Present Tense Fitness
adam-littman-davis-269635-unsplash.jpg

Dance and Sports Performance

Strength training and conditioning approaches for dancers

Dancer Muscle and Job Security

Dancers are told they need to be skinny. They’re told they need to cross train. They’re told they need to do Pilates. They’re told they need to be in good condition. They’re told they need to be strong. But they’re not told how to do so many of these things in a healthy way. When we first started down this road of helping dancers, we were told that dancers “already had the help they needed.” But we knew this to be a lie—because we had taken the time to do the research and to talk to dancers.

Read More
Strength: It's Not Just Muscle

It’s another aspect of strength that people often forget or neglect because they mistakenly believe that strength training is all about hypertrophy. To understand why this is wrong, we have to distinguish what it means to be a strong athlete or dancer versus what it means to be a strong lifter. Team-oriented strength and conditioning coaches are tasked with developing strong dancers and athletes, not lifters. Often the strongest dancer or athlete in the context of their activity won’t be the strongest lifter in the weightroom.

Read More
The Fight Against Time

The dance world can be close minded and traditionalist—but a lot of other worlds are like that too. Talk to an old school baseball coach some time and see if you don’t walk away asking yourself what year it is. But I know from talking to dancers that they are hungry for a more modern approach to their livelihoods. I also know how much more confident and secure they feel in their bodies when they get stronger. We owe it to them to value their bodies and their time by developing realistic, recoverable, and science-driven strength and conditioning programs that avoid dogma, borrow heavily from any available best practices, and continue to evolve over time.

Read More
Spinal Extension: Strategies and Pitfalls

Cat/cow is a classic yoga movement wherein a person moves through spinal flexion (think of an angry or scared cat) and spinal extension (belly hangs low, like a cow). Hypermobile people who are attracted to things like yoga and ballet can easily get into impressive-looking cat/cow postures. But the problem is, they almost certainly shouldn’t be trying to exploit all of that range of motion on a yoga mat. Understand the distinction I’m making here: onstage, dancers need to do what they need to do. But in a yoga studio or strength training facility or on a Pilates reformer, their coach or teacher needs to make sure that they are staying within a safe range of motion.

Read More
Hip Articulation and Arabesque

Today I want to isolate hip movement for you, and to do that we’re going to introduce a Functional Range Conditioning technique called controlled articular rotations (CARs). CARs are articular movements—meaning, movements about a joint—that are intended to work the outer ranges of motion. The theory is that if I can ACTIVELY move my hip and control its outer ranges of motion, then I’m less likely to injury myself during athletic movement. For our purposes here, I’m interested in developing as much specific range of motion in the hip as I can so as to mitigate the amount of spinal extension I need to borrow in order to execute a beautiful arabesque.

Read More
Why can't dancers hinge properly?

Dancers, in my experience, can move through all of the above movement patterns with ease—except for the hip hinge. It’s fascinating to see professional athletes who have never learned how to hinge properly, because the muscles that move our hips into extension are critical for explosive movements. Want to jump higher? Move with power and grace across the stage? You need a strong butt, and you need strong hamstrings. Want to do all of these things without injuring your back? You need a strong butt, and you need strong hamstrings.

Read More
Bone Mineral Density and Dance

Our bodies are a system of pulleys and levers, with muscle acting on bone to execute movement. As our muscles get stronger and increase the mechanical stress on bone, our bodies react by building bone mass and strength in order to handle the increased demands. This increase in bone mineral density is one of the byproducts of well-designed strength training programs.

Read More
Four ways to build in workout efficiency (and four things to avoid)

It’s not difficult to find dancers standing on one leg, pointing their toes, and doing some sort of strength move atop a BOSU ball. Probably strength coaches are too hostile to BOSU balls, but when it comes to efficiency, you’re better off leaving your specific balance training to the dance setting and focusing instead on strength, coordination, conditioning, and mobility when you’re strength training.

