10 Exercises for Lean, Toned Legs Like the Rockettes
There is no better example of #leggoals than the Rockettes—especially when you realize that these ladies perform up to 300 eye-high kicks in every single 90-minute Radio City Christmas Spectacular show. (FYI: They do up to 17 shows per week!). So what does it take to be stage-ready? Well, besides precision, a whole lot of core and leg work.
“It is important for the Rockettes to have a workout highly focused on legs and abs because we are, of course, athletes and have to be able to execute our choreography perfectly every show,” explains Tara Dunleavy, a Radio City Rockette, who has been dancing with the group since 2006. “More importantly, we have to master those eye-high kicks that we are famous for, and what many people don’t realize is that we don’t touch each other’s backs when we are linked up in the kick line. So not only do our legs have to be strong enough to do that many kicks, but our core needs to be working extra hard to be able to maintain our spacing and stay in a straight line.”
Which is why these 10 exercises are key. The dancers do them both during the season and the off-season to maintain their flexibility, endurance, and strength. Try the moves out—you can follow along with the video above—for a stronger, more stable lower body. As for reps? “I like to do things until I feel the muscle burn and tire out,” says Dunleavy, "because then I know it is warming up and changing.” But in general, aim to do 8 to 10 reps for each exercise.
Pro tip: Think of it as jogging, except you are bringing the heels to the butt.
Targets: quads, glutes, and hamstrings
How to do it: Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart and arms at sides. Step right foot forward as you flex left knee, bringing left heel up to touch butt. Lower left leg, stepping forward with left foot and flex right knee, bringing right heel up to touch butt. Continue alternating legs as you move across the floor.
Dynamic Hamstring Stretch
Pro tip: Keep back as flat as possible.
How to do it: Step forward with right foot, placing heel on floor to flex foot. Straighten knee, hinge at hips and with core tight, swing arms forward and down, starting from behind hips, as you lower torso down as far as possible. Rise back to standing and repeat on left side.
Pro Tip: It’s a better way to get one leg warmed up first so you don’t get too fatigued.
Targets: quads and hip flexors
How to Do it: Step forward with right leg, dropping into lunge with both legs at 90 degrees, and bring left arm forward, so that it is also at a 90-degree angle. Push into left foot to rise to standing as you lift left knee and right arm up. Repeat on opposite side.
Pro tip: It may be easier to pull underneath the knee because that can protect your kneecap.
Targets: hip flexors
How to do it: Stand tall and alternate pulling one knee at a time to your chest as you walk forward; hold the knee hug for a few seconds before switching legs. Make it harder: Try in both directions ankle when knee is raised.
Pro tip: Don’t drop hips, push heels back and sink shoulder blades down.
How to do it: Lie facedown with legs extended and elbows bent and directly under shoulders. Feet should be hip-width apart, and elbows should be shoulder-width apart. Contract abs, and then tuck toes to lift body; forearms remain on ground. Body should be in a straight line from head to heels. Hold for as long as possible.
Pro tip: Get knee as close to floor as possible, without touching.
Targets: glutes, quads, and adductors (inner thighs)
How to do it: Stand with feet together and hands on hips; step right foot in front of left leg, and at the same time, drop left knee into a lunge position as if doing a curtsy. Press through both feet to return to starting position, then repeat the move on the other side, stepping left foot in front of right.
Single Leg Reach
Pro tip: Try not to let foot touch the floor as you return to stand.
Targets: hamstring, glues, and stability of working leg.
How to do it: Stand on right leg with a soft knee and left leg lifted. Lower torso, bringing right hand down as close to ground as possible, as you raise left leg even higher. Drive through right heel to rise back to standing. Repeat on opposite side. Make it harder: add an ankle weight or hold two dumbbells.
Stability Ball Knee Tucks
Pro tip: Make sure shoulders are not moving in front of hands.
Targets: core, specifically lower abs
How to do it: Place shins on stability ball with hands on ground in plank position. Pull in abs, squeeze butt and then bring knees in to roll ball forward towards hands. Hold and then roll ball back out to starting position.
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Stability Ball Bridge With Hamstring Roll Out
Pro tip: Pull knees in as far as possible, ideally to 90 degrees.
Targets: hamstrings and glutes
How to do it: Lie faceup with heels resting on top of ball, and arms at sides on ground; palms face down. Press heels into ball as you lift hips up into a bridge, creating a straight line from feet to shoulders. Keeping hips lifted, extends legs straight out, and then lowers hips back down. Using heels, roll ball back in and then repeat entire sequence.
Stability Ball Leg Lifts
Pro tip: Squeeze legs together
Targets: adductors (inner thighs), hamstrings, and quads
How to do it: Lie faceup with arms on ground, palms down, and a stability ball between ankles; knees soft. Lift legs so they are straight up, and then bend knees, lowering legs to a 90-degree angle. Pause, and then lift back up to straight legs. Continue repeating.