Strengthening Exercises for the Dancer

By Kelli Wrolstad, PT, DPT, OCS

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Dance is an athletic activity that requires a combination of flexibility, balance and strength. Arguably, the most important of these is having the muscular strength to support the demands that dance places on the body, but strength training is often neglected in dance training. Forgetting to incorporate strengthening exercises into a dancer’s weekly routine can increase injury risk and lead to time lost from participating in practice or performances. Therefore, it’s necessary to do some sort of targeted strengthening in addition to the stretching and choreography training that is more often incorporated into regular dance classes. 

There’s no limit to the number of good strengthening exercises that a dancer could perform, but here we have listed 5 simple exercises that can maximize dance performance and help to decrease injury risk: 

1) Standing Clamshells 

  • This exercise targets the muscles that perform hip external rotation, which is the basis of where a dancer’s turnout should come from. 
  • To perform this exercise: Place a resistance band around your knees and stand on one leg. Bend your opposite leg and rotate your knee out to the side as if you are drawing a “C” with your knee. 
  • Tip: Try to maintain your hips on one level, and don’t let your moving hip drop below neutral. 
  • Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions on each side. 

2) Single Leg Deadlifts 

  • This exercise is great at targeting the hamstring muscles. Since it loads the muscles eccentrically, this means that it is strengthening AND lengthening! Therefore, you are building strength and flexibility together, and since you are standing on one leg you are also improving your balance. 
  • To perform this exercise: Stand on one leg. Keeping your hips level, tip forward, keeping your torso and back leg in one straight line. Return to standing. 
  • Bonus points: Try to avoid tapping your opposite foot down between reps to further challenge your balance. To make this exercise more challenging, you can hold a weight in your hand. 
  • Perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions on each side.

3) Single Leg Heel Raises 

  • This exercise strengthens your calf muscles, which are important for improving ankle strength and stability. This will help to improve your releve position. Dancers should be able to perform 25 repetitions in a row with good form. 
  • To perform this exercise: Stand on one leg. Keeping your knee straight, lift up onto the ball of your foot. 
  • Perform 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions on each side.

4) Plank 

  • Any exercises that strengthen the core are vital for dancers. Strengthening the abdominal and back muscles helps to protect your spine and improve stability in single leg poses or turns. The plank is a good option to strengthen many “core” muscle groups at once! 
  • To perform this exercise: Begin by lying on your stomach with both forearms under your chest. Pull your belly button in toward your spine, and push up through your forearms so that your body is off the ground in a straight line. 
  • Tip: Make sure to squeeze your glutes! 
  • Try to hold for 30-60 seconds with good form.
Copy of plank

5) Squats

  • Squats are a classic quad/glute strengthening exercise for a reason. You can make them more dance-specific by performing a Sumo Squat with your hips in external rotation, which is essentially a plie in second position. This is a great exercise to protect your knees and hips, which are key joints used for many dance skills. 
  • To perform this exercise: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, turned out without forcing your turnout. Keep your back straight, and bend your knees keeping them tracking over your toes (don’t let them collapse inwards). Return to standing, squeezing your glutes at the top. 
  • Bonus points: hold a weight in front of your chest for an added challenge! 
  • Perform 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions.

Please reach out to expand your strengthening program or to book an appointment with a physical therapist.

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