Natalie Portman is winning rave reviews for her portrayal of a driven ballerina in "Black Swan." But she didn't get that long, lithe ballerina look all by herself. She had the help of ballerina-turned-fitness coach Mary Helen Bowers.
In the images that follow, New York City-based Bowers walks us through her trademark "Ballet Beautiful" workout. So if you're up for it, wriggle into your leotards and follow along...
Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
To keep their muscles long and limber, dancers stretch at the beginning, middle, and end of each workout.
To start, kneel and then bend one knee toward the hip and stretch the other leg out behind you. Lift up through your chest, and brace yourself with your hands to make sure you don't go beyond your range of motion.
Beginner? Take it slow. Your flexibility will increase over time.
This exercise targets the lower and upper abs, as well as the obliques on the sides of the abdomen.
To start, sit on the floor with your legs slightly bent. Open the arms to what ballet dancers call the "first position," pulling in the stomach. Twist to one side, keeping your chest open and your abs engaged. Lift and change sides, pulling in with your stomach the entire time.
This exercise targets the muscles in the butt, hamstrings, and lower abs. From a kneeling position, extend one leg to hip height behind you with the knee bent. (Need extra padding beneath your knee on the floor? Use a cushion or towel.) Pull the stomach in flat, and lift the leg higher, keeping relaxed through your upper body. Lower your leg to hip height and then lift it again.
Don't have access to a gym? Here's a way to target the arm muscles without weights.
To start, sit with your hands on the floor just behind your hips. Place your feet in front of you with knees bent. Keep your chest open and stomach pulled flat. (Beginners can keep hands facing front toward the toes and feet flat and on the floor.) Pull in, and lift the hips off the floor, stretching the elbows. Bend the elbows slightly and straighten.
Here's an exercise that works the insides and backs of the legs, as well as the butt and the center of your body.
Keeping your chest open and your stomach pulled in, extend one leg straight behind you (hold a chair or wall for support, if necessary). Raise the extended leg behind you, pulling in through your stomach. Bend the standing knee, keeping lifted through the chest. Straighten the standing knee, and then bend again, keeping the leg lifted.
This exercise works the muscles in the fronts of the hips and thighs. If you're a beginner, do the exercise while standing, bending one knee in and lifting the foot slightly behind you using your hand. More advanced? Sit down to do the exercise.
Bend the back leg and lift the foot slowly toward your upper body. Keep lifted through your upper body. Change legs and repeat on the other side.
Begin by sitting or standing up straight and then pulling in the stomach and "opening" the chest. Keeping your neck extended, stretch your arms to the sides. Drop and bend the elbows, lowering the arms.