Your Best Body

Published in the April/May 2010 issue.

Photo by Jaob Pritchard

Total Body Tune-Up

 

Thera-Band exercises that go beyond your toes

 

By Jen Peters

 

When most ballet dancers think of Thera-Bands, they picture toes pointing and flexing. But Thera-Bands aren’t just for your feet. They are an exercise tool that can tone your entire body without adding unwanted bulk.

 

Try these exercises with a light band, then advance to a stronger resistance once you can maintain
correct form. Do two or three sets of repetitions for each exercise, working until you feel your muscles burn. 

Upper-Body Balancers
In ballet, your lower body performs the brunt of the work—but don’t neglect the upper half. Strong shoulders, back and arms can improve your port de bras and lead to safer partnering.

 

Standing Push-Up: Place the band across your back and feed the ends under your armpits, holding one end in each hand. Start with your hands by your shoulders, then press straight forward as though you were performing a push-up. Slowly return to the starting position. This will prepare your arms for pushing down on a partner’s shoulders during a lift, as well as for floor work you might encounter in contemporary pieces.

 

Port de Bras: Begin with your arms en bas, holding the band slightly stretched between each hand. Raise your arms to first position, then fifth, maintaining the resistance throughout. Then slowly return to en bas. Paul Papoutsakis, physical therapist for National Ballet of Canada, recommends keeping the shoulder blades slightly squeezed together to work your shoulders and upper back—which will help your port de bras look stronger and more supported.
   
Down to the Core
Cambrés and arabesques can wreak havoc on your lower spine. Protect your back by building a strong core.

 

Roll-Up: While standing in parallel, place the band under your feet and hold the ends, one in each hand. Hang over your legs and slowly roll up with a rounded back. The band’s resistance will increase as you roll away from your feet, requiring the deep abdominals to engage. This will balance the arch in your lower spine and increase the articulation in your back. 

 

Plank: Tie the band in a loop around your wrists so there is resistance when your hands are shoulder-distance apart. Come into a full plank, then “walk” around—moving arms and legs together, going forward, backward or even sideways. A good plank works the entire body, especially the core. This is also an efficient way to prepare your rotator cuffs (shoulder-blade stabilizers) for lifts.

Long and Strong Legs   
Because ballet dancers are always turned out, most overwork their external rotators while neglecting their internal rotators. “Dancers develop muscular imbalances at the hip, which affect leg alignment and muscle development,” says Erika Kalkan, a physical therapist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at the NYU Hospital for Joint Injuries. Working the leg muscles in all directions can correct these imbalances.

 

Clamshell: Lie on your side with knees bent, and your head, shoulders, hips and feet in a straight line. Tie the band around your ankles. Keeping the knees together, lift your top foot. Although this internal rotation will feel awkward at first, it will help to even out the muscles in your hips. To work external rotation, tie the band around your thighs just above the knees and lift the top knee into the band while keeping the feet together.

 

Tied-Up Tendu: In first position at the barre, tie the band in a loop around the working ankle and to a fixed point directly opposite from the tendu direction (for tendu front, tie it straight back; for tendu back, tie it front, etc.). Tendu slowly, working against the band’s resistance. “Standing exercises work multiple muscle groups and challenge balance,” says Kalkan. This exercise will give your standard tendus and dégagés extra bite.

 

Tough Skin
Despite what you might think, it’s possible to prevent blistered toes. The key is to toughen up your skin. When your feet are healthy—no open wounds—apply tincture of benzoin (available at your local pharmacy) directly to any blister-prone areas every day for a couple of weeks. Allow it to dry, and then rub in unscented lotion. You will eventually feel your skin get harder, making it less susceptible to blisters. (Stop using the tincture if you experience any redness, itching, pain or blistering, which could be a sign of dermatitis.) If your toes are still blistering regularly, check to make sure your pointe shoes fit properly: A box that is too narrow or wide is often the culprit.

 

TLC, Gingerly
The next time your muscles feel sore, consider munching on some ginger. Traditional medicine practices have used this herb for centuries to reduce inflammation associated with muscle pain.
How It Works: Ginger works the same way as anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen: by blocking certain chemicals (prostaglandins) that cause swelling and pain.
Other Uses: Ginger can also help prevent and relieve nausea, indigestion and cold symptoms.
How to Eat: Ginger can be used as a spice in cooking, eaten raw, crystallized and sweetened, or brewed in tea.

 

Become a Fat-Burning Machine
Want to burn more fat during your next class? Eat a meal that ranks low on the glycemic index, which rates carbohydrates on how they affect blood sugar levels.

 

A recent study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that women who consumed low-GI foods before working out burned 50 percent more fat than women who consumed a high-GI meal. This is most likely because high-GI foods spike your blood sugar, which your body then uses as fuel. But low-GI foods take longer to digest, so your body pulls energy from its fat stores instead.

 

Some healthy low-GI foods include:
1. Cereals made with oats, barley or bran
2. Bread made with whole grains, stone-ground flour or sourdough
3. Fruits and vegetables
4. Basmati or Doongara rice

 

Stick It
If you haven’t yet tried The Stick, you’re missing out. The latest fad in self-massage tools, it feels like the ultimate indulgence—but using it is one of the healthiest things you can do for your body.

 

The Stick works like a rolling pin, but with several independent spindles that turn freely around a semi-rigid core. This allows you to dig deep into your muscles and disperse the lactic acid that builds up after hours in the studio. Unlike balls or foam rollers, The Stick lets you  easily vary the amount of pressure you want to use. It comes in a variety of lengths, including a compact travel size that can fit inside your dance bag. Check out www.thestick.com.