Principal ballet dancer Sonia Rodriguez depends on her body for support, whether she's rehearsing in the studio, performing onstage or playing with her kids. She shares her best advice for staying strong and healthy.
Maintain your muscles
As a dancer, Sonia needs strong muscles to perform challenging jumps, control her body during choreographed balances and support herself through all those pirouettes. And every woman needs strong muscles to protect our joints, fire up our metabolism and carry out daily tasks—but we naturally lose muscle as we age, so strength-training exercises (which use free weights, machines or a person's own body weight to develop muscle strength) are essential for maintenance. When Sonia is short on time, she pares her usual morning workout down to a plank, which works the core (key for good posture and balance) as well as the upper body and legs.
Keep your fitness goals small and achievable
Ballerinas spend hours a day working on their form and striving for perfection, but Sonia knows that perfection is achieved one detail at a time. "You can't improve everything at once; it's impossible," she says. "Look at small goals. That's how you make improvements." For Sonia, that might mean spending one rehearsal day focusing just on maintaining a strong supporting leg. For the rest of us, it might mean concentrating on proper breathing during yoga or engaging our core during strength training.
Strategize your snacking
Sonia fuels her workouts with balanced snacks. "I get very cranky and can't focus if I don't have snacks throughout the day," she says. The best way to avoid feeling "hangry" is to eat fibre- and protein-rich foods such as nuts, edamame or veggies and hummus, which are more satiating than simple carbs, and to prepare snacks to have on hand so you can eat before hunger interferes with your energy levels.
Stretch it out
The poses ballerinas are known for are achievable by only the most flexible athletes. Still, having a degree of flexibility is important for all of us; it will improve posture and reduce the risk of injury. The best time to do your stretches? After a workout. "Your muscles are warmed up, so you get more benefit out of the stretch and there's less chance of hurting yourself," says Sonia.
Try Sonia's one-legged plank: Starting on your knees, lower yourself onto your forearms and extend both legs behind you, planting your toes on the ground for support. With your shoulders over your elbows, your torso flat and your legs straight, lift one foot; hold the pose for as long as you can. Repeat with the opposite leg. Lifting one leg increases the difficulty by forcing your muscles to support more of your body weight.