If you're one of the lucky dancers #blessed with hyperextended knees, you know that while they're super-pretty to look at, they're also super-prone to injury. Dance Spirit asked Sean P. Gallagher, BFA, PT, CFT, CPT, MS, and founder of Performing Arts Physical Therapy in NYC, about the most effective strengthening moves for hyperextension.
Photos by Jayme Thornton. Modeled by Sarah Meahl.
In the 1990s, actress Suzanne Somers turned the funky-looking ThighMaster into a fitness hit. And we get it! It’s crucial, especially for dancers, to tone those inner thighs. “The inner thigh, like any upper leg area, helps stabilize the knee joint,” says dancer, personal trainer and group fitness instructor Deborah Horton. “It’s important to work your turnout from your hip, which is a problem for many dancers—they try to work it from their knees. Having strong inner thighs will help with that rotation.”
But you don’t need a bulky piece of equipment (sorry, Suzanne) to get your legs whipped into shape. Try these no-fuss exercises, created by Horton exclusively for you!
Standing Plié Squat
Start in a wide second-position plié, turned out, with your arms in second position and your palms facing up.
Squeeze your thighs and glutes as you straighten your legs and raise your arms overhead.
Return to the starting position. Do three sets of 10 reps at a quick pace.
Make it harder! At the end of each set, hold the plié position and do 20 small pulses up and down.
Really feel the burn: After the plié pulses, stay low and pulse your knees forward 20 times.
Only for the advanced: At the end of the series, lift your heels and squeeze your inner thighs up into relevé, raising your arms straight above your head. Hold for 10 counts.
Horton says: “Make sure your lower core is engaged throughout the series and your hips stay directly beneath your shoulders.”
Stand in first position relevé with your hands on your hips.
Do small plié pulses, remaining in relevé, for 20 counts, and then hold in plié for 20 counts.
Finish by straightening your knees and lifting your arms overhead. Hold for 20 counts. Do three sets.
Horton says: “Focus on your lower core and keeping your hips and shoulders open.”
Leg Lifts in First Position
Begin in first position with your hands on your hips. Extend your flexed left foot forward, shifting your balance onto your right leg.
Bring your left leg back to the starting position without letting it come all the way to the floor. Repeat 20 times. Then switch sides. Do two sets on each side.
Make it harder! At the end of the set, keep your left leg lifted and do 20 pulses upward.
The Straddle Squeeze
Lie flat on your back with your arms by your sides. Lift your legs straight up to form
a 90-degree angle with your torso, flexing your feet in first position. Beat your right foot forward into fifth position.
Beat your left foot forward into fifth position.
Point your toes and open your legs into a wide second.
Squeeze your inner thighs and lift your legs back to the starting position. Do three sets of 20.
Horton says: “Contract your core and push your lower back into the floor. Having your palms by your sides will help stabilize your hips.”
Lie flat on your back with your arms by your sides. Lift your legs straight up, with your feet flexed in first position.
Plié your legs, keeping them turned out with your heels together. Your hips and shoulder blades should stay flat on the ground.
Push your heels back toward the ceiling slowly, like you’re pushing resistance away from you. Repeat the series 20 times. Do three sets.
Lean on your right elbow with your left knee bent and foot on the ground. Lift your right leg off the ground slightly, flexing your foot to activate your leg muscles.
Lift your right leg a few inches higher. Lower your right leg to the starting position. Don’t let it touch the floor. Repeat 20 times and then switch sides. Do at least two sets per side.
Horton says: “Stabilize your core and push down into your right shoulder. For extra difficulty, you can hold a book or something weighted on your working leg.”
Make it harder! Instead of resting on your elbow, do the exercise in a lifted side plank, either on your forearm or the palm of your right hand.
Photography by Erin Baiano. Hair and makeup by Ananda Khan. Modeled by Deborah Horton. Deborah Horton is a dancer, personal trainer and AFAA-certified group fitness instructor in NYC. Most recently, she created a customized workout for the new “Blood Type Workout” series.
