Pilates has long been a go-to warm-up for ballet dancers, promising longer, stronger muscles and a more powerful, connected core. Experienced practitioners can even whiz through the beginning mat series—a group of 18 exercises—in just 10 to 12 minutes. But if you only have a few minutes to get warm, which exercises should you do? Many Pilates teachers recommend a compressed warm-up.
Stephanie West, an instructor and teacher trainer with Power Pilates in New York City, says that even with an abbreviated workout, you’re likely to notice improvements in your technique almost immediately, like being able to lift your arabesque higher while keeping the abs and ribs connected, or completing three pirouettes instead of two since the arms, legs and torso will have better coordination. West suggests a group of abdominal exercises, known as the “series of five,” with a built-in progression of stretch, stability, stamina and strength that will fire up the entire body. Throughout the series, think of pulling the abs in and up, and avoid using the common ballet cue to “bring the navel to the spine,” which could cause you to compress your spine into the mat.
Start lying down on your back with both knees into your chest.
1. Single-leg stretch (8 sets; right and left make 1 set)
Lift head and place both hands on right shin. Extend left leg out at a 45-degree angle. Exhale and pull the right leg in farther. Inhale to change legs.
Remember: Empty all the air out of the lungs before switching legs.
2. Double-leg stretch (8 reps)
Lift head and hug both shins into chest. Inhale and extend the arms on a high diagonal behind you and the legs to a 45-degree angle. Exhale and hug shins back in. Remember: Keep the head lifted the entire time.
3. Scissors (8 sets)
Lift head and straighten both legs toward ceiling. Place hands behind right thigh and reach left leg out at a 45-degree angle. Pull the right leg in twice and switch.
Remember: Resist the urge to stretch into a split. Instead, bring the upper body up to meet the leg.
4. Lower lift (8 reps)
Place both hands in a diamond shape under the hips for support. Lift head and reach both legs to 90 degrees. Lower legs to 45 degrees and then return.
Remember: Focus on curling the upper body higher even as the legs lower.
5. Crisscross (8 sets)
Place both hands behind the head and lift head up. Straighten right leg to 45-degree angle, keeping left knee bent into chest. Twist toward bent knee for 3 pulses. Come to center, bending both knees at a 90-degree angle. Then change legs and twist to other side.
Remember: Think of twisting your armpit to the opposite knee instead of the elbow to the knee.
Challenge yourself: Try the whole series as a bookend to your classes or rehearsals three times a week, says West. “It’s beneficial to do it before a long rehearsal to open up the lungs, to connect the rib cage and to scoop into the abdominals.” Repeating the series during your cooldown allows you to check back in with your body.
Got (Whole) Milk?
Glance inside any dancer’s fridge, and it’s probably stocked with healthy choices like low-fat yogurt and skim milk. But recent research from the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care suggests that whole-fat dairy products may actually be more successful in warding off belly fat than low- or nonfat dairy versions of milk, yogurt, cream and butter. Researchers think this may happen because high-fat dairy foods make you feel fuller sooner, so you’re likely to eat less. Or, bioactive substances in milk fat may have an effect on your metabolism, so the body burns fat instead of storing it. Those are two guilt-free reasons to revamp your grocery list with some different dairy treats.
Wrap for Relief
If you bobble on your ballonné and end up with a sprained ankle during class, you’re likely to search for the nearest ice pack. But traditional ones can be messy, especially if they pop and the blue cooling gel spills all over your dance bag. Dr. Cool wraps provide a chemical-free alternative, combining the cold therapy of ice with the compression of an ACE bandage. Simply dip the wrap in cold water and place in a freezer for 20 minutes before wrapping the injured area. They’re designed to stay cool for about 20 minutes, so you don’t have to worry about frostbite from over-icing. And since they come in three sizes (from 3" by 25" to 6" by 50"), they’re suitable for many dancer trouble spots, like the ankle, knee, thigh, back and shoulder. Get yours at drcoolrecovery.com.
Teachers are constantly challenging their students to have a snappier spot, and for good reason. Not only does it keep dancers from becoming disoriented during a series of chaînés or fouettés, it actually changes how the brain deals with dizziness in general. A team of neurologists at Imperial College London recently studied the science behind spotting and learned that through years of training, ballet dancers’ brains are able to ignore signals from the inner ears’ balance organs and better ward off dizziness. After a group of dancers and nondancers were spun in a mechanical chair, brain scans showed a visible difference in the part of the brain that processes sensory information from the inner ear. Researchers are now considering dance classes, specifically those with turning, as a possible therapy for people with chronic dizziness.
Nutrition Label Makeover
This spring the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a fresh take on the familiar Nutrition Facts food label. Health-savvy dancers will soon notice changes on the packaging of everything from string cheese to granola bars to frozen veggies. One dancer-friendly change is that the amount of potassium and vitamin D will now be included, making it easier to identify foods high in potassium, to reduce muscle cramps, and vitamin D, to help the body absorb calcium for strong bones. What else should you know about the new labels?
Current label: As is, serving sizes are generally smaller than what you actually eat. For example, most ice cream cartons list 1/2 cup as one serving.
New label: Serving sizes will be adjusted to reflect how much is realistically eaten in one sitting. You’ll have a better idea of how much of a nutrient is on your dinner plate without having to do the extra math.
Current label: They’re currently printed in a small font and can get lost with the rest of a label’s info.
New label: Calories will now be displayed in a large, bold typeface.
Current label: Right now, a separate line shows how much of a food’s calories come from fat.
New label: This line will be deleted since we need calories from healthy fats in our diets. The breakdown of saturated and trans fats will still be included.
Current label: All sugar is lumped together in a line under “Total Carbohydrate.”
New label: A new category under “Sugars” will show how many grams of the total sugars are added sugars.
Hot ‘n’ Happy
It’s natural to feel discouraged after a bad class or performance, but as a dancer, you need to be able to bounce back quickly and step into your next rehearsal with renewed confidence. Eating hot sauce may do the trick. According to the American Chemical Society, jalapeño peppers, the active ingredient in spicy products like Sriracha sauce, can help provide an immediate mood boost. Why? After the hot and peppery taste hits your tongue, the nervous system releases endorphins to counter the heat. This creates a natural high, making you feel happier. Try drizzling some Sriracha on your wrap or sandwich at lunch, and you just might hit the barre feeling perkier. —Shannon Woods