Cross-Training for Dancers
The best plyometric exercises to build strength and stamina
While dancing is unquestionably a full body sport, a dancer can still derive enormous benefit from incorporating cross-training into his or her routine. Cross-training is used by nearly all professional athletes to compliment the gains made during regular practice. Professional skiers run and bike during the offseason to improve their cardiovascular strength and further develop their leg muscles. Professional football players turn to ballet to improve flexibility, agility, and balance. Professional dancers often use yoga, weight training, or plyometric exercises to help target specific muscles and improve stamina, which helps them maintain proper form during long dance numbers. In addition to boosting stamina, this type of cross-training can improve speed, increase jump height, and reduce the risk of injury.
This exercise strengthens your lower body and helps you control your jump landing. Begin by standing in parallel. Take two parallel hops forward, traveling a foot or more each time. As you land the second hop, drop to a squat landing position, and hold it for five seconds. Repeat 5 to 10 times in a row. During the hold, try to focus on maintaining proper squat position with your hip, knee, and ankle alignment.
These help improve your power and build your stamina. Start by standing with your feet together. Bend your knees and jump as high as you can, tucking your knees up to your chest. Land on both feet and immediately repeat, continuing the jumps for 30 seconds.
This is one of the best exercises for improving jump height. Jump from one foot to the other as though you were running in place in an explosive jog. Jump high into the air to create a long, vertical stride as high up as you can, and hike the front knee up as high as possible. Your arms can move in opposition as you alternate the legs. When performed properly, this exercise is much like an exaggerated and explosive running action.
These help with jumping as well as stamina. Start on your left leg, jump as far as you can to the right, landing only on your right leg. Then immediately leap back to the left, landing only on your left leg. Repeat back and forth for 30 seconds.
Starting in parallel, jump and split your legs into a scissor kick, with one foot moving front and the other back. Land in a lunge position with your front knee at a 90-degree angle, keeping the knee over the toe, and your back knee also bent at 90 degrees, with weight on the ball of the foot. Then, scissor your legs in the air and land in a lunge on the opposite side. Alternate legs for 30 seconds.
This is a terrific core stabilizing exercise. A properly performed plank should look very similar to a push-up. Plant your hands directly under your shoulders, and keep your toes firmly pressed against the floor. Squeeze your glutes to stabilize the bottom half of your body. Your full body should be neutral (same shape as if you were standing upright) from your neck to your toes. If needed, this exercise can be made easier by dropping your elbows or knees to the floor. You can still benefit as long as your body stays neutral without letting your butt push up towards the ceiling. Hold the position for 30 seconds.
These exercises may be done together up to 3 days per week after a warm up. They may be repeated up to 3 times.
Remember that no two dancers have identical needs or abilities. Dancers can be assessed for fitness and should be evaluated by a doctor before beginning a new fitness program. Though all of these exercises are safe to do if they are performed correctly by healthy dancers, any training program will be safer and more effective under the guidance of a professional trainer or fitness expert.
Click here to open full newsletter PDF May 2014 Dance Cross Training