I have been doing a lot of research recently on the importance of strength and cross training in dancers. And I wanted to share some of that learning and yes, it’s amazing I know, dancers can lift weights and train outside of the studio.
Without strength or optimising strength potential you cannot develop good, explosive, dynamic end of range movements. And that is the exact combination of things that every dancer is trying to achieve right?! But how exactly do we as dancers and dance teachers achieve this optimal combination. The answer seems simple and it can be achieved by adding in strength training and cross training into dancers training. It will help, yes not to only increase strength but it makes a dancer strong in every aspect of their bodies. In class we repeat tondue’s and developpe’s to get us through graded exams but how often do you use these exact movements patterns in a performance piece or sequence for an end of year show? I think I am right in saying, not very often, right? So, to safely achieve these sequences dancers need strength across the board to be able to perform these movement patterns and sequences that we don’t always exactly train for in class.
Cross training is really important, and I find using this explanation helps with why it is important for dancers to cross train. A typical young dancer attends class multiple times a week and dances from September to July each year, with a small break for summer. A young person who takes part in the rugby season September to February, then the cricket season February to August is without realising it cross training themselves. They are two very different sports and they require 2 very different strengths, demands on the body and strength in a variety of movement patterns. Whereas a lot of young dancers just dance. So, unless strength and other movement patterns are explored in class and through cross and strength training, we are producing weak dancers without realising it. Then when these patterns are challenged during a new sequence or competition dance training, we start to see injuries spring up due to this new demand on their bodies. Of course, outside elements such as growth spurts and hormones really come into play with our young athletes but with basic cross training and strength training, we can reduce the risk of injuries and poor movement patterns.
So, now that we have figured out that our dancers are weak (I do hate using the word ‘weak’ as I know dancers are not weak, but I think it suits in this situation) how do we adapt their training to add in elements of cross and strength training. I know because I am one, that dancers are strange creatures and the industry is slightly behind in their strength-based knowledge. If you tell a dancer ‘Hey, today we are going to lift weights’, they will sneak away or tell you they don’t want to look like the next Arnold Schwarzenegger!’. Please do assure them that strength training will not make you bulk up unless you’re eating and training to a super high intensity. I have found that introducing simple body weight exercises into class are a great place to start. Planks with added in shoulder taps and mountain climbs, abs and crunches are a great way to start. These kinds of exercises are familiar and don’t seem so scary as squatting with a big weight, although weighted squats are a dancer’s best friend, make sure your check out Beyond The Pointe Podcast, as they explain why so well, links below). I teach a strength and conditioning class to 12-18 year olds and they try every trick in the book to not do certain exercises. I have found that working in partners and doing circuits, with a combination of resistance bands, body weight and weighted stations works really well. They get their heads down and get the work done, plus they are dancers, so we blast some good tunes too to get them through. My plan was to start to introduce weighted patterns this year, but Corona virus has currently put a stop to that, but I can’t wait to get them lifting and to see the improvements it brings with it.
There is now so much evidence out there that shows that strength training improves not only the injury risk, but it helps quicken recovery from injury. Plus, with cross training these new movement patterns no matter what sequence a dancer faces they should be able to approach them with strength, power and dynamic end of range movements.
Thanks for taking a look,
BA Hons in Dance Performance, Level 3 SMT.
Useful articles & Podcasts:
- Beyond The Pointe Podcast- This month is strength month so all of their recent podcasts are so worth a listen.
- Science in Dance- This is a link to their instagram page, but they also do a Podcast that is a really good listen.
- ‘Why the Australian Ballet dancers quit stretching’-This is a really good article and I want to get into this in another blog post but is so worth a read.