You spend your days jumping, leaping, bending, twisting and generally putting a ton of stress on your knees. But be kind to them—they’re two of your most important body parts! One of the best ways to avoid knee pain is to strengthen the muscles surrounding your kneecaps. “These exercises will help improve your alignment, which is essential for knee health,” says DS fitness consultant Michelle Rodriguez, who is the founder of Manhattan Physio Group in NYC. “Many knee injuries can be avoided if you pay careful attention to always keeping the knee over the middle of the foot, regardless of whether you’re in parallel or turned out.”
Bridge with Pillow Squeeze
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart. Place a folded pillow between your knees.
Press into your heels to lift your pelvis off the ground until it’s level with your knees. Don’t let the pillow drop! Keep the sides of your pelvis level and your belly button pulled into your spine as you lower your hips to the ground. Repeat 10 times.
With your hips lifted in the bridge position, straighten one knee. Keep the rest of your body level and stable.
Keeping your hips elevated, bend your knee, and slowly lower your foot to the floor. Repeat on the other side. Repeat five times on each side.
Double Leg Squat (that’s “chair pose” for you yoga buffs!)
Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
Begin to squat by reaching your sit bones back past your heels and bending your knees to 100 degrees. Keep your weight in your heels and reach your arms forward to counter-balance your weight. Make sure your kneecaps don’t pass beyond your second and third toes. Press into your heels and activate your glute muscles to return to standing, bringing your hips in line with your shoulders and lowering your arms to your sides. Repeat 10–15 times.
Parallel Pliés with Heel Taps
Stand on your right leg with your left leg extended in front of you, a few inches off the ground. Hold your left arm out to the side for balance.
Bend your right knee—be sure to align your kneecap directly over your second and third toes—as you reach your left foot to the ground in front of you, lightly tapping your heel to the floor.
Straighten your right knee as you lift your left leg, reaching your left foot out to the side.
Plié your right leg as you tap your left heel to the floor. Your right leg should be doing all the work.
Repeat to the front and side, completing 10 reps each and then switching to the opposite side. Pay attention to proper alignment throughout the exercise. Your working knee should bend directly over your toes.
Michelle Rodriguez, MPT, OCS, CMPT, is the founder and director of Manhattan Physio Group. She is a physical therapist specializing in orthopedic manual therapy and dance rehabilitation.
Photography by Sibté Hassan. Hair and makeup by Chuck Jensen for Mark Edward Inc. modeled by nikeva stapleton.
Nikeva Stapleton is a graduate of the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program. She is currently a freelance dancer and model in NYC.
Love handles, muffin top—call it whatever you want, but we all hate that extra stuff that hangs over the elastic on our tights, right? While the best thing you can do to slim your sides is to adjust your diet (more veggies, fewer brownies!) and add cardiovascular activity to your weekly workouts, there are also some toning techniques that will make those tights more comfortable.
Daphnie Yang, a dance instructor and personal trainer in NYC, created this series of exercises exclusively for Dance Spirit. “Many people make the mistake of just doing loads of crunches, but crunches only work the front wall of the stomach,” Yang says. “The core’s transverse and oblique muscles get ignored. This workout targets every muscle group that comprises the core—transverse, internal and external obliques and the rectus abdominis—leading to a strong center and svelte waistline.” Read on and shape up!
Start by going through each exercise in a row and repeating the series two times. Work your way up to doing the routine three times, twice a week.
Daphnie Yang is a dance instructor and an International Sports Sciences Association-certified trainer and race coach. She graduated from New York University with a BFA in Dance and Theatre Arts, and runs Definition Fitness by Daphnie, a private personal training company in NYC.
Model Jessalyn Gliebe is a dancer in NYC. Most recently she was featured in Shaun T’s “Hip Hop Abs” video and Cherie Lily’s “Dripping Wet” music video.