Follow Choreographer Spencer Liff’s Workout Routine for a Broadway Body

Special Features   Follow Choreographer Spencer Liff’s Workout Routine for a Broadway Body
 
The Emmy– and Drama Desk-nominated choreographer behind Broadway’s Head Over Heels and more shares his weightless workout routine.
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Spencer Liff Marc J. Franklin
Spencer Liff
Spencer Liff Marc J. Franklin

Keeping my body in shape is a huge part of being able to do my job. Most people assume that because I’m a choreographer I dance all day at work and, therefore, don’t need the gym. But there are so many stages in the choreography process, from spending hours coming up with the moves during pre-production, to full days of rehearsals demonstrating for the cast how I want the choreography executed; then I can sit for 12-hour days during tech where I get little physical activity at work, and the time between projects where I don’t dance at all.

WATCH: SPENCER LIFF TEACHES HIS CHOREOGRAPHY TO ‘WE GOT THE BEAT’ FROM BROADWAY’S HEAD OVER HEELS

Rather than let my body fluctuate with my work activity, I like to keep in top shape at all times so I’m always ready to perform at peak. I mix up my workout regime as much as I can. Diversity is absolutely key. I’m a huge fan of group workout classes at the gym, yoga, hiking Runyon Canyon in L.A., kick-boxing, jumping rope, HIIT training, boot camp—the very least is actually lifting weights. I often find myself on the road and dealing with bad hotel gyms or no gym at all. So I’m always ready to get creative with body weight exercises.

Here are some of my favorite moves that you can do literally anywhere!

STANDING CORE
BEGINNER

Do it at Home: (Photo 1) Take a deep second plié and place your hands behind your head. Keep the body upright, don’t bend forward or back at all—like you are between two narrow walls. (2) Touch the right elbow to the right knee (or as far as it will go) and (3) then come back to center. (4) Then touch the left elbow to left knee. (5) Repeat back and forth always stopping in the center for a brief pause. Don’t hold your breath while you do this!
Times per week: 7 times per week
Sets and reps: Do as many as you can, take a rest and repeat for 3 sets. The longer you can go the better.
Targets: Abs
What move/choreography/general dancer health does this help with? It’s not always about sit-ups. Here’s a great standing ab exercise. The abs are endurance muscles and need to be worked a while before you get that burn.

STRENGTHEN YOUR BACKSIDE
BEGINNER

Do it at Home: Start laying face down on the floor with your arms out in front of you. This is a good one on your bed while watching TV! (1) Lift your arms, face, chest, and toes off the ground. Hold for 3 seconds. (2) Then pull your elbows back towards your body engaging your lat muscles. Extend your arms back in front of you and then lower to the ground. Rest and repeat.
Times per week: 3 times per week
Sets and reps: Do as many as you can, take a rest and repeat for 3 sets.
Targets: Core, glutes
What move/choreography/general dancer health does this help with? This one was key to help Neil Patrick Harris increase his back stability, core strength, and strengthen his hamstrings and glutes to prepare for grueling days of rehearsals in high-heeled shoes. Great exercise to balance out all the work we do on the front of our bodies. Remember: Your core is 360 degrees.

CARDIO BLAST
Want to be able to sing and dance at the same time? You better make sure your stamina is built up. I do cardio in some way or another 5 times a week. Jump rope, kick boxing, dance class, are all fun ways to mix up your cardio if you can. These next set of exercises (Jumping Jacks, Skaters, Fancy Burpees, and Leg Lunges) spike your heart rate and forces you to control your breathing to bring your heart rate back down in a short amount of time. I find this much more effective then running on a treadmill for 30 minutes, which is super boring.

(Side note: I love using a Tabata protocol timer for my cardio moves. This means you perform a cardio move for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds and repeat that 8 times. Each round lasts 4 minutes total. Download free Tabata timers on the App Store.)