Read More
Connecting Subjective Performance Qualities to Training Principles

What this tells us is fairly obvious to every strength coach who’s ever worked with athletes: our job is to provide the dancer or athlete with the tools necessary to enhance their skills, not to try to replace the dance teacher, football coach, or basketball coach. Better technical jumps allow the dance teacher a larger canvas on which to work with the dancer to create more artistry, but the higher jumps don’t by themselves improve the subjective aesthetics critical for dance.

Read More
Dancers: Take a Day Off

Given the extraordinary demands on a dancer’s body, the central nervous system is unlikely to distinguish between the stress of an hourlong bout on an elliptical machine or on a Pilates reformer or in a hot yoga studio or on a gyrotonic machine and the stress from class and rehearsal. It’s not necessarily the load and intensity—to borrow a phrase from the strength and conditioning world—it’s also the amount of repetition that dancers need to regulate in order to get and stay strong as well as prevent injury over a long performance season.

Read More
The Lats: A Primer for Dancers

Strong lats are critical for any athletic movement, in other words, so it’s important that we understand the interplay between them and posture, injury prevention, and performance. When we consider how often dancers are in spinal extension—think arabesque or the standing posture we often associate with ballerinas—then we begin to understand the delicate balance between latissimus dorsi strength and latissimus dorsi mobility.

Read More
The Deload Week: Guide for Dancers

Dancers should be training, not exercising. First, improving performance requires an individualized approach not conducive to random fitness classes. Second—and perhaps more critically—injury prevention dictates a delicate balance between overload (which is required for improved performance) and overtraining (which can lead to fatigue-induced injuries).

Read More
Dancing and Body Composition

My priority as a strength coach is to simplify matters and find efficiencies for my dancers and athletes as much as possible. The good news is, we have data, experience, and research from thousands of athletes around the world—and an increasing amount of this work is being done with women specifically in mind. So if we synthesize Abbie Smith-Ryan’s work with some of this other research and best practices, we begin to see a picture emerge for what healthy body composition strategies look like for dancers.

Read More
Strength as Supplemental Skill Set for Dancers

Theoretically every client gets this same level of attention to detail, but in practice I know there is a time and place to hold a busy working mom accountable for every single repetition in the gym. Athletes hiring a strength coach, however, ought to expect exhaustive detail and accountability for every single repetition completed. That’s where the skill of strength comes from, and it could be the difference between a long career and one cut short by avoidable injuries.

Read More
On Dancing Through Pain

The more I’ve gotten to know the dance world, the more I see parallels between the pressure on aspiring professionals and up-and-coming baseball players. Both dance and baseball require joint actions that are essentially “abnormal” (dancers at the hips, and baseball players at the shoulders); at the highest levels, both require a mix of rehabilitative work and performance-enhancing strength work; and both groups of parents succumb to pressure that serves dance schools or summer baseball showcases but not necessarily the athletes themselves.

Read More
Group Classes for Dancers? Sure. Random? Never.

But think about a dancer’s schedule. Class. Rehearsal. Learning new choreography. Often a side hustle. Time in the physical therapy room. Dancers are often busy from very early in the morning to late into the evening. This means that you can’t afford to waste time with a random group exercise routine that has little to do with your specific needs.

Read More
Serratus Anterior and Dancer Shoulder Health

Sahrmann goes on to write that she “has found that impaired control of the scapula by the serratus anterior muscle is common.” My young dancer client for right now is asymptomatic, but my job as a strength and conditioning coach is to make sure she learns how to use her serratus anterior so that we can avoid any problems before they start. Otherwise, she’ll be the dancer who complains of shoulder issues, or worse, hurts herself lifting a heavy bag above her head when she’s traveling to perform or audition.

Read More
Ballet Strength and Conditioning Myths

One of the more interesting things about the ballet world in particular is how many of the misunderstandings around strength training are linked to gender-specific tropes around women. In short, the fitness industry lied to women for decades about what strength training does to a woman’s body, what set and rep ranges women should use, and what “toning” means.

Read More