The Best Ballet Exercises to Lengthen Leg Muscles & Knees

Get the lengthened leg muscles and knees of a ballet dancer with core ballet exercises such as the tendu.
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Ballet exercises performed in ballet classes -- some with the aid of a ballet barre -- give dancers their characteristic long, lean leg muscles. But achieving the ballerina body isn’t the same for everyone.

“You always have to take into consideration how your individual body is made when setting goals for yourself,” says Colorado-based professional ballerina and ballet teacher April Longo. Everyone is born with a particular body type -- some have hyper-extended legs that extend beyond a straightened position, and some have legs that will not look fully straightened, even when they are to their fullest extent. Most people fall somewhere in the middle. Knowing your body type will help you make the most of ballet exercises to lengthen the leg muscles and knees.

Core Ballet Exercises

Core ballet exercises such as tendus, dégagés and grande battements will create the long, lean leg muscles you want as a dancer. These three exercises all include sliding and brushing the working foot from the ballet first or fifth position to the second or fourth position -- with the working and standing legs and feet turned out -- all while keeping the knees straight. All three exercises are done to the front, side and back. The exercises are also performed standing perpendicular to the ballet barre with one hand lightly on it for support.

In the tendu, the toe is brushed from the starting position and pointed, touching the toe point to the ground. When the toe reaches the point, return it to the original starting position. The dégagé takes it a step beyond the tendu; it is performed at twice the speed and the working toe rises three or four inches off the floor, according to the American Ballet Theatre online ballet library. The grand battement is the biggest exercise of the trio, as the name implies. It involves the same mechanics of brushing and sliding the foot along the floor, but this time the foot leaves the floor and the leg is raised from the hip into the air at 90 degrees or higher. It returns through the tendu position back to the starting position.

Making the Most of Ballet Exercises

“Many students execute these steps incorrectly,” Longo says. She recommends concentrating on making an “undercurve” on the floor by first really pressing down into the floor as you start the downward, outward motion of the tendu, dégagé and grand battement. “Over time, repeating these correctly, you will see a big difference in the muscle formation in your legs. The muscle will become longer and leaner, because it is working more correctly for ballet class,” Longo says.

That’s important because the ballet dancer’s long and lean look comes from training the legs to always lengthen -- even when it is tempting to grip the muscle, which can happen during ballet exercises. If you are looking to change the look of your legs, start by examining your core ballet exercises, Longo recommends. Notice if you tend to lengthen and grow during the exercises, or if you are tucking and gripping.


Stretch the hamstrings, calves and quads muscles to help lengthen your legs. Set aside at least 15 minutes before and after ballet class to do some extra stretching for these problem areas, Longo recommends. A simple stretch sitting on the floor, with the body folded over straight legs (either in a split stretch or together in front of you) will do wonders to stretch hamstrings. “I always tell my students to just sit in a stretch while watching TV at home,” Longo says. “You will be distracted enough to not notice the discomfort as much.”

Using Exercise Bands

Using a stretchy, elastic exercise band aids in stretching the backs of your knees and legs. Lie on your back and extend one leg straight on the floor and the other up to the ceiling. Wrap the exercise band around your foot, holding the band in both hands, and pull the leg closer. Alternating pointing and flexing the foot in this stretch will make it more efficient.

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