By Wendy Donahue
Since opening her first studio in San Francisco in 2000, Jill Dailey McIntosh has been spreading the Dailey Method across the country and beyond, combining ballet barre work, core conditioning, muscle strengthening, yoga and orthopedic exercise.
She also has introduced the DVD “No Excuses” and her newest, “Dailey Now,” which has three workouts you can do almost anywhere – no barre necessary. “And absolutely no dance experience is required,” Dailey said. “It will make you look and feel like a dancer, though.”
A few key moves can do a lot. “We call the straight arm plank the powerhouse of all exercises, because it works almost every muscle in your body,” engaging abdominals, back, shoulders, quadriceps and calves, Dailey said.
Before you begin any home practice, Dailey recommends warming up with 30 knee lifts on each side. Then, try the following moves, keeping in mind that many of the lifts and presses are small, controlled, barely visible movements. Proper alignment is key, and a little trembling is OK.
Straight arm plank – for core strength
Start on hands and knees, then extend legs behind you, toes curled under, lined up with hips. Spread hands wide, directly under shoulders. Focus on shoulder blades lengthening down your back and heart reaching forward. Use abdominals to press navel toward spine, tipping hips up for low-back stability. Press thighs toward the ceiling and reach heels and head in opposition to each other. Hold for 60 to 90 seconds.
Side forearm plank – to lengthen, tone sides
Begin in a traditional forearm plank with elbows under shoulders and forearms parallel. Make sure abdominals are pulled in and engaged before transitioning to the side. Slide palms toward your centerline so thumbs and forefingers connect. Then turn and stack your left hip on your right, and place your left palm on your left hip.
Use abdominals to pull navel to your spine as you hug shins and thighs together. If you aren’t completely stable, you can slide your top foot in front of you for a wider foundation. Reach left arm to sky, opening chest while pulsing left hip up 10 times. Slowly, and with control, move back to forearm plank. Repeat on the right side.
Standing parallel seat work – to help tone rear end
Stand facing a chair with hands resting on top for balance. Soften knees, lift one foot behind you and grasp it in hand. Keep hips square and thighs aligned. Engage abdominals by pushing navel toward spine. Release grasp but maintain bent leg, then squeeze gluteal muscles and press knee behind you 30 times. Flex foot and curl heel toward your glutes 30 times. Return to standing. Extend one leg to side at 45-degree angle. Square hips by pulling navel toward spine. Lift extended leg 30 times laterally. Repeat on other side.
Spinal extension – for posture
Lie down on stomach with arms at sides. Press toenails, hip bones and palms of hands into the ground to maintain foundation and stability of low back. Lift chest off the ground 10 times slowly while keeping hands and feet pressing down. Add a lift of the legs and arms, as high as possible, and tap inner thighs toward the midline 25 times.
Throughout, lead the lifts with your rib cage to ensure that you’re engaging the muscles the entire length of your spine rather than just your low back. Keep your gaze on the ground so your neck stays in line with your spine. When lifting arms and legs, keep your chest wide and arms and legs as straight as possible. Use inhalation to get your body longer and exhalation to lift up higher.
Neutral spine plank – for posture
Start on hands and knees with fingers and toes spread wide. Push into the inside arch of your palms. Contract abdominals while pressing shoulders away from your ears. Roll your toes under and push up to lift your knees one inch off the ground. Tap knees down an inch, without resting them on ground, and up an inch. Do this 20 times. Rest, then repeat one to two more rounds.
Standing single leg lifts – to promote knee stability
Place right hand on back of chair and stand perpendicular to it. Place left hand on hip. Raise right knee toward chest. Stand tall and keep abs tight. On your exhale, extend right leg straight out in front of you and pulse leg upward 20 times. Turn foot 45 degrees so inner thigh faces up, and pulse leg upward 20 times. Keep supporting leg straight and engage gluteals to help stabilize posture. Repeat on other side.