When you think of the world's toughest athletes-- football players, bodybuilders, wrestlers-- you probably think of training regimens consisting of heavy cardio, weight training, and a few thousand push-ups. What you might not expect is that many athletes, male and female, have also turned to ballet as a means of developing balance and flexibility on the field of play.
Two of the National Football League's all-time greatest players, retired Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann and former all-pro running back Herschel Walker, both took ballet classes during the off-season, to help them better elude defenders, stay on their feet, and stretch for tough catches. Twenty years ago, during the prime of his pro career, Walker even made an appearance on stage with the Fort Worth Ballet, to showcase the connection between dance and athletics. Despite having gone through 2-a-day training camps and getting hit repeatedly by massive linebackers, Walker called the ballet performance, “The hardest thing I've ever done.”
Even bodybuilders have benefited from the skills acquired through ballet classes. One of the most famous examples is none other than Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who reportedly took regular ballet classes during his days as an internationally renowned bodybuilder in the '70s. Around the same time period, a female athlete by the name of Rachel McLish was converting the training she'd gained as a ballet dancer into her exercise regimen as a professional bodybuilder. In 1980, her hard work and unique approach paid off when she became the first winner of the “Ms. Olympia” competition.
Today, many professional athletes in football, basketball, tennis, and even hockey have taken ballet classes. Some coaches even organize classes for their players as a way to help athletes concentrate on fluid movements and balance. So, the next time you think about how muscle-bound athletes train, don't just think about barbells. Think about ballet shoes!
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