General Conditioning for the Dancer
by JP Chan, DPT
“Dancers are the athletes of God.”
This quote is widely attributed to Albert Einstein. While we can’t be sure he did indeed say this, the sentiment is arguably true. We all know dance can be physically demanding, requiring athleticism that rivals sports. Yet surprisingly, dance education is largely inconsistent in preparing young dancers for the physical rigors of their craft.
What We Know
There isn’t as much literature covering the physical capabilities of dancers when compared to conventional athletes. The research we do have primarily focuses on ballet dancers. While ballet dancers exhibit similar lower extremity strength, coordination, range of motion and balance as conventional athletes, ballet dancers lack the same aerobic capacity, muscular endurance and upper extremity strength compared to their sport counterparts.
The reason for this is that most dance classes don’t focus on improving physical fitness. The typical dance class focuses on technique, skill acquisition and choreography pick up. And so while you can work up a good sweat in those classes, your body isn’t being trained to improve in specific physical parameters.
Did you know that the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 min per week of moderately intense aerobic activity or 75 min of vigorous aerobic activity? This recommendation is for the general public! If you’re training for competitions, auditions or performances, you need to have sufficient stamina to keep the energy up. To improve your endurance, dancers should cross-train in aerobic activities (whether that’s running, biking or swimming) that they feel safe and confident doing.
Strength and Conditioning
It's highly recommended that dancers engage in strength training to optimize performance and reduce risk of injury. However, selecting exercises must be purposeful and deliberate. Don’t just copy the exercises you see others do. Find your areas of weakness and build from there! Whether it’s improving your hip and core strength, getting more power into jumps, or building stronger arms for partner work, the strength training you engage in should be designed for your specific needs in dance.
All of this talk of training means we can’t forget that sometimes we overtrain! Yes, resting is a crucial part of health and wellness. Getting a proper amount of sleep allows our bodies to recover from the physical activities of the day. If dancers should supplement their dance training with cross-training, then they must devote time to resting as well. Temporary soreness after a workout is expected, but if you notice pain or difficulty with performing, take time to listen to your body and see what it needs!
There are a multitude of dance styles and training backgrounds that make each dancer unique in their physical capabilities and needs. If you’re interested in receiving more specific advice tailored to you, please reach out to us at Evolution Physical Therapy and Fitness!