Maintaining good posture is an ongoing struggle for the best of us. And it's not just aesthetics that suffer – poor poise can lead to all manner of aches and pains, and more severe damage in the longer term. If you predominantly work at a desk, as many of us do, that more sedentary lifestyle can be another hurdle to overcome. Being hunched over a computer all day seems to be a fast-track to a stiff back, tight hips, and slouched shoulders. While there are certain desk exercises can help, perhaps it's time to take things up a notch. Perhaps it's time to take some tips from ballerinas.
It might sound quite extreme, but it makes sense. "Good posture really comes from core strength – not just the abs, which we often think of as the 'core', but also the back, hips and glutes as well as abdominal muscles," explains Rhea Sheedy, who trained at the Royal Academy of Dance and now runs Ballet Fusion. "We weaken our posture and get into bad habits with our sedentary lifestyles - especially if we work sitting at a desk all day long."
Read on for four top ballet-based exercises that can improve posture and help you stand a little taller. Don't have a barre at home? Use the back of a chair instead.
While you're here, it might also be worth making sure your furniture isn't causing the problem. If you're working from home regularly, investing in one of the best office chairs, or even mixing things up with one of the best standing desks, can be a game-changer. And if you're finding you're waking up with aches and pains, check out our tips for finding a mattress for back pain, and then use our best mattress guide to upgrade.
#1: Retire balances
For this one, stand facing your barre (or chair), with your toes turned out and heels together. Squeeze your glutes, engage your stomach muscles, relax shoulders and think about growing tall through the top of the head. Then lift one foot up and place it just under the knee cap, with the lifted knee turned out towards the side. When you have your balance, lift your arms off the barre and hold them in front of you into first position (like a basketball hoop in front of you). Hold for 5 to 20 seconds, then repeat with the other leg. Do as many reps as possible.
"This one looks super simple but the exercise will force your body into a perfect posture hold," explains Rhea.
#2: Port de bras
Again, start standing with your heels together with your heels together and toes out, legs straight, glutes and abdominals engaged and shoulders lowered. Bring your hands out into first position (the basketball hoop), then into second (out horizontally at your sides). Breathe in, then fold forwards, dropping your arms and head and exhaling as you go. Roll up through the spine, and reset to your starting position. Repeat four times.
"Posture is key to this exercise," says Rhea. "There are many variations but this simple one is a lovely posture improver."
Her top tip is to focus on your breath: "Breathing is important here as it will help to keep your spine long and muscles expanded," she explains.
#3: Ballet chest lift
For this one, you want to start lying flat on the floor on your front. Bring your arms overhead in front of you, with your fingertips nearly touching, shoulders pulled down away from the ears, and palms facing inwards. Then, keeping your neck straight and free of tension, and squeezing your glutes, lift your chest off the floor, and lower it again.
"5 to 8 reps of these a few times a week will really help to strengthen the back, which often gets overlooked and is key to better posture!" says Rhea.
For more info and details, head to the Ballet Fusion website.