more prepared.”

 

What NOT to Do

Don’t bounce in a stretch. You could rip muscles or tear ligaments.

Don’t push through pain. “Listen to your body, and if something really feels wrong, don’t do it,” Brown says.

Don’t just go out and start jumping. “You could end up with knee injuries, Achilles tendonitis or shin splints,” Hampton warns.

Don’t wait until the show to get on your legs. Work on finding your balance before the curtain goes up.

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.”

 

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