In her new book, “Ballerina Body: Dancing and Eating Your Way to a Leaner, Stronger, and More Graceful You,” professional ballerina and Under Armour athlete Misty Copeland shares her secrets for how to reshape your body through movement and diet to achieve a lean, strong physique along with glowing health.
“There has been a shift in recent years in which women no longer desire the bare bones of a runway model,” Copeland says. “Standards have changed: What women do want is a long, toned, powerful body with excellent posture.”
In her book, she recognizes that, “[motion]is essential to maintaining our health and stamina, flooding our bodies with the feel-good chemicals that give us peace, and enabling us to do all that matters most to us — studying, cultivating our careers, spending quality time with friends and family, and pursuing the activities and interests that give us joy.”
In the chapter entitled “Ballerina Moves,” she lays out a few floor exercises, excerpted below, as the foundation for movement:
We want to create the optimum space in the joints, allowing you to move freely. This exercise can be done while lying on your stomach and again while lying on your back.
a. Lie on your stomach, head turned to the right, left cheek on the floor. Your legs should be extended, and relaxed; your arms bent at a 90-degree angle with your palms facing down. With your foot relaxed and on the floor, slide your right leg along the floor, with your knee bent toward your right elbow, without forcing. Be comfortable, as this is movement therapy, not exercise. Keeping your foot relaxed, slide your right leg back toward your left leg until it’s back at the starting position.
b. Do not hold the rest of your body rigid; instead, allow your core and your stationary leg to freely let go of their positions. Repeat the movement, and on the third repetition of bringing your knee toward your elbow, lift your foot and lower leg, turning them in and pulling your knee toward your standing leg. (The non-moving leg is called the standing leg, even when you’re lying on the floor. The moving leg is called the working leg). c. Repeat this step once, your knee out, turning your foot up to the ceiling and then dragging your knee in toward the standing leg. Then return your leg to lengthen it next to the standing leg.
d. Turn your head and repeat the whole combination with the other leg.
e. Repeat the entire exercise, this time lying on your back. Remember, don’t force it.
This is a good warm-up exercise, but it can also be used for cooldown or anytime you’re feeling out of sorts or in need of freedom through the back, pelvis or both.
Marjorie Liebert, who has instructed me in floor barre, has dubbed this exercise my specialty. I think it’s because it makes me feel like I am dancing while lying on my back, especially when I was injured with my tibia stress fractures. I felt so free when doing this.
There are a number of variations of this warm-up stretch, but this is a good one, generally suitable for most people, from beginners to advanced students who’ve had no injury or surgery to make it too difficult. You can do this stretch as a warm-up movement and also to cool down. This can also be done, gently, anytime your back is feeling tight or achy
a. Lie on your back legs bent, the soles of your feet on the floor, and your legs hip distance apart. Make sure your lower back is firmly supported by the floor.
b. Stretch your arms to the sides, just below shoulder height, palms down. Your arms help to balance your core by hugging the floor as your legs move.
c. Allow your knees to lead your legs to fall in one direction while your head drops to the other side as you exhale.
d. Return your legs and head to center, inhaling. Do the same movement to the other side. Return to the center.