For legs like a Rockette, try this dance workout

  • Article by: DANIELLE BRAFF , Chicago Tribune
  • Updated: January 7, 2013 - 12:51 PM

Those synchronized kicks require muscular strength and unshakable balance.

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Rockette Stacy Paydo demonstrates the first pose of shoulder bridge leg lift at the Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Photo: Ben Torres, MCT

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The Rockettes are known best for their incredible synchronized high kicks.

The second thing they're known for is how their legs look when they do those kicks. Countless hours of practice, rehearsals and performing (sometimes up to four shows a day) leave these ladies in tip-top shape.

Take some cues from Stacy Paydo, a Los Angeles-based Rockette, who created a fusion workout of ballet, Pilates and yoga that'll get you on the way to the famed Rockette legs (if you run through this set of exercises enough times, that is).

Before you start, do a five-minute warmup by taking a brisk walk or another easy cardio exercise. Do each exercise eight to 10 times and repeat the set three times for a full workout.

STANDING LEG PULSES

Stand straight with your feet under your hips. If you have a Thera-band, place it around the outside of both ankles so your feet are inside. (Get one for $15 at thera-band.com. They are color-coded to your level, so if you're a beginner, get the red one. If you don't have one, you can do the exercise without it.)

Starting with your right leg, extend it straight ahead to the maximum height the Thera-band will allow. Pulse and lift here eight to 10 times. Repeat the exercise to the side and to the back, then switch to the left leg. Hands can be placed on the hips. This exercise also challenges balance, which works your core muscles.

STANDING CALF RAISES

In dancer lingo, these are known as élèves. Heels can be lifted with feet parallel hip-width apart, or you can turn out to first position (heels touching, toes apart) to work those deep lateral rotators buried in your gluteus maxims.

For an added challenge, find a chair for balance and try single-leg calf raises (same exercise but one leg at a time).

CRESCENT LUNGE TO WARRIOR III

Start in a deep lunge, create a 90-degree angle with your front leg, keeping your back leg straight. When lunging, your heel should be right under your knee.

Reach your arms high. Slowly transfer your weight forward, lowering your torso and lifting your back leg until you are parallel with the floor and feeling like a big capital "T." Arms reach forward by your head or can be taken out to the side if you are having trouble balancing. With control, bend your supporting leg and return to your starting crescent lunge. Switch sides.

JUMPING SQUATS IN SECOND

Start in a deep grand plié in second position. This is done by placing the feet wide apart with the toes comfortably facing out to the side. There should be no discomfort in the knees. If it doesn't feel right, try angling your feet more toward the corner.

Bend your knees until you've created a 90-degree angle between your hamstring and calf, and keep your bottom in line with your knees. Arms can be straight out to the side.

Explode off the floor by pushing through your feet. Reach the arms up to the sky when you jump. Smoothly return to your turned-out grand plié when you land and repeat.

HAMSTRING ROLLS ON THE BALL

Find an exercise ball and lie on your back. If you don't have a ball, use a stool or a chair and skip the rolling portion of the exercise.

Place the ball beneath your heels so that your legs are lifted in the air. Place your arms to your sides and press down into the ground until you can lift your pelvis off the floor. At this point all of your leg muscles should be fired up and your feet should be flexed. Keep pressing into the floor and try to keep your hips lifting high as you bring your heels closer to your bottom and back out again. If done successfully, your ball should be rolling along the floor.

SHOULDER BRIDGE LEG LIFT

Start on your back, legs bent, knees pointing to the ceiling, feet flat on the floor. Rolling through your spine, lift your pelvis so that one line is created from knees to shoulders. Pressing into the ground with your hands should help you with this.

Carefully lift one leg straight up to the ceiling, lower it until your knees are even, and then bring it back up the ceiling again. Repeat lowering and lifting on one leg eight to 10 times before placing the foot back on the floor and switching to the other side.

CURTSY SQUAT

At the end of a great performance or after a fantastic ballet class it is common to bow. The ladylike version of this is the curtsy, so what better way to prepare for a standing ovation than with this exercise?

Start by placing one foot behind you and bend both legs in a turned out fourth position (right toes pointing to the right, left toes to the left, legs crossed so the right toes line up for the left heel. Feet should be about 2 feet apart).

Place your hands on your hips or out to the side to help with your balance. In one swift movement, straighten your supporting leg and bring the back foot into passe and hold. Passe is a common dance position when you bring the toe of one foot to the knee of the opposite leg.

Take the foot in passe back down behind you into your lunge and repeat. Make sure to get that left side in when you are finished with the right.

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