Exercises Male Ballet Dancers Do to Stay Strong and Agile All Year Round

Flexibility training is a big part of some ballet dancers' routines.
Image Credit: Vitalii Petrushenko/iStock/GettyImages

Like any style of dance, ballet is beautiful for so many reasons — it's a marriage of athleticism and art all in one performance.

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Even the dancers themselves look like a work of art. And although dancers' movements appear effortless to the audience, ballet is no joke. Considering expert dancers commit to countless hours to training each week, it's no surprise their bodies often reflect this effort.

Interested in learning more about how to build a male ballet dancer physique? We chatted with a dancer and professional ballet instructor to get some insight.

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A Note on Language

Here at LIVESTRONG.com, we carefully consider language surrounding sex and gender. We typically avoid language that implies a sex or gender binary in favor of neutral language, such as "assigned female at birth" (AFAB) and "assigned male at birth" (AMAB). We use "gender" when referring to a person's social identity; we use "sex" when referring to biological characteristics.

However, much of the professional dance industry still categorizes people as men or women, so we're using those terms throughout this article. But anyone can do the following exercises to build strength and improve their ballet skills.

More research is needed to more fully understand how biological differences may affect training in people taking hormones as part of gender-affirming care.

Male Ballet Dancer's Training Routine

Although a professional male ballet dancer's physique may seem like the result of hours in the gym, it's probably less than you might imagine, according to Michael Cornell, founder and CEO of the Align Ballet Method. For the most part, dancers (regardless of their gender) develop their strength from hours of precise dance practice, with about an hour or two of strength training per week.

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With that said, there are some strength focuses that are crucial for proper (and safe) dancing, Cornell says. Shoulder and core stability are the biggest part of a dancer's training. These muscles are important in all ballet dancing, especially when lifts come in. Plus, developing strength in the core and shoulders helps keep dancers safe from injury.

Strength Exercises

These are a few shoulder-and-core-focused exercises Cornell emphasizes for all ballet dancers (or anyone who wants to try a dancer's strength regimen).

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1. Dumbbell Overhead Press

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Skill Level Beginner
Body Part Shoulders
  1. Sit on a bench with your feet rooted in the ground, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Hold the weights at shoulder height, parallel to the ground, elbows bent in a 90-degree angle.
  3. On an exhale, press both dumbbells up straight over your shoulders.
  4. Lower the weights back to the starting position with control.

Tip

A dumbbell shoulder press is more advantageous for a ballet dancer compared to a barbell press, Cornell says. That's because dumbbells are more unstable and can help a dancer grow stronger when lifting another ballerina.

2. Push-Up

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Skill Level Beginner
Body Part Abs, Chest and Shoulders
  1. Come into a high plank.Your body should make a straight line from head to hips to heels, and your hands should be directly under your shoulders or slightly wider apart.
  2. From the high plank position (see above for more details), bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body and lower your body to the floor.
  3. Press into your palms and push the floor away from you to come back up to a high plank, still keeping your body in one straight line.

Tip

If a standard push-up feels too challenging, you can modify by dropping to your knees. This move builds shoulder stability and chest strength, both of which are necessary when it comes to executing partner lifts, Cornell says.

3. High Plank

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Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Abs and Shoulders
  1. Lie face down on your belly with your palms on the floor underneath your shoulders and your feet flexed with the bottoms of your toes on the floor.
  2. Take a deep breath and press through your palms to lift yourself up into the top of a push-up position. Your body should make a straight line from your heels through your hips to the top of your head.
  3. Draw your navel toward your spine and squeeze your glutes.
  4. Look at the floor directly below your head to keep your neck in a neutral position, and breathe normally.
  5. Hold for at least 10 seconds and lower yourself back to the floor.

Tip

Planks help build your core stability, which helps protect a dancer's spine from injury, according to Cornell. "Dancers' lower vertebrae take a great deal of abuse landing jumps and lifting of dance partners. A strong core will reduce the risk of serious injury," he says.

4. Dumbbell Wood Chop

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Skill Level Beginner
Body Part Abs and Shoulders
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a dumbbell with one end in each hand.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and hinge your hips back into a semi-squat as you lower the weight toward your right shin.
  3. As you stand back up, use your core to swing the weight up over your head and to the left.
  4. Return to the semi-squat position with the weight to your right side. That's 1 rep.

Cardio Training

For the most part, dancers get their cardio exercise from ballet practice. Although a certain solo may last only a minute or two, the movements are challenging and definitely spike a dancer's heart rate.

"The more appendages involved in a movement, the faster we elevate the heart rate and stress its performance," Cornell says. "When we dance ballet across the floor, we are gliding the entire body-weight from one end of the studio to the other, immediately elevating the heart rate."

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Flexibility Work and Recovery

Flexibility is a big part of dance, especially ballet. But genetics play a pretty big role in a dancer's natural flexibility — while some dancers don't need to spend too much time with their flexibility, others spend hours each week stretching.

More than anything else, professional dancers need to spend a lot of time recovering, according to Cornell. Most experts spend hours in the studio each week, so injury prevention is a priority. Foam rolling and rest are two non-negotiables for many professional dancers.

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"I would advise that anyone who trains heavily or intensely must factor in recovery work in their process," he says. "[Foam] rolling and resting cannot be overly emphasized."

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