Dance, with its fluid movements and artistic expressions, is often associated with grace and artistry. However, the importance of strength and conditioning in dance is a topic that has gained significant recognition in recent years. Research shows that dance class on its own does not provide the body with adequate stimulus to develop the physical capacity required for high-level dance performance. In response, vocational schools are increasingly implementing strength and conditioning into their timetables with dancers reaping the benefits. It can sometimes be difficult to see the links between traditional strength and conditioning and dance performance, but with ever-increasing demands on the dancer’s body such as impressive jumps, ambitious lifts, use of acro/gymnastics moves and extreme flexibility, strength and conditioning is fast becoming essential for anyone pursuing a passion or career in dance.
In this blog post, we will explore the implementation of S&C in dance environments and how building strength, power, agility, endurance and mobility can transform your dance performance.
Unfortunately, dancers are a population that suffer many injuries. Although acute injuries do occur, the majority are overuse injuries caused by large training volume (i.e. long hours of dance classes), and repetitive, high intensity movements such as jumps, leg lifts, back bends and pointe work. These steps performed repeatedly over long hours of classes, rehearsals and performances leave the body vulnerable to stress fractures, tendonopathies, sprains, strains and more.
The good news is, by implementing strength training we can decrease the likelihood of musculoskeletal injuries. Resistance training increases the strength of the muscles, tendons and ligaments, improving and the robustness of the tendon to bone and ligament to bone junction connections. The increase in load promotes stronger and denser bones that are more resistant to common dance injuries such as stress fractures.
Strength training also improves the structural integrity of the joints which is especially important for dancers when working with hyper-mobility and the extreme ranges of motion. A strength and conditioning coach will also be able to help identify any muscular imbalances present and work to balance opposition muscle groups to avoid wear and tear on the soft tissues and joints. Good muscle balance also promotes optimum physical proficiency which can help directly with your alignment, technique and flexibility for dance. In short, a stronger and more resilient body is better equipped to withstand the physical demands of rehearsals and performances.
Improved Core Strength
Core strength is the foundation of many dance movements. A strong core not only enhances balance and stability but also contributes to the fluidity and control of dance sequences. Historically, core training in dance classes has consisted of mostly spinal flexion movements such as abdominal crunches, however most dance style use bracing, rotation, extension and side flexion much more. A well-designed S&C programme will challenge the core in a variety of ways to allow dancers to maintain dynamic stability and enhance the ability to execute complex movements with precision. Strength training will also work both the inner core unit (deep postural stability) and outer core unit (larger torso movements) to enable the dancer to have precision and control through slow movements such as a Cambré (back bend), or explosive movements such at a Grande Jeté (split leap). You can easily spot dancers who have expert control over their core as they will move with distinct grace, smoothness and command of their bodies!
Enhanced Flexibility and Range of Motion
Contrary to a common misconception, strength training does not compromise flexibility; in fact, it can enhance it. When combined with proper stretching routines, strength and conditioning exercises can improve a dancer’s overall flexibility and range of motion. Increased muscle strength supports greater joint stability, allowing dancers to achieve more extended lines and dynamic movements while minimizing the risk of hyperextension injuries common to dancers. Strength and Conditioning programmes can also help to increase your degree of ‘functional mobility’, this being the range of motion you can achieve actively rather than when passively stretching. For example, a dancer may be able to lift their leg up to the side with their hand to achieve an impressive range of motion, however, when they lift the leg in a controlled movement such as a Développé without the support of their hand, can they retain the same range of motion by purely using their muscles to achieve the movement? If the answer is no, then they may need to work on their functional mobility, improving strength to be able to utilise their flexibility to the maximum during choreography.
Generality vs Specificity
Different dance styles demand specific muscle engagement, and strength and conditioning programs can be tailored to address the unique needs of different dance disciplines. However, varied, non-specific training exposes the body to different stimulus so that the body can learn how to adapt in different situations. Although some of these movements may look nothing like dance, they are important to develop muscular balance and general physical competency. It is important that supplementary training includes a blend of general movement patterns such as squats, hinging patterns, pulling, pushing, twisting and bracing movements as well as more dance specific training such as intrinsic foot strengthening and turnout function. Including a variety of stimuli will produce strong, versatile dancers able to adapt to a multitude of demands such as working across different genres and choreographic styles, with heavy props and restrictive costumes whilst maintaining technical proficiency and physical integrity.
Implementing Strength and Conditioning into your Dance Training
Dance training is renowned for its high-volume training schedule. Dancers are often in the studio for long hours of classes and rehearsals and performance schedules can be gruelling, so it can be hard to comprehend fitting in more training during the week when dancers are already so busy.
It’s important to utilise the periods when dancers are less busy to work hard in sessions and develop the physical adaptations we are looking for. When performance or exam season picks up, sessions can be focused more on maintaining performance level and recovery techniques. Remember that strength and conditioning can help improve your resilience to fatigue, so swapping that extra dance class for a strength session may be one of the best things you can do for your training.
The most important thing you can do to reap the benefits from supplemental training is to be consistent, whether you can commit to one, two or three sessions per week, over time if you are consistent you will see progress in the gym and notice the difference in the dance studio.
Strength and conditioning is not just reserved for athletes; it is an essential components of a dancer’s toolkit for success. By embracing a holistic approach to training, dancers can achieve their full potential: elevating performance, preventing injuries, and enjoying longevity in their dance career. As the dance community continues to recognize the value of strength and conditioning, it is clear that a strong, flexible, and well-conditioned body is a dancer’s greatest asset both on and off the stage. If you are interested in elevating your skills for dance, get in touch with us to speak about how we can help!
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