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Want to know how Misty Copeland maintains her impeccably sculpted dancer’s physique and her mental health at the same time? She guessed as much.

In her new book, Ballerina Body (Grand Central Life & Style, on sale March 21), written with USA TODAY reporter Charisse Jones, Copeland has compiled her best advice for looking leotard-ready. And most importantly, for shaping up without the anxiety of trying to meet a certain body image.

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Few people have as much experience with that mental battle as Copeland, 34, the first African-American woman to become a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre. She broke the mold of lithe, white ballerinas, though it wasn’t easy. It took years to find a combination of exercises, types of food and mental preparation that left her feeling her best self.

“But when I did, not only did I feel fitter, not only was my body sleeker and more powerful, but I also had come to a realization that was more important than any other — I came to understand, to accept, that all along my body had been perfect for me.”

Below are a few tips that are easy to follow

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BE MINDFUL

It’s a buzzword that can sound overwrought, but Copeland makes a strong case for mental clarity. Like a pro athlete envisioning crossing the finish line, she suggests painting a picture of your ideal ballerina body, then finding inspiration to keep your motivation high, and even journaling through the experience.

Good Posture Is Everything

One reason ballerinas look like goddesses is training in correct posture, which “magnifies your presence.” What does that look like, exactly? Your back should be erect, shoulders even and relaxed, face peering straight ahead.
Copeland outlines a key stretch to help with posture that can be done anywhere: “When you find yourself slouching, stand, clasp your hands behind you, and then stretch them down and away from your body.”

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Stretch Whenever Possible

Copeland drives home the point that exercise doesn’t have to be done exclusively at the gym — it’s important to move all day long. One easy stretch she explains is a head, neck and shoulder roll. Start by holding your head high, tilt it forward as far as it’ll comfortably go, then return to center. Repeat by dropping your head back, then return to center.

Dance On The Floor

While recovering from stress fractures in her tibia, Copeland kept up her training by replicating the warmups ballet dancers complete at the barre while lying on the ground. It’s a surprisingly challenging routine that, after one workout, will leave your hip flexers and calves sore but feeling longer. One of the most dramatic segments is the plié, or bending, combination.

While on your back, arms pressing against the floor, hold legs in first positions in the air, making an L-shape with your body and legs. Bend your knees until feet are on the floor, then stretch the lower legs back up, with toes pointed. Repeat (with a tight core!) and you’ll feel instant results.

Don’t Be Scared Of Fats

In order to keep energy high, Copeland found she needed a high fat intake. She recommends animal proteins, plant fats and beneficial oils, and includes detailed meal plans and more than two dozen recipes in the book. One interesting tidbit is a recommendation on those confusing omega-3s and 6s. “Eating more omega-6 fats than omega-3s may cause you to gain weight,” she writes.
So, as in all other aspects of our lives, balance is key.”

 

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