Whether you're a ballerina or just want to look like one, leg stretches are essential exercises. Not only does proper stretching help improve your turnout and extensions, it helps prevent injury. According to dancer Laura Davies of dancescape.com, holding your stretches until the tightness and discomfort decrease lets you know they're effective.
One classic ballet hamstring stretch requires you sit on the floor with one leg extended in front of you and the other foot pulled in toward your groin, with your knee pointing outward and touching the floor. By doing a seated forward bend toward the extended leg, you get a deep hamstring stretch. To stretch your hamstrings while improving your turnout, extend both legs to the sides and stretch your upper body over each leg. Hold each stretch for 30 to 90 seconds, until you feel your hips and hamstrings relax.
Keeping your calves stretched helps prevent pulls and muscle strains. One way to stretch your calves is by standing with the balls of your feet on a step and your heels hanging off. By slowly raising up on the balls of your feet and lowering your heels again, holding each stretch for five to 10 seconds, you achieve a deep calf stretch. Wrapping a rubber exercise band around the balls of your feet and flexing them also provides an effective stretch.
Ankles and Feet
Strong ankles and feet are essential for pointe work. The same exercise band stretch that works for your calves also works for your feet. With the balls of your feet wrapped in the band, flex and point until you feel your arches relax. Exercises in releve help improve ankle strength. One challenging but effective exercise is to stand on tiptoe, then lift one knee so your foot comes off the floor. After holding for four counts, release your foot back down. Repeat the exercise at least five times on each side.
Improve your extension with the splits. Learning to do a full split on the floor leads to the ability to do it on pointe. If you can't put your buttocks on the floor at first, rest your hands on yoga blocks, with one on each side of your hips. Once you've mastered splits on the floor, move on to a yoga-style standing split. Start in a forward bend, with your legs straight and the palms of your hands on the floor. Lift one leg up and back until you achieve a straight line.
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