Dancers are known for being graceful and artistic as they twirl across a stage. And that grace requires a lot of strength. It’s why the search for “dancer arms” has over 20 million views on #FitTok. Under this hashtag, you can find barre- and ballet-inspired arm exercises that’ll help you recreate dancerly movements at home. The result? Biceps and triceps that are strong enough for the spotlight.
When you consider the type of movements dancers do as part of their routine, it makes sense why they have such powerful arms. “Often choreography requires the arm to be held up in positions for a long time, rarely resting down by the dancer’s side,” says Ianthe Mellors, a professional dancer and fitness instructor. If you look at ballet, for example, it relies on something called “port de bras” which translates to “carriage of the arms” in French, adds professional ballet dancer Kate Byrne, so you can see why the entire upper body gets a workout.
From a functional standpoint, dancers need strong arm and shoulder muscles to perform fun isolations or a fluid, dancerly appearance on stage, says Whitney Berger, a certified barre instructor, personal trainer, and founder of WhitFit NYC. There’s a lot of internal and external rotation, as well as flexion and extension of the arms, making for a challenging upper body workout that also improves your mobility. Keep reading for 11 dancer-inspired arm exercises you can do at home — Swan Lake soundtrack optional.
1. Arm Circles
“This move is great for shoulder mobility and, while it might seem simple at first, you’ll feel the burn after only a few seconds,” Berger says. Arm circles strengthen your biceps, shoulders, and triceps, while also working your back muscles.
- Extend your arms out to create a “T” shape.
- Keep your shoulders, elbows, and wrists in line.
- Maintain a slight bend in your elbows.
- Trace tiny, controlled circles in the air with your arms.
- Circle your arms forward for one minute.
- Reverse and circle your arms backwards for one minute.
2. Tricep Presses
Want to work your triceps without machines or weights? Do it the dancer way with a few rounds of tricep presses. Here, Mellors breaks it down.
- Start in a hinged forward position with feet hip-distance apart and knees bent.
- Bring both arms back behind your hips.
- Keep your arms straight and your palms facing the ceiling.
- Lift your arms up higher behind you.
- Squeeze your triceps.
- Return your arms to the starting position just behind your hips.
- Pulse for three rounds of 20 reps.
3. Half Circles
Half circles feel oh so very dancerly, and they also strengthen your arms and back.
- Begin with your arms stretched out to your sides.
- Trace a semi-circle as you lift your arms up.
- Lower and repeat.
- Trace 10 circles in both directions.
- Repeat three times.
4. Goal Posts
Goal posts are one of the easiest yet most effective barre-inspired moves.
- Lift your arms out to the sides.
- Bend your arms at right angles, like goal posts.
- Maintain the goal post shape as you lower the weights down in front of you.
- Stop when your forearms face the floor.
- Rest, then raise them back up.
- Aim for three sets of 10 to 12 reps.
5. Lateral Isometric Holds
“These holds are inspired by the countless dances where arms are held in ballet second position,” Mellors says, which is when dancers lift their arms out to the sides.
- Start with your arms at your sides, palms facing down.
- With a slight bend in your elbows, raise your arms up and out to your sides.
- Stop at shoulder height.
- Hold your hands out for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Keep your shoulders down and chest up.
- Lower your arms.
- Repeat three times.
6. Prayer Pose Pulse
This move from Mellors is a simple bodyweight exercise you can do anytime, anywhere.
- Raise your hands so your elbows are in front of your shoulders.
- Press your forearms and palms together.
- Raise hands up an inch and down an inch.
- Keep your shoulders down.
- Continue pulsing your arms up and down.
- Do 15 to 20 reps.
7. Over Unders
For another TikTok fave, give over unders a try. They’re a barre-inspired move, according to Mellors — and they bring on the burn.
- Reach your arms out to your sides.
- Slightly bend your elbows.
- Move your hands slightly in front of you, palms facing each other.
- Keep the bend in your elbows, turn your palms up then down.
- Continue the over under movement, keeping your arms raised.
- Aim for three sets of six to eight reps.
8. Shoulder Press
Remember to squeeze your muscles to make the most of each move. This one will bring the burn to your shoulder muscles.
- Reach both hands up overhead.
- Bring one elbow down to ear level.
- Push back up.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Repeat for four rounds of 20 reps.
9. Circular Ports De Bras
If you’re feeling fancy, try a ballet move, like the circular port de bras, to target your lats, traps, biceps, and triceps. “This is a true ballet exercise and a good example of how ballet can strengthen your arms,” Byrne says. “Feel free to add weights to increase the difficulty level.”
- Stand tall.
- Lift your arms into fifth position — a circular shape around your head with shoulders lowered and palms facing down.
- Open your arms to second position — arms out to the sides, elbows slightly bent and lats engaged.
- Move into bras-bas — a circular shape with the arms around your torso, fingers facing inwards, and hand floating just in front of your pelvis
- Move slowly with control through all three positions.
- Maintain good posture.
- Repeat the circle 10 times in one direction and 10 times the other way.
Ianthe Mellors, professional dancer, fitness instructor
Kate Byrne, professional ballet dancer