When I was little I was one of the most clumsy, un-graceful people you’d probably ever seen. I was so clumsy that my mum put me in ballet at the age of seven, hoping it would teach me how to become more graceful. After about five years of dancing, I’m happy to say that “being graceful” is now engraved throughout my entire being (so thank’s mum!), aside from running into a door here and there 😉
Shortly after I stopped dancing though, I struggled to find a form of exercise that not only helped keep that “ballerina physique” but that I also truly enjoyed doing as well. That’s when I discovered Pilates and Barre. Pilates is such an AMAZING way to stay toned while being gentle on the body. And barre can definitely get the heart rate up a bit more while fulfilling that ballet fix.
After about four years of doing various pilates and barre classes, I have compiled a sequence of several different stretching exercises (having a ballet twist), that truly make my body feel incredible! Depending on how my day looks, I like doing these stretches in the morning before breakfast. Allowing my body to wake up and prepare for the day ahead. A few things I like to remember when doing these stretches are engaging the tummy (pulling in tight with the stomach muscles), pulsing (small movements to feel a stretch a bit deeper, rather than just holding a stretch), and holding for two counts of eight (basically holding a stretch for a count of about sixteen).
Below are some of my favorite stretches for attaining that “longer leg” look and feel. If you’re just starting out with this type of stretching, definitely take it easy and really listen to your body, If something hurts then stop! Stretching should restorative and relaxing. So, remember to take long deep breaths through each stretch. This will ensure your muscles are getting plenty of oxygen 😉
Extended Inner Thigh Stretch
For this stretch, place your foot on the barre (or a table/window, whatever you have handy!) and make sure to have your hips are facing forward. Engage the tummy and slightly bend the standing leg. You should then begin to feel a stretch in the inner thigh of the leg up on the barre. Sometimes I like to hold this stretch with the knee bent, while other times I like to pulse (small movements bending deeper, then straightening) the standing leg. Try experimenting with both and see which stretch feels best to you!
Extended Hamstring Stretch
This stretch is very similar to the one above. But this time keep both legs straight, with on leg on the barre. It isn’t completely shown in this picture, but face your hips towards the leg on the bar, instead of forward towards the wall, and then bend forwards. Almost like you’re trying to give your knee a kiss. Again, try holding this stretch for a few counts, then maybe try pulsing forward a bit. If you’re doing this correctly you should be feeling this stretch all throughout the back of the leg and hamstring. (tip: try flexing the foot to add in an extra calf stretch! )
Standing Quad Stretch
For this standing quad stretch simply stand up straight and grab ahold of your foot and pull in back towards your bum. Also, feel free to grab ahold of a barre or wall for some extra support. If this stretch puts too much pressure on the knee joints, try doing this while laying on the floor, instead.
Standing Calf Stretch
For this calf stretch, place one leg behind you (almost like you’re standing in a ballet fourth position) and then lean forward with the front leg slightly bent, until you feel the stretch all throughout the calf of the leg behind you. If you find it difficult to feel the stretch, try stepping the forward another step with the front foot. (tip: Bend the back leg, with the heel as close to the floor as possible, for a deeper calf stretch) And don’t forget to repeat both sides 😉
Standing Hamstring Stretch
While keeping the legs straight, simply bend forward as far as you can until you feel a stretch through the back of the legs. For you maybe that’s as far as touching the floor, or maybe it’s as far as just touching your knees. Whatever range of motion you have, always remember to listen to your body and only go as far as you’re able to go in that moment. Flexibility is something that can be achieved and worked towards over time 😉
Seated Side Stretch
This seated side stretch doesn’t necessarily fall under the ‘longer legs’ category but personally, I have found that this stretch really helps with elongating the sides of your body. All the way from the top of the ribcage, to the lower parts of the hips. So, for this stretch simply sit criss-cross (or whatever seated position is most comfortable for you) and while extending the arm overhead bend to one side and hold. Repeat on both sides, and don’t forget to engage the tummy! 😉
Kneeling Hip Flexer Stretch
Begining with both knees on the floor gently take one step forward, making sure the bent knee never goes past the toes (that way you’re always working within your range of motion). Then, very gently push your hips down towards the floor. If you’re just starting with this type of stretching, don’t worry if you can’t bring your hips all the way down like in the picture. Being a ballerina for several years, flexibility is something I’ve been able to practice for some time. Finally, repeat on both sides.
Kneeling Hamstring Stretch
I like doing this kneeling hamstring stretch right after doing the kneeling hip-flexor stretch. To do this simply push the hips back, while bending the front leg completely straight. Then, gently bend forward (almost like you’re trying to kiss your knee again) until you’re able to feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings. Repeat on both sides.
I hope some of these stretches help inspire you in some way. Give some of them a try and let us know in the comments below what you think!
Would also love to give a HUGE thank you to everyone at Innate Vitality (studio in the pictures above). Innate Vitality is a pilates studio in my community that has truly become a second home. I have truly learned so much more about my body as well as what types of exercises best suit my body type.
Anna Marie xxx
(Photos via Chelsea Thompson)