Exercise provides endless benefits for our body, but different types of workout provide different results. For example, cardio is exercise that increases your heart rate, and is primarily used as a means to burn fat. Activities like running, jogging and swimming that work your lungs and get your blood pumping are great examples of effective cardio. On the other hand, resistance training is the exercise that will build muscle — typically involving weight workouts like bench-pressing, or simply making use of your body weight, with movements such as crunches and planks.
A balance of each type of exercise is important if you want to achieve a stronger, leaner physique, and tone the various muscle groups. There are lots of exercises for the arms that incorporate both cardio and resistance training, but few as effective and enjoyable as those used in ballet. Ballerinas work immensely hard to strengthen their upper bodies so that they can perform with ease, and in the process, achieve their beautifully sculpted arms.
Therefore, I try to incorporate as many ballet training exercises as I can into my workout plan, to fast-track to visible results. The aim of these movements is to lengthen and sculpt your muscles, including the triceps and shoulder groups. These can be performed with or without weights, so you can alter your workout depending on your fitness level — or if you’re finding them too challenging, decrease the reps and take longer breaks between exercises. Read on to learn some of my favourite ballet exercises that will show you how to get toned arms
1. HALF CIRCLE
This simple routine will warm up your arms and define your shoulder muscles. Be sure to keep your core and spine long and engaged, for a straight back. With each arm movement, you should feel the shoulders and chest opening up — this kind of movement will create long, lean muscles. Here’s how to do it: Stand with your feet together and knees slightly bent, positioned over your toes. Raise your arms out in front of you and point your index fingers together. This is the starting position. Opening your arms out wide, either side of your body, level with your shoulders. Drop your arms and in one fluid motion, bring them back to the starting position. Repeat for ten reps.
2. LATERAL RAISE
This ballet movement targets the deltoid muscles, which are those around your shoulder socket. For this exercise, you may want to incorporate a small-weight dumbbell. When we think of toned arms, our minds often go to the image of a tight, sculpted ‘wing’ around the triceps, but to achieve this, you’ll need to train these upper areas around the shoulders too. Here’s what you should do: Stand with your arms by your sides and your feet a shoulder-width apart. Bend both of your elbows simultaneously to create a 90-degree angle with your fingertips pointing out in front of your body. This is the starting position. In one fluid movement, raise your elbows to shoulder height, creating a straight line across your shoulders from elbow to elbow. Hold the pose for two seconds, and lower your arms once more to the starting position. Repeat for 15 reps.
3. SIDE SWITCH
Now we’ll be taking to the floor, using an exercise mat if you have one. As the name suggests, this movement will have your whole body switch from side to side and create an extended, graceful shape. Lifting each arm into an arch over your head, you will lengthen and target the shoulder muscles once more. This is how it’s done: Take up a plank position on your hands and toes, with shoulders positioned above the wrists and head facing the floor. Turn your hips to face the right, rotating your feet to bring each heel to the floor. Simultaneously, lift your right arm up, out, and arch over your head, fingers extended. Lower your arm back to the starting position, and rotate your hips and feet back toward the floor. Repeat for ten reps, alternating which side of your body (arms, hips and feet) that you rotate.
4. HALF PRESS UP WITH ARM LIFT
You might be familiar with the half press-up, which is just like the real thing but done on your knees instead. Integrating a fluid arm lift after each rep, this is a common ballet exercise as it targets your core but gets your upper arms stretching and lengthening — using your shoulder muscles and triceps. This is what I do: Lower your body onto your hands and knees. Position your wrists underneath your shoulders with palms pressed to the floor, with your knees wide behind your hips. This is the starting position. Bring your torso down toward the floor, bending at the elbows. Keep your back straight and your abs tight as you dip downwards. Stretch your elbows and bring your body back up. Once you’re fully raised, lift one arm and extend your fingers, to continue the straight line of your back, then return it to the starting position. Repeat for ten reps, alternating which arm you lift.
For more exercises, take a look at my ballet blast routine, a comprehensive full-body workout inspired by classic dance principles.