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Strength Training for Ballet


EverHopeful
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Hello, 

 

Just wondering if any of you use the gym to help strengthen muscles, and if you could offer some suggestions on exercises for the muscles at the front of the thigh? 

 

My calves are very very strong, and they seem to take the brunt of everything (I believe this may be a sign of bad posture in every day life?), but I’ve come to realise that my upper legs may be letting me down a bit. 

 

Ive also been told that I have loose hips and good capacity for turnout but not the strength to hold it (yet!). I don’t know what type of exercise would help with that either? 

 

Thanks. 

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Quads (if that’s what you mean) aren’t really a primary target for dancers, as I understand it. It’s the gluteal chain that makes you jump, mostly.

 

Based on what I’ve been able

to work out, you’ve got two things: basic strength exercises and specific ones.

 

For the basics you want the normal stuff: squats, deadlifts, that sort of thing. People differ on whether you should do high-rep, relatively low weight or high weight low reps. I suspect it doesn’t make much difference in practice, but the first is probably safer. It may make a difference if you’re a professional body builder, but we’re not. Do make sure you get proper instruction for the sake of your joints and your lower back. You will not bulk up. (Look at Claire Calvert, who was boasting of lifting 100kg, which must be well over 1.5 times body weight.) You probably want to be aiming to lift the equivalent of your own weight in squats. 

 

For the specific stuff there’s loads of video for resistance band exercises to develop turnout and so on on YouTube and Pilates and floor barre will help too. Maybe ask your teacher for specific exercises that migh help.

 

“Science in Dance” have interesting videos on their Facebook and Instagram feeds (promoting their services, of course).

 

If you’re asking these questions about bad posture a good Pilates class, preferably physio led by someone who will correct how you’re doing exercises would probably be a good thing to do.

 

Edited by Colman
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Pilates exercises, particularly those designed specifically for dancers. There is an exercise called 'clams' which is good for glutes and hip control/strength. Any exercises for your core would be useful too. Ideally you would need to attend classes, especially to start with, as the trainer will check that you are engaging the right muscles; and for practice at home there are a couple of dvd's available. DD has the Darcey Bussell one.

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I would suggest consulting your teacher about  weaknesses you may have and appropriate exercises. I really wouldn't go for any non-dance strengthening exercises without checking with your teacher first as ballet often relies on very specific muscles. I use The Dancer's Dozen  every day at home (it's a little book of resistance band exercises from Gaynor Minden) and PBT (Progressing Ballet Technique) which is  Pilates type exercises to music - there are videos of specific exercises.on their website, suitable for all levels of dancer, if you can't find a PBT class. There are coaching videos as well as ones for actually doing the exercises and complete sequences of exercises for all levels.

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On 23/12/2018 at 17:22, The_Red_Shoes said:

 I really wouldn't go for any non-dance strengthening exercises [without checking with your teacher first] as ballet often relies on very specific muscles.

 

I disagree wholeheartedly with this, and I am sure that any strength and conditioning specialist who works with dancers would also do so. 

 

In my opinion, some good quads exercises you can do that will fully support dance, including ballet, are squats and lunges. It is a common misconception that strength in the quads is not important in ballet; if this is correct then why do dancers at RB and other high profile companies now train quads using squats, lunges etc? Deadlifts are also very useful but they train the back of the legs as well as the quads.

 

However - rather than looking at a particular body part/area and thinking that it needs to be stronger, it may be more helpful to consider what area of your dancing you want to improve (eg jump height, leg height/control in adage etc) because it's easier to 'prescribe' exercises for a specific purpose. 

 

When you talk about wanting to strengthen turnout, do you mean standing leg turnout or turnout on a gesture leg? (also known as the working leg, although I hate this term because the standing leg works just as hard!) -  the exercises I would prescribe would be different depending on the answer to this question. 

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That’s a different view on which muscle groups squats target. I mean, clearly they target them, but not as the main or only group as far as I understood. Including from the bits that hurt the next day! 

 

The view I’ve formed, in general (and would appreciate expert feedback on!) is that for most adult dancers, especially early on, pretty general strength training is probably the most useful gym work we can do. Later on it might be worth worrying about refining specific muscle groups, but when you’re at the stage where

you’re asking if gym work is a good

idea, then the basic exercises twice a week will do the job. 

 

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The reason I want to improve my quads - it seems they’re called - is because my legs can easily go above 90 degrees either physically held by a classmate or using a table etc. but I can’t just hold them there myself. This seems to be a muscle weakness rather than a flexibility issue. 

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21 minutes ago, taxi4ballet said:

DD says in that case, it is not only quads, but core, glutes and inner thigh muscles that need work. You need to work on developing strength in sustaining your turnout first, and then being able to control your leg in the air will gradually get there.

 

I was going to say something similar: you need to get your turnout working properly so that you can rotate your leg into position to have the correct muscles lifting it, otherwise you’ll end up learning to lift with the wrong muscles. 

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My dd first took to the gym when she sustained an injury and two years on she still does an awful lot of strength & conditioning training in the gym, with a specialist coach who works with dancers. I know she does lots of things like lunges, squats and dead lifts and lots of work which is prescribed for what is required for dance in terms of strength and stamina etc. I know very little about this area, but what I can see is that she is stronger than she has ever been and I firmly believe that the work she is doing now is also helping to protect the body for the future. I could not agree more with what Dr Dance has said above.

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On 27/12/2018 at 00:16, DeveloppeD said:

The reason I want to improve my quads - it seems they’re called - is because my legs can easily go above 90 degrees either physically held by a classmate or using a table etc. but I can’t just hold them there myself. This seems to be a muscle weakness rather than a flexibility issue. 

Ah! - this is much more of a useful response to me :D 

It is not the quads predominantly that you need to strengthen in order to lift your legs above 90 degrees. They do play a part, for sure, but as others have said on here, the core (iliopsoas) and the hip flexors, sartorius and adductors, glutes etc Plus, the deep 6 hip rotators also need strength to assist. 

 

As a rule, if you find a movement hard (eg leg lift above 90 degrees) you can train for it using the 3 types of muscle contractions. You can do an isometric contraction (ie a hold) so have something or someone assist you to lift your leg to the desired height and then try to hold it there. The second type of contraction is eccentric, and this is so useful. By slowly lowering the leg (as slow as you can) from the high point down to closing, you can strengthen the muscles that are involved in lifting. The third type of contraction is concentric, and this is the action of lifting the leg from 1st or 5th up as high as you can, quite slowly. 

 

In my opinion the easiest to do is the eccentric. Start with 5-8 reps of these on each leg every day or every other day and you'll notice an improvement fairly quickly. Then add in the other types. I should add that it is absolutely essential to make sure you are being strict with your technique  - straight and lengthened body (pelvis neutral; try to eliminate any curve in your lower back but don't overdo it and tuck under), engage abdominal muscles, transfer your weight over the standing food and feel lifting up out of your supporting hip whilst trying to keep your hip bones (pelvis) as level as possible, and work to keep your legs as turned out as possible. A common fault is losing turnout on lifted legs, as they get higher. If your technique cannot be maintained then reduce the height of the leg until you get stronger. There is no benefit in strengthening poor technique as it makes life a lot harder to correct and you'll have to redo all your strength work.

 

Please feel free to PM me if you have questions or if you are unsure of what to do to help! 

 

 

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