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But how do Rockettes—members of a NYC-based dance company you likely see every holiday season on TV or IRL— get those strong legs? (You know, aside from rehearsing six hours per day, six days per week, for six weeks leading up to opening night?) We caught up with Emma Massarelli, a physical therapist and first-year Rockette, to find out.
Here, Massarelli shares the exercises she does, what muscles they target, and some tips for how you can add these moves to your own at-home fitness plan. “They aren’t flashy but it’s the simple exercises that really make you feel the workout,” she says. Soon, you’ll have the strength to kick to your heart’s content.
A Rockette shares her go-to leg workout moves
If you’re just starting out on your strength journey, Massarelli has two important tips for you. First, take your time and make sure you’re doing the exercises below correctly. (Form is everything!) And don’t rush yourself. “If you’re doing one of the exercises that is timed, don’t simply try to fit in as many sets as possible,” she says. “Prioritize quality over quantity.”
Second, listen to your body. “If your soreness lasts beyond 48 hours, that is a sign that you worked your muscles too much,” Massarelli says. “Next time use less repetition or less weight. You can improve overtime, but don’t go too hard too fast.”
Ready? Here’s how to crush leg day like a Rockette:
1. Dynamic hamstring stretch
Target muscle: hamstrings
To achieve their iconic “eye-high kicks,” Massarelli says it’s crucial the Rockettes have warm and lengthened hamstrings. “I make that a dynamic process rather than a static stretch in order to activate my musculature,” she says. “It’s not helpful to just sit down and touch my toes.”
Directions:Begin by standing with both legs together. Take a step forward with your right foot, then place your left heel on the ground in front of you, pulling your toes upward. In one motion, bend your right knee while hinging at the hips and leaning forward, scooping your arms down toward your left heel and back up again while stepping onto your left foot. Repeat on the other side, stepping forward with your left foot. Massarelli recommends doing the exercise five times, alternating between each leg.
2. “Good mornings”
Target muscle: hamstrings and glutes
Once Massarelli’s hamstrings are warmed up, she’s ready to start strengthening them with an exercise called the “Good Morning.” “I do this exercise every day, it’s absolutely essential,” she says.
Directions: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly relaxed. Place a resistance band under your feet, gripping with both hands as you pull it to hip-level to create resistance. Next, hinge at your hips, leaning forward with a straight back until you feel tension in your hamstrings. Then, squeeze your glutes and bring your torso back up to a neutral position. “Resistance bands are great for activation, but if you’re wanting more of a workout, dumbbells are a bigger challenge,” Massarelli says.
3. Standing hip abduction
Target muscles: glutes and hip flexors
To keep up with quick movements done on one leg, Massarelli needs to have strong muscles surrounding her hips. She activates her glutes and hip flexors with the following exercise.
Directions: Stand on two legs with your feet parallel to each other. Shift your weight to the right leg and lift your left leg out away from your body and slightly backwards. Lift and lower the left leg slowly with control for one minute, then repeat the exercise on the other side. “The goal is to keep your pelvis still as you lift your leg,” Massarelli says. “This exercise will wake up the muscles on both legs.” Complete for one minute on each leg as a warmup; do three sets of 10 with ankle weights for more of a workout.
4. Isometric hip flexion
Target muscles: hip flexors and core
The Rockettes need to engage their hip-flexors quickly (if you have a dance background, think passés and strut kicks) which often leads to tight hip flexors. But the solution for soreness here might not be what you’d expect. “A lot of people think that stretching will help with their tight hip flexors, when actually, they’re likely gripping those muscles because they have weakness,” Massarelli says.
Directions: Lay on your back. Raise your legs in the air, then bend your knees to make a 90-degree angle. Put your left hand on your right knee and push away while your knee pushes back in opposition. Hold the position for 10 seconds before switching to the other side. Do the exercises five times on each leg before taking a break, then repeat the whole sequence once more. “It’s simple, but it gets the job done,” Massarelli says.
5. Single leg balance
Target muscle: ankles
Not only do the Rockettes do hundreds of kicks per show, they do it all in two-and-a-half inch heels. “We need to have really good ankle stability,” Massarelli says. But the process for getting that strength may be simpler than you’d think.
Directions: In between shows, Massarelli closes her eyes and stands on one leg for 30 seconds before switching to the other side. “It sounds silly, but it’s really effective,” she says. “I really feel it in my legs and my core.” If you’d like to add this exercise to your own fitness regimen, Massarelli advises you start with 30 seconds on each leg for two sets. Then, eventually when you’re ready, build up to three sets.
Craving more Rockette content? Here’s what happened when one of our editors trained with them for a day: