Ballerinas frequently appear to be dancing on air. Nonetheless, ballet is physically demanding for male and female dancers alike. Just as male dancers require powerful arms, legs and backs to perform lifts and leaps, ballerinas require muscle-strong lower bodies to execute elegant turns, glides and en pointe poses. Weight-training exercises allow ballerinas to develop sufficient overall muscle strength without bulking up individual muscles.
Low Resistance, High Repetition
In the August 1990 edition of the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," Margaret Stalder and colleagues described a nine-week study where seven female ballet dancers participated in progressive strength-training exercises designed to target the muscles in their lower bodies. In earlier research, Stalder described these exercises as alternating between low-resistance, high-repetition exercises and medium-resistance weight training in conjunction with regular dance training. Each weight training session lasted 30 to 40 minutes. The dancers performed the weight training exercises on a Universal Gym machine.
The weight training group showed an improvement of more than 15 percent in adductor strength, 6.6 percent improvement in lateral hip flexibility and nearly 50 percent improvement in anaerobic power. They also showed measurable improvement in muscular endurance, precision and overall technique. At the same time, the women did not bulk up, and -- in fact -- demonstrated no significant increase in limb circumference.
Isometric exercises involve supporting the weight of your own body while performing minimal actual movements. Many isometric exercises involve no other equipment; with others, you balance yourself with a chair or push against a wall. Each exercise requires only small movements of the targeted body part -- think inches at a time. The tension of holding muscles in a fixed position strengthens the muscles, according to personal trainer Mike Mejia. Wall push-ups develop arm and shoulder muscles while curls target your abdominal core muscles. Several isometric exercises help dancers develop long and lean yet strong legs and lower bodies -- semi fold-over, high V, wide second, standing turnout, parallel extension and scissor curl.
Strength Training vs. Bulking Up
Many women shy way from weight training because they don't want to bulk up like male bodybuilders do. Most women lack the body type necessary to build large muscles because they produce much less testosterone than men. However, mesomorphs, people with a muscular physique, may experience larger muscle development than ectomorphs, who are generally slender, or endomorphs, who tend to carry more fat tissue, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) states.
To increase endurance instead of developing increased bulk, concentrate on moving less weight and performing more repetitions with conventional weight training, ACE suggests. Perform balanced exercises, for example, combining back-strengthening exercises with abdominal resistance training to avoid posture problems. The hamstrings, abdominal and quadriceps muscles especially benefit from weight training, the Stretching Institute states. Complete a single set of repetitions to gain the greatest muscle-strengthening benefit. Use enough weight so that your muscles are tired after 12 to 15 repetitions but not so much that you can only manage one or two repetitions.
- University of Wyoming: The Effects of a Supplemental Weight Training Program on Female Ballet Dancers
- "The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research": The Effects of Supplemental Weight Training for Ballet Dancers; Margaret Stalder, et al; August 1990
- ABC News/Health: Top 12 Weight-Training Tips for Women
- Pennsylvania Department of Health: Women and Physical Activity -- The Importance of Strength Training
- The Stretching Institute: Ballet Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
- American Council on Exercise: ACE Get Fit -- How Women Build Muscle
- American Council on Exercise: ACE Get Fit -- Free Weights vs. Strength-training Equipment