Present Tense Fitness

Dance and Sports Performance

Strength training and conditioning approaches for dancers

Group Classes for Dancers? Sure. Random? Never.

If you’re a dancer then the last thing you ought to do to complement your artistic regimen is wander into a random fitness or yoga class with the hope that a random assortment of movement will develop your strength or mobility. You might get away with it most of the time, but the one time you don’t could spell disaster for your performance season and put your career in jeopardy if you’re on the margins.

General fitness enthusiasts can get away with taking a random HIIT class at the local commercial gym because their time isn’t as limited as a dancer’s. So if that Tuesday night class isn’t quite right for them, they can modify as appropriate and then come back then next night.

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.

The downsides of the random class might not be immediate or obvious. But think about one of the more popular big chain offerings these days: the HIIT class. You’re in-season, maybe in the middle of preparing for a performance. You know you need to stay in shape, so you wander into a bodyweight HIIT class. Well, what do a lot of beginning trainers do (the trainers who work at the big chain gyms are often beginners, as I certainly was)? They make you jump, because jumping is hard and will get your heart rate up. But if you’re mid-season, should you really be adding more jumping and landing into the mix? The danger here is not only will that HIIT class not make you stronger, but also there’s a real danger that you’re adding cumulative stress to your body that could wear you out before the end of the season. You could be that person who turns an ankle heading into Spring because your body just wasn’t strong enough to withstand the rigors of the art form.

What’s frustrating about that scenario, of course, is that you tried to do everything right. You were told that you needed to cross train. You were told that you needed to be stronger. And so you found a gym and you found a class that sounded good and you went. The same could be said for taking a random yoga class in a misguided attempt to stay mobile. Mid-season, it’s not likely that your main issue is lack of mobility, but lack of stability—and you might have an asymmetry from one side to another. The yoga teacher offering postures can’t possibly know about your specific situation.

One-on-one training is great, but often is prohibitively expensive. Here are some thoughts for how a dancer with limited time and resources can approach cross training realistically.

  • Develop expertise around your own body. Take some time to learn some basic functional anatomy. Social media is full of experts offering free guidance on how muscles work together and what specific movements you can do to strengthen, mobilize, and provide stability. Look specifically for sources that come out of a sports performance world.

  • Work one-on-one with a good personal trainer. This can be an expensive option, but if you go into it with teaching and learning in mind, a great coach can empower you with the tools you need to program for yourself in an efficient and effective manner.

  • Find a private group training option. Private group training can be the best of all worlds because it offers personalized programming for each athlete, but in a group setting. This can be more affordable than personal training while still offering a number of the same benefits.

The research and practical experiences have made the necessity for strength in dancers irrefutable. But don’t make the mistake of relying on random classes to enhance your performance. Every minute you spend on training ought to yield direct benefits to your dance performance. The gains you make in efficiency by working smarter will allow you to rest and recover more—which in itself will make your body far more resilient.

Like what you’re reading? Be the first to find out about our Dancer’s Guide to Strength & Conditioning, coming this Fall 2019. Go here for more information.