In the aftermath of the 2011 film "Black Swan," ballet-style workouts became a genuine fitness craze among celebrities. Still, if you watched Natalie Portman's Oscar-winning performance in the film, you might question the wisdom of ballerina workouts for weight loss. Sure, Portman's character shed a bunch of pounds with her grueling workouts and limited food intake. But she also started hallucinating. If you want to obtain a ballerina's long, lean body without the eating disorders that plague some dancers, ballet exercises can help. Just don't go overboard and neglect good nutrition or try to starve yourself into a shape that is unrealistic for your body type.
Natalie Portman Ballerina Workouts
To prepare to look and dance the part of a ballerina in "Black Swan," Portman worked with former New York City Ballet dancer Mary Helen Bowers to get strong, slim and fit without bulking up her muscles. The workouts were killers -- eight hours per day and six days per week. The workouts encompassed far more that just ballet moves -- swimming, cross-training, endurance work and resistance work played major roles in Portman's training. The day usually would include a one-mile swim and up to two hours of ballet exercises. Those types of workouts burn plenty of calories and help you shed pounds as you continue to eat sensibly.
Charlize Theron Ballerina Workouts
Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron is known for intense, ballet-based workouts. Designed by trainer to the stars, Fedele De Santis, the workouts aim to involve every muscle group. De Santis recommends a narrow grip for each exercise, as well as dumbbells with weights of no more than 5 pounds, to avoid developing bulky muscles. Theron spends at least 35 minutes on cardio work, in addition to the ballet-based exercises that make up the majority of her workout. To lose weight, De Santis advocates a diet focused on proteins, vegetables, and dark-colored fruits and greens. Organic is good. Fried foods, bread, rice and pasta are discouraged. His key to weight loss is to slowly lower your daily intake of calories "so you can avoid causing emotional and mental trauma to yourself." A gradual reduction of calories allows your body and stomach to more easily acclimate to the change.
The Downside of Ballerina Workouts
Former New York City Ballet dancer Bryann Jinnett, who appeared in "Black Swan" and owns a fitness studio, thinks ballet-focused classes are ill-suited to most women. The Harvard-educated Jinnett says most women don't have the "history of training or the steely core stability of trained ballet dancers to cope with the stressful and demanding positions." As a result, the potential to injure yourself is greater. Jinnett also faults many ballet-based workouts for an emphasis on muscle extension stretching over cardio exercises and resistance exercises, which are essential for fitness and weight loss.
Young ballerinas sometimes are required to maintain a below-average body weight while maintaining an above-average workout schedule. This imbalance can result in eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or binging. The pressure to succeed as a ballerina can have both mental and physical repercussions. "Ballerinas are often plagued by perfectionism, social anxiety and pressures to be graceful and agile," states Aparna Sharma, a medical doctor and specialist in eating disorders. Extreme calorie restriction can lead to mood swings, cognitive problems, renal failure and a host of other serious conditions. So it's essential for ballerinas to eat a nutritious diet. The ActSafe website urges dancers to eat breakfast, focus on healthy carbs, proteins and fats, and hydrate properly before, during and after workouts. That's good advice for anyone doing ballet-style workouts as well.
- Shape Magazine: Natalie Portman's Black Swan Workout
- Shape Magazine: Charlize Theron's Ballet-Based Total Workout
- Mail Online: Pro Dancer Says Trendy Ballet Workouts are Pointless..It's Diets and Great Genetics That Keep Ballerinas Trim
- ActSafe: Good Nutrition for Dancers
- Medical News Today: Psychiatrist Weight In On Dangers of the Ballerina Body
- Psychopathology: Characteristics of Eating Disorders Among Young Ballet Dancers
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.