Thigh Workouts for Dancers

Stronger leg muscles equals stronger technique.

Stronger leg muscles equals stronger technique.

When Nicole Scherzinger won her trophy on "Dancing With the Stars," she credited her workouts, not her dancing, for those envy-inspiring legs. Virginia Wilmerding, of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, also champions supplemental leg workouts for dancers. You learn grace, poise and coordination in dance class. Dance-specific workouts give you better legs to stand, balance and turn on. Perform all exercises for three sets of 10 reps, but do fewer reps if your form gets sloppy.

Adduction for Dancers

Graceful dancers have strong inner thighs. Those with weak adductors, as they're called, eventually fall from grace. When you balance on one leg, your adductors keep your knees from wobbling in all directions. They also assist in external hip rotation, otherwise called turnout or the holy grail of dance. Your dance-specific inner-thigh workout should include compound exercises, which target multiple muscle groups and teach your adductors to play well with others, and isolation exercises, which give your inner thighs the extra TLC they need.

Inner-Thigh Workout

Dancer and fitness instructor Deborah Horton showed "Dance Spirit" her adductor routine. Stand in a wide second position, with your feet turned out slightly wider than hip-width apart. Bend your knees, keeping your pelvis aligned under your ribs. Straighten your legs, imagining you can squeeze your inner thighs together. The air plie exercise mimics the movements of the standing plie, but does so from supine, with the floor supporting your back. Bend your knees, keep your heels together and create a frog position with your legs. Squeeze your inner thighs together to straighten your legs. Finish your adductor workout with side-lying leg lifts. Lie on one side, cross your top leg in front of your bottom leg. Squeeze your adductors and lift your bottom leg.

Anatomy of Turnout

Your dancing talent might run in your family, but training methods were different in your grandma's day. Turnout was so important that the ballet masters walked around the room with a baton, banging on a dancers knees to force them over her toes. It didn't work. Turnout comes from the hips, not from the knees. A combination of hip flexibility and gluteus medius -- your key external rotator -- opens your hips and makes turnout happen. Warm up for your turnout workout by lying supine, lifting one bent knee toward your chest, and making four clockwise and four counterclockwise circles. Repeat on your other side.

Turnout and Extension

Turnout alone won't make the dancer. Hip extension moves your leg behind your body and creates elegant arabesques. In her "Turnout for Dancers" exercise program, Virginia Wilmerding features an exercise that combines extension and turnout. Lie prone, resting your forehead on your hands, and imagining your leg elongating along the floor. Keeping your pelvis glued to the mat, lift your straight leg, rotate it out to the side, return it to center, then lower it to the floor. Nicole Scherzinger uses the exercise ball to combine hip extension, turnout and balance. Lie prone on the ball with your hands on the mat, your knees bent and the soles of your feet together. Press your heels together as you lift your thighs from the ball. Return and repeat.

About the Author

In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.

Photo Credits

  • Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images