Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Surprising Benefit of Learning Ballet

Not Really a Surprise

Okay, the idea that engaging in one form of physical activity improves your performance in another is nothing new. It's called cross-training, and people have been doing it for years. I guess what surprised me is exactly how much my performance improved, especially considering that I've been pretty physically active for a long time now. I did not expect just adding ballet to my regimen to have such an impact, but it did.

I Love Exercise

I love exercise. I joined a gym for the first time ten years ago, and ever since then I haven't been able to stay away. I teach yoga and Pilates. I've been to zumba classes, step classes, boot camp classes, and kickboxing classes. I've spent huge amounts of time on the treadmill and the elliptical. I take my dog on long walks. I swim laps whenever I go to the pool. And I love riding my bike on the country roads that surround my hometown.

Heaven and Hell on Two Wheels

I would describe cycling as both the most pleasant and most grueling form of exercise I've ever done. I love getting out in the morning, when the sun is low in the sky and everything is bright and golden, and just exploring. My eyes love it and my soul loves it. My legs, on the other hand, do not always have such a great experience. Last year I really got into this cycling thing. I would go out a couple of times a week, in addition to all the other exercising that I was doing. I should have gotten into better shape after a while. I should have reached a point where getting out on the road and pedaling for half an hour or more became easier, but you know what? It never did. It was always difficult. My legs would get so tired I would wonder if I would be able to make it home. Often I would cut my ride short because I just didn't want to go any farther. And it never got better. Never.


Along Comes Ballet

I started taking ballet classes about a year ago. I knew I was getting a leg workout. I could feel the fatigue after just a few minutes at the barre. I knew I was building strength in those muscles, but I didn't know just how strong I was becoming until this morning. You see, I haven't been taking regular bike rides lately. Through the winter it was just too miserable to get outside and do it, and in the spring I didn't think about it. But now it's summer and I want to ride again, so I decided to start this morning.

I was nervous. After all, I haven't been on a long ride in quite a few months. A route that was difficult last year should be darn near impossible after so much time off. But do you know I found? It wasn't impossible. In fact it was almost easy. Yes, my legs were tired, but not to point that I wanted to toss my bicycle in a ditch and curl up on the side of the road for a nap. Hills that I hated a year ago were suddenly easy. Even fun.

I know that this improvement is due to my ballet class because that's literally the only thing I've added to my exercise routine since the last time I attempted a bike ride. In fact I've backed off on some of the other leg exercises, like squats and lunges, that I was doing last year. I thought my legs would be weaker because of that, but apparently the ballet more than makes up for it. My legs are stronger than they've ever been.

No, ballet is not the solution to all of your fitness problems. In fact, I know I lack upper body strength because I don't spend enough time working those muscles. But if we're just talking legs, ballet really can do some amazing things for your body.

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