The 7 Best Strength Exercises for Dancers
There is no doubt that dancers need to partake in strength training. Doing so provides several benefits to enhancing technique and creating a strong foundation for dance, as well as mitigating injuries. Here are 7 of the most beneficial strength exercises for dancers with these benefits in mind.
It is always advised to seek assistance from a coach before attempting any of these on your own.
The squat is likely one of the most familiar lower body strength exercises out there. Aside from the squat being a great way to build lower body strength, it is also an extremely helpful tool to develop power. Power is necessary for increasing jump height, which is a huge asset to dancers training their jump technique. If a dancer is capable of squatting their body-weight or beyond, they can expect their power output to be much greater. What is even more beneficial, however, is that squatting will help to strengthen the joints of the ankles, knees, and hips, which means that they will have the capacity to withstand the force of landing jumps. Since most injuries in dance happen in the lower body and often when landing a jump, squatting can be a major help in mitigating injuries.
The deadlift is another great lower body strength exercise. It uses less knee and ankle flexion to put more emphasis on the posterior chain (ie., hamstrings & glutes) than a squat. It also trains the hips to hinge, which is a necessary movement in dance and life. The hinge allows the spine to stay neutral, requiring the legs to do the grunt work, safely. It essentially limits the amount of stress put on the spine, mitigating potential injury. In addition to the squat, it is also a useful way of developing power.
The split squat doubles as a fantastic strength and mobility exercise. It requires you to move into deep ranges of motion under load, which is an effective way to increase range (think flexibility for front splits). And, because the split squat is a unilateral movement, it is helpful in identifying strength imbalances and will, in turn, develop balanced strength in both legs. It is also an awesome tool for conditioning the joints, including the hips, ankles, and especially the knees. With the amount of force required for many movements in dance, the split squat will be a beneficial exercise to “bullet-proof” these joints to aid in mitigating injuries.
The Loaded Pancake & The Seated Good Morning
The loaded pancake and seated good morning is a loaded progressive stretch, which means it not only stretches the tissue, it also strengthens it. The benefits of doing loaded pancakes and seated good mornings are increased hip mobility control, strength and flexibility gains, as well as end range strength. It is a good exercise to increase control of dance moves that require and use the straddle/centre split position (i.e., pitches, tilts, russians, side jetes) because it increases range of motion in the straddle and centre split position and conditions the hips to mitigate injury due to overuse or pushing beyond limitations
Calf Raises & Calf Raise Variations
Calf raises and their variations are very commonly seen in dance as releves. But we need to dig a little bit deeper to learn the real benefit of doing calf raises. At the very bottom of the raise, the ankle is in a flexed position (dorsi-flexion). This can be compared to the deepest position of the ankle as it loads the foot to push off the floor for a jump, and land on the floor after a jump. At the top of the raise, the ankle is in a stretched position (plantar-flexion). This can be compared to the action of the foot as it points while it is taking off the floor into a jump. It is also the position the foot is in when it first makes contact with the floor as it lands a jump. It goes without saying that strengthening the ankles will not only aid in the control and endurance needed for doing releves, it is also beneficial for the strength required in the ankles and feet to jump, as well as land.
The Push Up & The Over-head Press
Dancers need upper body strength too! Push-ups and over-head presses are great ways to develop upper body strength. They condition the arms for endurance and control of arm movements in dance. Floor work will become easier due to a stronger upper body because the elbows, wrists, and shoulders will be strengthened to protect against joint load during floor work. Also, push-ups and over-head presses require full body recruitment, meaning that the majority of the muscles throughout the body will need to engage and work to assist in the movement.
Another extremely beneficial upper body strength exercise is the pull-up. We may never see dancers doing pull-up like movements in their dancing, but that does not mean that they aren’t using the same muscles recruited in a pull-up while dancing. Pull-ups train and strengthen the Latissimus Dorsi (lats) and Trapezius (traps), along with other muscles in the arms, back, and chest. The lats and traps are utilized a lot in dance, particularly when the arms are being placed or held in various positions. These muscles assist in keeping the shoulders down and wide, as well as prevent the shoulders from rolling forwards.
Wondering how you can begin your strength training journey as a dancer? Be DanceStrong offers a variety of resources for dancers, and dance studios that include private and semi-private training, camps, and intensives, all focused on providing strength and mobility training so dancers can be dance strong.
About Coach Sara: Sara is a coach, mobility specialist, and dance instructor based in Vancouver, BC. She grew up dancing competitively in a variety of styles and has continued to maintain her love for the art with ongoing training. Her teaching experience spans 15 years where she has worked with dancers of all ages and levels. As a coach and personal trainer, she has worked with a diverse population of people, helping them gain (or regain) their strength to live functional, confident, and pain free lives.