Blog Archives

Foam Rolling for Ballet Dancers

foamrollingballet

If you are one of those dancers who has tight iliotibial bands or “IT bands” you know that it is not an easy task loosening them up. Today I want to share with you a different way to loosen up your IT band. These exercises work well because they do not put direct pressure on the IT band, rather on the muscle groups surrounding it which are the real culprits for the tightness!

But first lets explore the IT band by locating it. The Iliotibial Band is a thick strip of connective tissue that connects several muscles in the outside thigh. It plays a key role in the movement of the thigh by connecting hip muscles to the tibia of the lower leg. (see below) Tight IT bands in dancers is very common and can cause hip and knee pain as well as injuries. It can also inhibit flexibility which of course affects extension and developé.

ITB

Anytime my Ballet Strength clients start to feel hip or knee pain and/or tightness, I add the exercises in the video below to their training program. Give them a try yourself, performing 10 repetitions in each position to increase your flexibility.

 

 

This article was originally published on www.balletstrength.com

*References innerbody.com, athletico.com

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Ballet Warm-Up Exercise

Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa warming up by Alexander Iziliaev

Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa warming up by Alexander Iziliaev

Today I want to share with you one of my favorite go-to warm up exercises to do before ballet class. I like to call this exercise the “roll up.” We have spoken before about the importance of warming up versus stretching and this exercise in combination with others will do just the trick to get you feeling loose, opened up, and ready to start class!

The Roll Up – The roll up is a beginners Pilates move created to target the core but it can do much more when added to your daily ballet warm up routine. Not only does it activate the core but it also stretches the spine. A lot of dancers will do this exercise right after getting out of bed in the morning to work the kinks out and get the body moving slowly. You can even articulate the feet while doing this exercise (if you’re not wearing sneakers like I am in this video ;).

Give it a try as part of your warm-up routine before ballet class this week and feel what a difference it makes! I suggest 10-15 roll-ups at a time and don’t rush through it – go nice and slow focusing on rolling through the spine. Your body will thank you for it!

 

 

Stretching vs Warming-Up for Dancers

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If you are like the majority of dancers, your daily routine begins by showing up 30 minutes or so before ballet class starts to warm-up. The keyword here is “warm-up.” What most of you end up doing is stretching as a warm-up which may be causing more harm than good. Read on to find out the proven reasons why you should not be stretching before class.

If you are stretching in an effort to increase or enhance performance prior to ballet class or the big show, you are really doing yourself a great disservice. Static stretching results in a decrease in performance while dynamic stretching results in an increase in performance (*see reference 1 below).

Some of us don’t really know why we stretch before class…we just do it because we saw someone else doing it. I don’t know about you, but I never had a ballet instructor suggest stretching before class. They did however suggest warming-up. There is a big difference.

Your pre-ballet class ritual should consist of a dynamic warm-up done in an effort to specifically turn-on and activate muscles through heightened neurological communication between the brain and muscle motor units. Stretching will not achieve this. Stretching should be done in an effort to recover and restore fatigued muscles after ballet class or performance. The goal of post class/ performance stretching would be to restore range of motion and/or to release tight muscle fibers to provide efficient blood flow which brings essential nutrients into the muscle to repair, restore, and recover.

A great dynamic warm-up for example would consist of high knee lifts (think marching in place), torso twists, arm circles, and believe it or not a jog around the ballet classroom to elevate the heart-rate and get the blood moving. How many of you have seen girls jogging around the room in auditions to warm-up and laughed at them for doing so? (now the joke is on you!) Below are a few good warm-up exercises to try before class:

1.) The Plank – hold this position for 30-60 seconds. Warms up the core muscles and really, the whole body.

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2.) Hi Knee Marches – Do 20 or so of these to warm-up the hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings.

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3.) Calf Raises- This is a great way to warm-up the feet, ankles and calves. Perform 15-20 of these along with some ankle rolls.

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If you are looking to maximize those splits or extension, work on your deep stretching after class from now on. Also, be sure to give a dynamic warm-up a try before class this week and notice the difference in the way your muscles feel during class. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences with this!

