Get a dancer’s body

Six simple moves that will make you look leaner and more lithe in just three weeks!

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If you want a stronger, more graceful body (and always secretly longed to wear leg warmers and walk like a ballerina), you’ll want to take up Pilates. The 85-year-old exercise regimen is popular among dancers because the series of stretching and resistance exercises – done with concentration and controlled breathing – helps develop a beautiful posture and rock-solid abdominals.

One of the biggest myths around Pilates is that it gives you longer, leaner muscles. While exercise can’t lengthen your muscles, Pilates can make you look and feel leaner by improving posture and flexibility. Try these exercises from Monique Hurteau, Pilates instructor and owner of Move With Integrity in Vancouver, to make you stand taller and move more gracefully.

1. Heel slide
Works your abs

A. Lie face up with your knees bent 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor. Place your palms on your hip bones to keep your pelvis steady. Draw your belly button inward toward your spine to engage your abs.

B. Lift your right toes, keeping your right heel on the floor. Breathe in, then breathe out as you straighten your right leg, slowly sliding your right heel along the floor until your leg is straight. Breathe in, then breathe out as you slide your right heel back to the original bent-knee position. Alternate legs, repeating three times on each side.

Technique tip If you have trouble stabilizing your pelvis at first, avoid straightening your active leg all the way.

2. Knee sways
Works your abs and stretches your hips and back

A. Lie face up with your knees bent 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor, and your knees and feet together. Extend your arms out to your sides on the floor at shoulder level, palms up.

B. Breathe in as you draw your belly button inward toward your spine. Breathe out as you slowly lower both knees to the right until they reach the floor (or as close to the floor as is comfortable for you), keeping your abs contracted and both shoulders on the floor. Breathe in and concentrate on lowering the left side of your rib cage to the floor as you return your legs to the starting position. Alternate sides, repeating five times in each direction.

Technique tip Use your abs to control leg movement

3. Articulating bridge
Works your abs, back, hips and buttocks

A. Lie face up with your knees bent 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor, heels close to your buttocks. Place your arms at your sides, palms down.

B. Breathe in, then breathe out as you curl your tailbone upward away from the floor, followed by your pelvis, lower back and mid-back. Imagine lifting one vertebra at a time, until you are resting on your shoulder blades. Breathe in, then breathe out as you slowly return to the starting position, resting your spine back on the floor, one vertebra at a time. Repeat five times.

Technique tip Keep your shoulders, head and neck relaxed on the floor throughout the movements. Think of your spine as a pearl necklace: lift and lower one pearl at a time.

4. Roll-ups
Works your abs and increases flexibility in your spine

A. Lie face up with your legs slightly bent, feet on the floor and arms at your sides, palms down. Breathe in, then breathe out as you lift your head and shoulders off the floor just enough to bring your chin to your chest. Lift your arms and place your hands near the outside of your knees, without actually touching your knees.

B. Breathe in, then breathe out as you peel your back off the floor. Curl your torso forward, resisting the urge to grasp your thighs for leverage. (Beginners: if you can’t roll up on your own, you can use your thighs.) Keep your neck stretched long by gazing toward the floor.

C. Roll your spine – one vertebra at a time – back down along the floor until you’re lying face up again. Repeat three times.

Technique tip Round your spine as you roll up to create the same pearl-necklace movement described in the Articulating bridge, and avoid jerky movements.

5. The side kick
Works your abs, thighs and buttocks, and stretches your hips

A. Lie on your right side with your legs straight and in front of your body at a 45-degree angle, toes pointed. Rest your head on your outstretched right arm and place your left palm on the floor in front of you for support.

B. Engage your abs and raise your left leg to hip level. Breathe in as you flex your left foot and move your left leg (keeping it straight) in front of your body so it’s aligned with your left hip bone. Breathe out and do two small kicks.

C. Breathe in, point your left foot and return your leg to the starting position, keeping your leg raised to hip height. Breathe out and do two small kicks out in front of you. Repeat five times, then switch sides.

Technique tip Align hips (one on top of the other) and avoid letting your top hip roll toward the floor. Draw your belly button toward your spine to engage your abs and stabilize your torso.

6. Swimming
Works your back and buttocks

A. Lie face down with your legs straight, toes pointed and arms extended overhead.

B. Engage your abs and breathe in as you raise your right arm and left leg, hovering just above the floor. Keep your back straight (with a slight curve in your lower back), your neck long and your gaze down at the floor. Lower your right arm and left leg, then raise your left arm and right leg. Alternate lifts in a swimming motion, repeating five times on each side.

Technique tip Press your pelvic area into the floor and draw your belly button away from the floor to protect your lower back.