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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Deadlifts for Dancers

DEADLIFTSFORDANCERS

If you had a chance to watch any of the World Dance Day video, you saw that in addition to showing live ballet classes and rehearsals, they also showed what the dancers do to stay in shape outside of the studio. At Ballet Strength, we love that they chose to reveal dancers behind the scenes in the gym strength training. My favorite clip they showed was of National Ballet of Canada dancer, Chelsy Meiss. Pictured below is Chelsy performing an exercise called the “deadlift” from the World Dance Day broadcast. Today I am going to share with you how to do this exercise correctly so that you can maximize your Ballet Strength just like Chelsy!

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Dancer Chelsy Meiss performing deadlifts

At Ballet Strength all of our programs and DVD workouts incorporate Romanian deadlifts. Romanian deadlifts are a great way to strengthen your hamstrings and spinal erectors, the long muscles that run up and down the sides of your lower back. Our goal in using this exercise during cross training is to strengthen the core and glute/ham tie in to help take the brunt of the stress from dancing off of the ankles – helping to stay injury free. Strength and power in the upper legs will also help with jumps, balance, and turns.

Ballet Strength Deadlifts

How to do it: A.) Start with the feet hip width apart, holding a light bar or two dumbbells. Knees should be slightly bent with the weight in the heels. B.) Bend forward from the torso, sliding the bar or weights to mid-shin (do not go all the way to the floor!). Be careful that you do not bend the knees additionally and keep the weight in the heels. Do not round the back. C.) It is a good idea to even lift the toes off the ground to ensure that you form is proper with the weight in the heels. Perform 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

Any good ballet cross training program will include deadlifts such as our Sensationally Strong Jumps Program or the Power Pirouettes DVD. The dancers whom I work with in companies such as San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Boston Ballet all do this exercise too! Give it a try and take your Ballet Strength to a new level.

 

 

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!

 

 

Plyometric Training for Dancers

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If you are a dancer who is looking to improve your jumps and stamina, plyometric training could be right up your alley. While there are many beneficial plyometric exercises for dancers, I want to discuss the pros and cons to plyometric training and the exercises that may work better for the goals that ballet dancers are trying to achieve.

When it comes to jumping, the problem usually lies in the muscle groups that are recruited during jumps and their ability to fire correctly. What does this mean in simple terms? It means that simply jumping more is not going to fix the underlying issue. Dancers looking to improve their jumps through plyometrics need to be extremely careful. If there is a weakness, imposing a new complex movement into the mix may create injury. Plyometrics can also be very hard on the knees and are usually performed in a parallel position, something that most dancers are not trained in.

Before you get started with plyometrics, you want to make sure you have the following basic exercises down to fix any potential muscular imbalances.

Squats- You need to master a basic squat before trying a plyometric exercises which will likely have you starting and ending the exercise in a squatting position. Try a basic wall squat as pictured below. Perform 3 sets of 20 repetitions paying close attention that you are keeping the weight in the heels, pushing through the heels particularly on the way up.

©balletstrength wallsquats

Lunges – You need to be able to fluidly transfer weight from one leg to the other in a parallel position before attempting plyometrics. This will challenge your lateral stability. Try 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions one leg at a time, not alternating.

©balletstrength jumpsquats

Basic Jump Squat – The first plyometric exercise that you should start with is a basic jump squat, as pictured above. Begin in your parallel squat position, jump up with the legs in parallel and return to the squat position to finish. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions, eventually graduating to weights. *If your knees knock together when you land or your heels won’t stay down, this exercise is too advanced for you.

If you are looking to strengthen your jumps, plyometrics might be right up your alley, however as you have learned there are usually underlying issues. I work with dancers all over the world who are looking to strengthen their jumps and am happy to help you out with a program that best suits your needs. Feel free to email me or visit balletstrength.com to find the right program for you!

 

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.

Tendu Tuesday – Preparation for Turns

Ballet Strength Pirouettes ©Ballet Strength

I have coined the phrase #TenduTuesday in the dance world and every week it makes me think about just how much we use the tendu in dance! The tendu is used in preparation for many of the turns we do in class and on the stage; soutenu turns, pique turns, simple pirouettes.

As you know, the preparation can make or break the step that follows it and the tendu is no exception.  If your tendu before a pique turn or pirouette is out of placement, you turns will definitely suffer. Practice perfect placement this Tendu Tuesday and watch your turns improve tremendously!

If you have any questions for me, please feel free to contact me on Facebook – facebook.com/balletstrength

 

Core Conditioning for Dancers

Making sure that your core is strong is an essential part to your performance as a dancer. The following are three exercises that you can do to strengthen your core for turns, jumps, balance, and technique! Click on the photo below for a larger version or to print it out!

balletstrength core conditioning

Ball Crunches- On a balance ball, perform 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions being careful not to pull on the neck.

Oblique Twists- Sitting on a balance ball, contract the navel to the spine. Twist side to side holding a weight or weighted ball. Perform 15-20 repetitions.

Side Plank- Balancing as pictured above, hold this position for 15-30 seconds.

As always, be sure to use your best judgement when performing these exercises to your personal fitness level.

Ballet New Year’s Resolutions

What are your New Year’s ballet resolutions? Are you looking to improve your flexibility? Do you want to work on your turns and balance? How about your jumps?

I have launched multiple videos on You Tube for my followers and fans and I wanted to put them all in one place for you to watch. These videos will help improve many areas of your dancing such as core strength, port de bras, ankle strength, and inner thigh activation! Watch them, and as always, please comment below to let me know what you think!