*Resources:[1]  L. Parsons, N. Maxwell, C.Elniff, M. Jacka, and N. Heerschee Static vs. Dynamic Stretching on Vertical Jump and Standing Long Jump (2006), Greg Romero Coaching (2011)

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Ballet Port de Bras

What is the most common correction that you get in ballet class? Chances are, it has something to do with your arms. Rather than just telling you “shoulders down” or “elbows up,” today I am going to show you the single most important exercise that you  should be doing outside of the classroom. If you never want to hear your ballet teacher scream at you in front of the class about your arms ever again, please read on!

Addressing the real problem – Like I talk about in my other blog posts, strength is the limiting factor (in our extensions and our pirouettes). Sure, we can stand around in ballet class all day long with our arms out in second position but this tends to lead to two things; 1.) Tired, droopy elbows which leads to 2.) Incorrect muscle memory. Over time, after repeatedly holding the arms incorrectly day after day and hour after hour, our bodies (and our minds) get trained to do the wrong thing – to hold the wrong position. The best way to address this situation is outside of the studio.

Dancers often lack upper body strength. We spend so much of our time focusing on what the legs and feet are doing that we neglect the upper body. (Core is another neglected component but we’ll get into that at another time.) The dancers that I work with at my studio and online work diligently to balance their upper body strength with the rest of their ballet skills. Some workouts are even entirely for the upper body. Why, you might ask? Because our upper body is responsible for a lot that goes on in our dancing. A turn cannot successfully be completed with droopy elbows, for example, and your jumps clearly will not get far off the ground if you are tensing your shoulders and neck midair.

So what exercises should you be doing? I am going to show you one of the single most important upper body exercises that dancers should be doing outside of the ballet classroom.

The Pec Fly – The Pec Fly (often referred to as the dumbbell fly) is an exercise that emulates a ballet port de bras that goes from first to second position.

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The pec fly targets the pectoralis major and minor muscles, the serratus muscles in the rib cage, in addition to the deltoids to help stabilize the movement. What does this mean in dancer terms? It means that it directly targets the muscles that you use to keep those elbows lifted and shoulders down when holding your arms in first position. This means great things for your dancing like stronger turning positions, free moving jumps, and effortless port de bras.

Directions: Start lying on the floor, knees bent, feet on the floor as pictured, holding 2 weights (3-5 lbs to start) in a rounded ballet second position. Keeping the arms rounded, slowly bring the arms in to a first position, touching the weights together. Repeat this for 15 repetitions, rest and do this again for a total of three sets. As always, make sure you warm-up prior to beginning any ballet or fitness routine.

Below is a video of the pec fly exercise as well:

Upper body is something that I have incorporated into all of my Ballet Strength online programs and DVD’s as it is a vital component to your progress as a dancer. I go over multiple exercises that will improve your port de bras, just like the pec fly exercise above. Give this a try and I can’t wait to hear how this exercise helps you improve as a dancer!

 

 

 

Improve Your Penché for Ballet

Today’s video is to help you improve your penché for ballet. The penché is one of the exercises in ballet class that dancers struggle with – it requires balance, proper alignment, flexibility, and a strong standing leg. In fact, directors often give penché in auditions to see who can handle it and who topples over.

So what can you do to improve your penché? This video demonstrates a Ballet Strength exercise that addresses all of the key factors that go into executing the perfect penché such as balance, flexibility, strength, and alignment. Give it a try!

Preventing Ankle Sprains in Dance

Ballet Strength Ankle Injuries

The most common injury in dance is a sprained ankle. If you have been dancing long enough, chances are, you have gone through this injury and the long rehabilitation process that comes with it. As a dancer who was prone to ankle sprains early on in my professional career, I looked to strength training for help. I will never forget the first time that I “rolled” my ankle in the studio after a summer of Ballet Strength cross training preparation – my ankle rolled over to the outside of my foot, and immediately corrected itself back to standing due to the strength that I had created in my ankle, knee and hip. No pain, no sprain! I was truly amazed and felt accomplished as all of my hard work over the summer had paid off!

