3 Tips for Strength Training as a Dancer

Kaitlyn Rogers is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa where she earned a B.A. in Dance as well as a B.A. in Health and Human Physiology. In her time dancing and working as a Personal Trainer, Kaitlyn has developed some great tips for helping dancers feel confident in the gym. Read on to learn how weight training can help you on the stage and prevent injury!

As dancers, we know that strength training is a great tool for us in terms of improving performance, increasing confidence, and preventing injuries. Regular strength training can be a game changer for dancers in terms of increasing power, strength, and stability. Strength training programming can be confusing and overwhelming at first. I remember feelings of anxiety and stress when I first walked into the gym six years ago. Now as I am working as a Certified Personal Trainer, it is a big passion of mine to help dancers of all ages navigate the gym and feel confident both in their strength training and their dancing. Over the past few years, I have been able to use the principles I have learned in my degree and apply them to my own programming. After many years of trial and error, here are my top three tips for performing effective strength training as a dancer.

1. Simplicity is key!

There is no shortage of information when it comes to what dancers should be doing for their strength-training, but in reality, when it comes to weightlifting, dancers do not necessarily need to be doing much differently than other athletes. The truth is when it comes to effectiveness, simple programming and exercise selection that is progressed over time is the most reliable form of training. This is based off the principle of
“Progressive Overload”, which in short means that over time, as we practice a certain weight on a certain exercise, our muscles will adapt to it. To continue to challenge the muscle group, you want to progress the movement you are doing. Progressions can be made by adding a tempo to a movement (i.e., slowing down the lowering portion, or adding in pauses), or by increasing the weight.

2. Quality over Quantity

One of the biggest misconceptions regarding weight training is that you need to spend hours at the gym daily to see results. In reality, most of us have busy schedules, and already spend multiple hours per week exercising in our dance practices. It is important that we are strategic in our gym performance and scheduling because excessive training can lead to burnout and decreased performance. When it comes to weightlifting, sessions can be as minimal as 4-5 exercises, and be equally, if not more effective. This is because when you are doing fewer exercises in a session, you can spend more time focusing on the quality of each exercise. In addition to this, there is a common misconception that to “tone” certain body parts, you want to do high repetitions at a lower weight. Though this is not a “wrong” way to train, as dancers we will benefit much more from increasing the strength of each muscle group. The most effective way to do this is working in ranges of 8-12 repetitions and choosing weights that challenge us.

3. Choose Multi-Joint Exercises

Dance is a unique sport in the sense that each specific piece of choreography can vary a lot in terms of biomechanical demands. Dance techniques require multiple muscle groups to work together to perform movements. In our strength training, it is important to choose exercises that embody this idea. These movements are called “compound movements” meaning that they place demand on multiple muscles to complete the exercise. Some examples of compound movements are squats, which utilize the knee and hip flexors and extensors, as well as core musculature to complete each repetition, and deadlifts which use the musculature of the posterior chain in its entirety to perform each repetition. Other examples of compound movements include rows, bench press, and strict press. An important note for strength training is to complete your compound movements first in your session, since they will likely be the most fatiguing and you want to make sure that you are not already tired going into these exercises. To conclude, incorporating strength training into your routine can be extremely beneficial to dance performance. By performing resistance training exercises, you can build up the musculature surrounding joints that are often injury-prone in dancers.

Strength training can be overwhelming at first, but simple programming is often the most effective and easiest to progress over time. Strength training is a fantastic way to have fun, challenge yourself, as well as supplement the longevity of your dance career.