By Kenzie Gannaway
Cross training can be a grey area for many dancers as there is fear of doing so improperly. Though it is a daunting area, cross training is essential to reduce injury, add ease to movement and help us maintain the aesthetic of the cool. If you are one of those dancers who struggle in that grey area, here are a few things to consider:
Cardio: Cardio is important for dancers as we need to be able to keep a steady breath and a calm demeanor as we push through rigorous works. High impact exercises, such as running, can, over time, wear on our joints. Safe alternatives are swimming, treadmill running, elliptical, and biking. Swimming will be the kindest to your joints, but encourages you to hold your breath, be sure to choose a pace and stroke that allows you to breathe the most evenly for your lung capacity. Treadmills and biking will allow you full control of your breath but it is common in this exercise that people throw away their care of alignment. Be sure to track your knees over your toes and keep your glutes and thighs engaged to keep proper alignment from the top of the hip. When working on a machine, also keep the resistance low. Too high of a resistance will start to create a bulking of the muscles.
Strength: Strength is one of the top contributors in keeping dancers safe from injury as strong muscles support joints and allow us to safely master extreme shapes of the body. Lifting weights and weight machines can be utilized by all dancers but requires the most caution. Lifting heavy weights can create bulky muscles and strain if not used properly. For lean muscle mass, focus on using low weight with high repetition. If weights seem daunting, all dancers can benefit from pilates and resistance bands. Pilates will help to strengthen alignment and your core. Pilates is also going to help you find what parts of your body are overstretched, weak or tight. Pilates does this by isolating each joint and muscle so you can strengthen them individually. Resistance bands are going to help with your intrinsic muscles and are more accessible to a dancer working out in a small space.
Stretch: A common misconception is that you need to sit in a stretch for minutes at a time and the more flexibility the better. Flexibility is a key asset to dancing but will be useless if you do not have the muscle strength to support the shape. There are several studies on how long to hold a stretch. A good rule is to keep the hold time of a stretch to under a minute, past that minute you begin to risk exhausting the muscle’s resilience. A safer tactic is work that muscle within the stretch, isometric stretching. An example is to lay on your back with your leg stretched in the position of a front battement. Pull the leg towards your face for 20 seconds, then push with your leg against your hands and hold in place for 20 seconds, relax the muscle and repeat for a minute. Yoga will also aid in stretching and strengthening as well as breath. Yoga provides dynamic stretching that will help to elongate the muscles. There are videos online but nothing beats having a trained professional guide you through class.
Cross training can be a complex balance, but with the help, every dancer can find what will work best for their bodies and lifestyle.
If you are coming back from an injury or looking for recommendations on how to build strength, we recommend contacting Taryn Khong who works specifically with performers (and has worked with NYC Ballet and Broadway shows). Taryn is currently working at a University of Utah clinic in SLC, Utah, (accepting many insurances) and also makes home visits. You can find her here: https://www.facebook.com/
Use these tips above to start a little research and get sweating!