While accidents do happen, there are a few exercises that you can add to your cross training routine to help prevent sprains from happening. Two of the exercises that I will outline in this blog are lunges and squats. These exercises are very common in the gym but not so much in the ballet world. In ballet we tend to work hard on the muscles that hold our “turn-out” while neglecting stabilizing muscles that we use in “parallel” or daily life. This is why us dancers have taken on the reputation of walking like ducks.

Lunges

Start standing with the legs together in parallel. Lunge forward with the right leg, striking with the heel first. Pushing back through the heel (no pointed toes here), return to the start position. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions on each leg.

Ballet Strength Lunges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squats

Start with both legs in parallel, slightly wider than hip width apart. Send the hips back (breaking in the hips) followed by a bend in the knee. Be sure to keep the knees in line with the heels, NOT letting them go over the toes. Repeat for 10-15 repetitions.

Ballet Strength Squats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adding these two exercises to your strength training/cross training routine will help balance out your muscles, keeping you centered and strong. For a full ankle strengthening program, try my Power Pointe Ankle Strengthening Program! As always, be sure to consult with your physical therapist, physician, or Ballet Strength trainer before performing these or any cross training exercises.

Introducing Beginning Ballet Strength©

I am pleased to finally announce the release of my new program, Beginning Ballet Strength©. Now you can have all of the advantages of top professional ballet dancers and be in peak condition year round!

Beginning Ballet Strength is a strength training program geared towards helping you become the best, strongest dancer possible. In this digital eBook, you will be coached step by step through strength training exercises specifically designed by a dancer, for a dancer. Each exercise is illustrated and described to make sure your form is correct.

Benefits of Beginning Ballet Strength include:

★ Improved Balance
★ Injury Prevention
★ Stronger Jumps
★ Improved Stamina
★ Partnering Strength
★ Increased Confidence
★ Heightened Jumps
★ Better Turns
★ Tighter Core
★ Stronger/ Slimmer Appearance
★ Increased Range of Motion
★ and much, much more!
Any young dancer who is thinking about becoming a professional or any professional dancer new to strength training must read this book!
Be sure to check it out at www.balletstrength.com.
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The reproduction or use of any content found on this website is strictly prohibited by law.

Ballet Strength-Part 1

Over the past few weeks, I have been working diligently on my new book and website for you all based on strength training for Dancers. This is uncharted territory when it comes to ballet, so I have to be sure that the timing of my launch is right. To get started, here are a few basic things that you need to know about strength training for Dancers and how it can improve your performance and extend your career.

Lets debunk the common strength training and cross training myths that you have heard from your Ballet teachers.

Myth #1: You will get bulky muscles- This statement is totally untrue. In fact, if you are doing the correct exercises, your muscles should form a more elongated look! Strength training increases lean muscle mass. If you are working with a certified professional who understands a Dancers body, you should have any problems with bulky muscles. Now not all of you can have access to trainers like myself or the New York City Ballet’s strength and conditioning team, so stay posted to my blog for valuable tips for exercises that you can do on your own!

Myth #2: Taking extra Ballet classes is the only way to improve- Now most of you know that this is not true, but there are some Ballet teachers out there who are still preaching this. Cross-training is a great way to work on your weaknesses as a dancer through strength training, Pilates, yoga, or even taking a few jazz classes!

Myth #3: Strength training causes loss of flexibility- Untrue. It actually improves range of motion of muscles and joints. It also enhances dance proprioception. This creates improved awareness of your center of gravity (think balance and turns). Any good strength training or cross-training program will also incorporate stretching towards the end of the workout.

Myth #4: Strength training is for Men- True, but it is also beneficial for Women.There are many wonderful benefits to strength training including increased range of motion, injury prevention, increased lean muscle mass, improves balance, increases and restores bone density, and enhances sports performance. Now just think of how much that can improve your dancing!

I hope that through this post, you have a better understanding of the real benefits of strength training for Ballet Dancers. Remember, your strength training program needs to be tailored towards dancers, not just any program will do. If you have any questions please contact me.

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my NEW Ballet Strength Book, Beginning Ballet Strength HERE!

Happy Dancing,

Nikol Klein Professional Ballet Dancer / Certified Personal Trainer