I’ve always enjoyed going to the gym. Even when I was doing daily ballet classes and 8 shows a week on Broadway, I still made the time to get to the gym. I’d do free weights, spin classes, kick boxing, laps in the pool – whatever got my muscles working and heart pumping. I felt strong, had great endurance and a notable lack of injury in a dance career of such longevity. This was decades ago and way before strength training and conditioning was a thing for dancers. But with the evidence now well and truly behind this type of supplemental training, more and more dancers are seeking ways to reduce the risk of injury and improve the “performance” in their performance!
What is Strength and Conditioning Training?
Strength and conditioning consist of a selection of dynamic and static exercises used to even out muscle imbalances and improve and enhance an athlete’s performance. It has been used for years in athletic populations with proven outcomes.
Strength training uses resistance such as weights or body weight to target specific muscles or muscle groups while working at a challenging intensity to achieve strength gains. Squats, lunges, push ups and dead lifts are examples of strength exercises. For strength gains the exercise should be conducted at a challenging intensity, for a specified number of repetitions and sets, about three times a week.
Conditioning through aerobic and anaerobic training works to improve the cardiovascular system - the performance of the heart and lungs and their ability to uptake and transport oxygen to the working muscles of the body. Jogging, skip rope, cycling and swimming are all examples of aerobic exercise, performed for a prescribed amount of time, to develop cardiorespiratory capacity and endurance. Exercise such as sprinting and burpees on the other hand work to increase anaerobic capacity which is needed for intense energy movements such as a series of grand jete’s.
Why Should Dancers Train This Way?
Traditionally dancers train in dance class, and while classes work to improve technique, artistry, and dance skills, they don’t necessarily develop strength and cardiovascular conditioning.
It doesn’t matter if you’re doing ballet, contemporary or street dance styles, all forms of dance have a disparity between the cardiovascular fitness required for class and rehearsal, compared with what is needed for the dance performance. If fact research shows us that professional ballet and contemporary dancers are only as strong and fit as their healthy, but fairly sedentary, non-dancer counterparts. This may come as a surprise to dancers and dance educators alike – after all, with all the classes most dancers attended each week how can their “fitness” be so ordinary?
If I’m attending hours of dance classes per week, how can my strength and “fitness” be so ordinary?
Read on and I’ll explain…it’s in the way that dancers traditionally train that makes the difference.
Dance classes and cardiorespiratory fitness
Traditional dance classes are for the most part, a stop and start affair. The dancer stops all activity, or gently “marks” the movement, as they learn the next exercise or combination, or to take corrections from the dance educator or choreographer. There may be brief sections, such as traveling across the floor with explosive jumps that can get the dancer really puffing, but that is usually short lived, and only a small part of the overall class. So, the type of cardiovascular exercise provided by dance class will not generally lend itself to cardiorespiratory fitness, and this can prove problematic once performances come around and a dancer’s endurance is really put to the test.
We know through years of research that fatigue is one of the biggest reasons dancers injure themselves. Sadly, a common story I hear from dancers in clinic is they’ve hurt themselves when landing badly from a jump, or falling out of a turn, toward the end of their dance when they were fatigued. The length of a dance number will challenge cardiovascular endurance and those big bursts of energy need anaerobic capacity. Therefore, a long dance with big jumps at the end can be a landmine to navigate for those without capacity to perform them safely. It seems the last decade or so the physical demands placed on a dancer have increased as choreography has become increasingly more challenging with “tricks” and kicks and jumps galore. Professional dancers and students alike are now required to have a higher level of cardiovascular fitness than ever before for them to perform well and safely.
Dance classes and strength
Strength training is pretty much any type of training you do against an opposing force. When it comes to strength building in dance class there is little resistance, usually only your own body weight as resistance (unless of course you are lifting something or someone). Dancers are usually familiar with the use of elastic bands or tubing as resistance, particularly to strengthen the feet and toes, but are less familiar with using other types of resistance equipment such as dumbbells, barbells, medicine balls, kettle bells and weight machines.
Some may have stayed away from this type of weighted exercise due to an outdated belief – especially by those in the ballet world - that this type of training would affect the body shape and aesthetics. Thankfully this unfounded concern is being replaced with a focus on strengthening and having a robust tool – the dancer’s body. Most dancers and dance educators now realize the increasing physical demands placed on dancers truly requires additional conditioning to attain the strength and power to optimally perform much of the choreography. Consequently, today’s dancers are happily picking up a kettlebells or dumbbells, in order to improve their performance.
The benefits of strength and conditioning training for dancers
The body of evidence from research in this field continues to grow and simply amounts to the fact that resistance training can have a significant positive effect on a dancer’s dynamic balance, leg strength (improving hop height and distance) and upper limb stability, without any detrimental effect on aesthetic or artistic elements.