Here are some good cardio moves to add to your routine:

CARDIO: JUMPING JACKS
BEGINNER
Do it at Home: You can kick this up a notch by adding an Air jack. Jump in the air and Split your legs while touching your hands above your head. Switch off one regular jack and one air jack for 20 seconds on 10 seconds rest 8 rounds. See if you can do only air jacks for one whole round, this should really get your blood pumping and ready to tackle the rest of your workout or day!
Times per week: At least 3 times per week
Sets and reps: 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest for 8 rounds tracked by the Tabata protocol
Targets: Cardio, and a great way to warm up your shoulders get your ankles ready to jump and heart rate up
What move/choreography/general dancer health does this help with? The full cast of Head Over Heels performed these cardio moves as part of our daily warm-up to increase their cardio ability.

CARDIO: SIDE-TO-SIDE SKATERS
INTERMEDIATE–ADVANCED

Do it at Home: (1) Jumping from one leg to the other like a speed skater. (2) See if you can touch your hand to the ground each time you land on a leg and then jump covering lots of lateral distance to the other leg. Channel your inner Olympian. (3) Once you have skaters down, you can add a jump where you touch your elbow to your knee in a turned out passé position. Do 3 skaters and then a passé jump, 3 skaters and a jump, so each time you do the jump it’s on the opposite leg.
Times per week: At least 3 times per week
Sets and reps: 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest for 8 rounds tracked by the Tabata protocol
Targets: Cardio, legs
What move/choreography/general dancer health does this help with? Just like the jumping jacks, the company of Head Over Heels “skated” in our daily warm-up so that they could get their the very vigorous opening number dance steps while still singing full out.

CARDIO: FANCY BURPEE
INTERMEDIATE

Do it at Home: If you already do burpees in your workout routine, add a little flavor to it. (1) Start in a squat, (2) place hands on the floor and jump out to an extended arm plank—aka push-up position. (3) Tap your right hand to your left shoulder, (4) left hand to your right shoulder, (5) then lower your chest to the ground. (6) Press off the ground and back to a squat position. (7) Now take a huge jump, either a standard straight jump, a tuck jump, or my favorite- jump in the air and try to reach behind you taping your fingers to your ankles. This engages the entire posterior chain of muscles on your back and legs. (8) Land back in a squat, softly and use your plie so you don’t hurt your knees. (2) Jump back to the extended arm plank and repeat the series.
Times per week: At least 3 times per week
Sets and reps: 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest for 8 rounds tracked by the Tabata protocol
Targets: Cardio, full body
What move/choreography/general dancer health does this help with? I wanted to make sure my cast of Head Over Heels had the best bodies on Broadway. Compound movements like this work every muscle in your body and give you those strong beautiful lines my dancers have.

CARDIO: LEG LUNGES
ADVANCED

Do it at Home: (1) From a standing position, lunge to the left side keeping your left leg bent and right leg straight, push your butt back engaging your glute. (2) Press off the left leg back to a standing position, but don’t put your left foot down. Quickly take the left foot forward into lunge with both legs bent at 90 degree angles. (3) Jump in the air and switch to land in the opposite leg lunge. (4) Finally, place your hands on the floor from that lunge and kick into a handstand (only if you can do a handstand of course!) come back down from the handstand into a standing position, and repeat starting with the side lunge! Move through this exercise quickly and it will spike your heart rate! Do several sets with the same leg starting take a brief rest and so the same amount of sets to the other side.
Times per week: At least 3 times per week
Sets and reps: 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest for 8 rounds tracked by the Tabata protocol
Targets: Cardio, legs
What move/choreography/general dancer health does this help with? I frequently add this into my warm-up routine to get my heart rate going. It’s also so good for you to include inversions into your workout. Mix up how the blood flows!

