An important, but often neglected, part of your fitness is your balance. Being able to stand on one leg has been found by researchers to be a predictor of longevity.
Balance is divided into two types: static (holding your body in a specific position and posture) and dynamic (maintaining balance while moving your body). Both types of balance are essential, and you can improve both with targeted exercises.
Whether at the barre or in the centre, ballet exercises require balance. We do this by strengthening the muscles required to balance and hold our positions (primarily the core and legs). At the same time, our brain sends messages to multiple muscles to hold, correct, or compensate. Our proprioception (our implicit knowledge of where our body is in space) improves and we can adjust our balance without thinking about it. The more we do this, the faster we learn and the better we get at it.
Exercise 1: One leg balance for a longer life
With your feet in parallel, raise a bent leg off the floor in front of you, with your big toe touching the inside of your other leg (parallel retire). When you feel steady, close your eyes. If you can hold it for 10 seconds you are doing well but everyone should be able to do it for at least 30. If you’re having trouble balancing, this test can reveal areas of weakness, like instability in the ankle, knee, or hip. To make it more challenging, stand on a less stable surface and repeat the balance with your eyes open.
Exercise 2: Arabesque focus
Shifting your weight slightly forward, carry your raised leg to the back and straighten it. It doesn’t need to be high off the floor but try to keep your body upright. You can place your arms out to the side. Zip up your core and lift out of your standing hip by pushing your foot into the floor and finding space between your hip bone and lower ribs. To make this more challenging, slowly bend and straighten the leg you are standing on. Keeping your eye-line focused will help you as you start to move. Try progressing to 8 x bend and stretches on each leg.
Exercise 3: Reverse lunge
Now to test how stable you are as you move through positions. Take your right foot behind your left and bend your knees with your weight on the ball of your right foot and your right knee coming towards the floor behind you. Your weight should be equally placed between both legs. Come back up to balance on your left leg and bring your right leg into a parallel retire. To make this more challenging, turn out at the hips to turn your reverse lunge into a curtsey! This exercise requires strength, flexibility and proprioception. Try 8 on each side.
Every time we use our balance, we improve it, so embrace the wobble!
Sarah is the founder of Breaking Ballet, a unique online ballet fitness programme for busy women.
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