If you're a ballet dancer, engaging in regular strengthening activities can improve performance and prevent injury. There are several exercises that ballerinas should do regularly as part of a ballet fit workout and some that likely won't be as useful.
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Strength Training for Dancers
Ballerinas require lower body muscle strength, stamina and flexibility. They need a significant amount of core strength to stabilize the body during pirouettes and arabesques and explosive power to execute sautés and jetés.
But it's rare to see a ballerina hanging out in the weight room. Isn't hours of dance training in the studio enough? According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning in November 2004, it may not be if they want to perform at their best.
During a 12-week trial, researchers studied the effects of quadriceps and hamstring strength training on torque levels following a dance routine. Professional ballerinas were divided into a strength training group and a control group.
Prior to strength training, the challenging dance routine resulted in a decrease in torque levels. After strength training, the control group's torque levels remained low after performing the routine, but the ballerinas who strength trained had increased torque levels. In addition, the strength training group showed better knee extension and flexion torques.
Supplementary strength training is also crucial for injury prevention. Injury among dancers is prevalent for a variety of reasons, including lack of proper warm up, repetitive jumping, poor alignment and faulty technique. According to a review of research in the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine in September 2013, biomechanical imbalances, including poor core strength and weak eccentric leg muscles, are also to blame.
Building Ballerina Strength
When dancers do participate in strengthening activities, it's often in the form of Pilates and yoga classes, reports the dance non-profit Presenting Denver — activities very similar to dance. While these activities can help build muscular strength and endurance, they often target the same muscles as dance training. In addition, these body weight exercises may not be enough to overload the muscles, which is crucial for continuing to build strength.
Presenting Denver recommends including the following exercises in a ballet fit workout:
Move 1: Basic Squat
The squat works the front and back of the legs and improves ankle mobility.
- Stand with your feet parallel and your legs a little wider than hip distance.
- Place your hands on your hips, or extend your arms in front of you or overhead.
- Hinge at the hip joint and push your hips back as you bend into the knees. Keep your torso erect and come down until your knees are at 90 degrees and tracking over the toes.
- Do a few slow and controlled reps, then hold at the bottom of the squat. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
Move 2: Lunges
Lunges work the quads and hamstrings. You can perform them stationary or do walking lunges, stepping forward with each repetition.
- Take a big step forward, landing softly and bending into both knees until they form 90-degree angles. Your front knee should track over your front toe.
- Place your hands on your hips, or extend your arms up, forward or to the side.
- Rise up and step back to the start. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
- Perform your desired number of repetitions, then switch sides.
Move 3: Bridge
Bridge is a low-impact exercise that works your hamstrings, glutes and core stabilizers.
- Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, hip-distance apart.
- Keep your thighs parallel and your arms extended, palms flat on the floor.
- Lift your hips off the ground until they are in a neutral position and aligned with the kneecaps.
- Bring your hips back down with control.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
In addition to these exercises, ballet dancers should engage in other total-body strength exercises, including push-ups, pull-ups, rows and core-strength exercises such as planks and Russian twists.
Ballerina Strength Exercises to Avoid
There aren't any exercises that are specifically off limits to ballerinas, although some exercises likely aren't helpful — such as lifting heavy weights at or close to your one rep max, which is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one repetition. Most people, not just ballerinas, don't need to engage in this type of training.
More importantly, watch the volume and intensity of your strength training program and be sure to balance it with your dance training load. According to the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, overtraining and fatigue are other leading causes of injuries for dancers. If you're taking on a full schedule of classes, rehearsals and performances while hitting the weights, you may find yourself doing too much.
Look for the classic symptoms of overtraining, as explained in an article in ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal in March/April 2015, including persistently heavy, stiff and sore muscles, persistent fatigue, a washed-out feeling and decreased performance.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning: "Thigh-Muscles Strength Training, Dance Exercise, Dynamometry, and Anthropometry in Professional Ballerinas"
- Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine: "Preventing Dance Injuries: Current Perspectives"
- Presenting Denver: "Muscular Strength for Dancers"
- ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: "Overreaching/Overtraining"