STAGGERED ARM PUSH-UPS
INTERMEDIATE

Do it at Home: A great way to mix up your push-ups. Drop and give me 20! (1) Start in a standard extended arm push-up position. (2) Place one hand forward in front of your face and (3) lower yourself down until your chest touches the floor, push yourself back up. (4) Place the forward hand back in line under your shoulders and extend the other hand forward and (5) repeat the push up. (To modify, do this on your knees if you can’t do a regular push-up, but don’t compromise how far down your chest goes. It must touch the floor to count!)
Times per week: 3 times per week
Sets and reps: Based on your ability until fatigued (but not like you can’t move!)
Targets: Chest, triceps, overall stability
What move/choreography/general dancer health does this help with? Since this one works upper body strength, it was a staple of the Falsettos workout to help the actors strengthen their cores so they could pick up and move the heavy blocks that were our set, around the stage.

FAVORITE PLANK SERIES!
INTERMEDIATE

Do it at Home: (1) Start in a standard elbow plank: feet, ankles, knees, and thighs squeezing together. Pelvis tucked under, and draw the navel into the spine. Elbows parallel and palms pressing into the floor. Hold 15 seconds. (2) Then raise your left foot for 15 seconds. Put it down 15 seconds. (3) Then flex your right foot and raise it 3 inches off the ground, keeping your hips square to the ground. Hold 15 seconds. Put the leg down and hold a regular plank 15 seconds. (4) Next raise your right arm straight out in front of your body for 15 seconds. This is extremely challenging not to twist and open up your hips, that’s where the work comes from. (5) Put the right arm down for 15 secs then raise your left arm for 15 secs. That’s 2 minutes in a plank, if you have anything left in you hold a standard plank at the end until failure... See how long you can last keeping good form. Planks will always be 100 times better for you than sit-ups/crunches so I do them as much as I can. In my bedroom, at the gym, in a park, on the beach, on a break at work... no excuses!
Times per week: At least 3 times per week
Sets and reps: 2-minute cycle; If you need to work up to that it’s cool, seeing improvement with practice rocks!
Targets: Core, obliques
What move/choreography/general dancer health does this help with? I do this every morning when I get out of bed. Proper plank form is something I’m continually trying to master. We performed this move every day in Falsettos rehearsals. Director James Lapine wanted me to do a physical workout with the cast every day after lunch to get our focus back in the room and strengthen the cast.

A COMPLEX-COMPOUND SEQUENCE
ADVANCED

Do it at home: (1) Starting in a downward dog position, raise one leg straight up to the ceiling. (2) Gently and slowly lower your elbows to the floor engaging your triceps, then press back to extended arm position. (3) Pulling from the core, bend and bring your right knee to touch your right elbow. Hold for 3 seconds. (4) Cross your right knee over to your left elbow activating your oblique muscles. (5) For the most advanced: Extend your leg across your body into a straight position. (6) Pull the leg back through your center and up to the sky behind you. This should be performed smooth and slow while breathing deeply.
Times per week: 3 times per week
Sets and reps: Repeat 2-6 times on one leg before switching to the other side.
Targets: Leg flexibility, calves, hamstrings
What move/choreography/general dancer health does this help with? This is one of my favorite complex-compound movements. It’s fantastic for your alignment, balance, core and concentration. This is the move you want so you can achieve the high kicks like those performed in Head Over Heels.

UPSIDE-DOWN ABS
ADVANCED

Do it at Home: First you must be able to do a headstand... got that one mastered? Great! (2) Once you are in a stable headstand, (3) slowly, keeping legs perfectly straight and toes pointed, lower your legs in a pike position until your toes gently tap the ground. Then, raise your legs back up to the sky, repeat several times.
Times per week: 7 times per week
Sets and reps: Based on your ability until fatigued (but not like you can’t move!)
Targets: Core
What move/choreography/general dancer health does this help with? This is an insane core move and requires so much balance. I also use this to calm my mind if I’m spinning in my head about something. Headstands and all inversions make you focus on one singular activity, calming the outside forces occupying your mind.

All exercises should be performed with care and are done at home at your own risk.

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