Resistance training also has an osteogenic effect – meaning it helps build bone. A study on pre-pubescent gymnasts who participated in resistance training showed they had stronger bones than age matched gymnasts who did not. This may reduce the risk of bone stress injury or fractures that keep you out of dance training and performances for extended period. There is also the important fact that doing resistance training early in life will reduce the risk of fractures due to osteoporosis later on.
The bottom line is, your regular dance classes may well be improving your technique and artistry, but you could be working in other ways to build your strength and conditioning to improve your dance performance.
How Do I Get Started with a Strength Training and Conditioning Program?
Now that you know strength training and conditioning can improve your performance and help reduce injury risk, you’re keen to know how to get started right? We have Dance Physiotherapists here at PhysioTec that would love to help guide you with an exercise program tailored to your specific strength and conditioning needs.
You can visit the clinic for 1:1 program development, or you might like to find a friend or 2 to train with at Physiotec. We can organise a group training program in our gym with one of our dance physio's at a time that suits you. Please give us a call. You might be surprised how much you enjoy this type of training!
This blog was written by one of our Physiotec Dance Physiotherapists, Joanne Manning
|If you would like to start your strength and conditioning journey, come along and see one of our friendly dance physios at Physiotec, whether you are a beginner or need some guidance with your current program, our physios will know how to help. Call, email or book online below:
Phone: (07) 3342 4284
Email: [email protected]
Explore Some More Dance Blogs
Bronner, S., Ojofeitimi, S., Lora, J., Southwick, H., Kulak, M., Gamboa, J., Rooney, M., Gilman, G. and Gibbs, R., 2014. A Preseason Cardiorespiratory Profile of Dancers in Nine Professional Ballet and Modern Companies. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 18(2), pp.74-85. https://doi.org/10.12678/1089-313X.18.2.74
Bronner, S., Codman, E., Hash-Campbell, D. and Ojofeitimi, S., 2016. Differences in Preseason Aerobic Fitness Screening in Professional and Pre-professional Modern Dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 20(1), pp.11-22. https://doi.org/10.12678/1089-313X.20.1.11
Rodrigues-Krause, J., Krause, M. and Reischak-Oliveira, Á., 2015. Cardiorespiratory Considerations in Dance: From Classes to Performances. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 19(3), pp.91-102. https://doi.org/10.12678/1089-313X.19.3.91
Faulkner, E., 2021. Choreography-Specific Cross-Training and Conditioning Programs. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 32(1), pp.103-115. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmr.2020.09.003.
Rosenthal, M., McPherson, A., Docherty, C. and Klossner, J., 2021. Perceptions and Utilization of Strength Training and Conditioning in Collegiate Contemporary and Ballet Dancers: A Qualitative Approach. Medical Problems of Performing Artists, 36(2), pp.78-87. https://doi.org/10.21091/mppa.2021.2012
Ambegaonkar, J. P., Chong, L., & Joshi, P., 2021. Supplemental Training in Dance: A Systematic Review. Physical medicine and rehabilitation clinics of North America, 32(1), 117–135. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmr.2020.09.006
Koutedakis, Y., Hukam, H., Metsios, G., Nevill, A., Giakas, G., Jamurtas, A., & Myszkewycz, L., 2007. The effects of three months of aerobic and strength training on selected performance- and fitness-related parameters in modern dance students. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 21(3), 808–812. https://doi.org/10.1519/R-20856.1
Dowse, R. A., McGuigan, M. R., & Harrison, C., 2020. Effects of a Resistance Training Intervention on Strength, Power, and Performance in Adolescent Dancers. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 34(12), 3446–3453. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002288
Needham-Beck, S. C., Wyon, M. A., & Redding, E., 2019. Relationship Between Performance Competence and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Contemporary Dance. Medical problems of performing artists, 34(2), 79–84. https://doi.org/10.21091/mppa.2019.2014
Long, K. L., Milidonis, M. K., Wildermuth, V. L., Kruse, A. N., & Parham, U. T., 2021. The Impact of Dance-Specific Neuromuscular Conditioning and Injury Prevention Training on Motor Control, Stability, Balance, Function and Injury in Professional Ballet Dancers: A Mixed-Methods Quasi-Experimental Study. International journal of sports physical therapy, 16(2), 404–417. https://doi.org/10.26603/001c.21150
Smith, P. J., Gerrie, B. J., Varner, K. E., McCulloch, P. C., Lintner, D. M., & Harris, J. D., 2015. Incidence and Prevalence of Musculoskeletal Injury in Ballet: A Systematic Review. Orthopaedic journal of sports medicine, 3(7), 2325967115592621. https://doi.org/10.1177/2325967115592621
Bass S, Pearce G, Bradney M, Hendrich E, Delmas PD, Harding A, Seeman E. Exercise before puberty may confer residual benefits in bone density in adulthood: studies in active prepubertal and retired female gymnasts. J Bone Miner Res. 1998;13(3):500–7.