Risks & Benefits of Cross-training for Dancers
This is part TWO of a FIVE part series where we debunk the myths of cross-training for dancers by answering your fundamental questions, clarifying queries and conveying information so you can begin cross- training, stress free.
You can find Part 1: What is Cross-Training for Dancers? Here
Learning that cross-training for dancers is simply ‘training different types of movements and modalities’, may bring you an enormous sense of relief and hopefully have you questioning if you should perhaps start your cross-training journey. However, learning the definition of cross-training still doesn’t appropriately answer your questions and primary concerns surrounding strength training in general.
The physical demands placed on ballerinas with current choreography and performance schedules require dancers’ physical fitness, strength and endurance to be just as important as their potential and skill level. However, even at the height of their professional careers, dancers lack aerobic power, muscular balance, muscular strength, bone and joint integrity. In the absence of these important elements, dancers incur injuries often leading to months away from stage ,and more often than not can also be detrimental to their health long after their career or in the worst case, career ending as well.
The view that any exercise training that is not directly related to dance will diminish dancers’ aesthetic appearances needs to be abolished. Recent data on male and female dancers revealed that supplementary exercise training can lead to improvements of such fitness parameters and reduce incidents of dance injuries, without interfering with key artistic and aesthetic requirements.
In this article we will guide you through the benefits of cross-training and also the risks involved in not just getting started but continuing cross-training.
- Increase Endurance Levels
- Build muscular endurance
- Mental Health
The list of benefits of cross-training for dancers is expansive.
We will cover what we believe to be the top two benefits of cross-training, which include increased endurance levels and cardiovascular demands and enhanced muscular endurance. These two benefits in turn lead to decreased rates of injury, Other benefits include improved neuromuscular control and improved alignment and many more.
Increases Endurance Levels
Have you ever found yourself out of breath at the end of allegro, or struggled to get through a full variation? Classical ballet training, rehearsals, and performances do not elicit significant stimulus to result in increased aerobic fitness levels. Therefore, dancers often demonstrate low levels of aerobic fitness even though a strong aerobic foundation is necessary to meet the requirements of ballet today. Cross-training which is ballet specific (meaning exercises and activities designed specifically with ballet and dance training in mind) can be altered to have a high focus on endurance training.
This in turn can help improve performance, reduce the risk of injury, and ensure prolonged dance careers.
Build Muscular Endurance
The term ‘build’ for dancers tends to have a natural connotation to ‘bulk’ and may be perceived to lead to aesthetically undesirable hypertrophy. However, building muscular endurance refers to how long muscles can sustain exercise and has very little correlation to muscle mass.
Allegro (jumps), partner work and adagio are just a few aspects of ballet that require a high level of muscular endurance. Increased levels of muscular endurance provides support to the joints for dancers so they do not compromise their alignment. This in turn leads to dancers having enhanced control of their movements leading to more fluid movement patterns, safer landings, increased stability and decreased likelihood of injuries.
Improved Mental Health
Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good. Although dancers’ activity and exercise levels are incredibly high, the lack of adaptation in different exercise modalities leads to a decrease in the overall mental health levels. Cross-training provides a change in stimuli. A yoga class can assist in changing a dancer’s thinking patterns or a resistance training session may draw them out of their high focus on dance specific methods leading to not only healthier dancers but happier, more grounded dancers too.
Dancers who progressively improve their endurance levels and build their muscular endurance have shown to have a decrease in short-term and long-term injuries and a decreased rate of mental health issues.
The combination of regular dance lessons with an additional exercise program can result in improved physical and mental fitness in dancers, without affecting the aesthetic appearance.
- Fatigue and Overuse
- Training not being Sport Specific
Fatigue & Overuse
The daily demand on a ballet dancer’s body is extremely exhausting and often the thought of adding any extra work to an already taxing schedule can be alarming.
Howveer 75% of ballet injuries are related to overuse and often occur at the end of a rehearsal day or set period. Meaning, although dancers are generally over-stimulated and overworked, their bodies aren’t actually able to keep up with the high demands required. Therefore less training may not necessarily be the answer but adapting their training schedule to include cross-training could be.
Because of the influence of fatigue on injury incidences, a focus on varied physical fitness must be periodically implemented, and implemented individually and take into account multiple variables including age, gender, body composition and current strength, conditioning and flexibility levels.
The degree in which a dancer adopts a cross-training workout schedule can be constrained by the performance schedule of companies or school training program, but nonetheless, cross-training should be adopted because of these risk factors and not in spite of them.
Training Not Sport Specific
Risks arise in cross-training when the training dancers take up is not specific to their work required or not dance specific.
Train Like a Ballerina (TLB) training app was created to fill this exact gap in the dance industry and aims at providing correct cross-training exercises, home workouts and programs for dancers of all levels and ages. Without a degree in Sports Science or a thorough understanding of the human body and strength training as a whole, it’s challenging to interpret which exact cross-training a ballerina should adopt. All workouts, exercises and programs on TLB have been carefully curated with the dancer’s body in mind. Programs progressively build up strength and flexibility while taking you through the correct individual exercises required for dance specifically. When adopting a new cross-training program, ensure those who have created the training have grasped a thorough understanding of not just the human body, but the dancer’s body. At TLB we are adamant about educating dancers on the correlation between basic movements and performance enhancement. For example, a seated leg press can be directly linked to more powerful sautés. Framing exercises this way allows dancers to conceptualize the direct benefits of cross-training which increases participant follow-through and self-efficacy.
Dancers must learn to take ownership of their training and continue pursuing knowledge through a variety of training modalities. When it comes to injury prevention, unfortunately, dancers don’t usually pay attention to their health until it becomes a problem.
Train Like a Ballerina promotes a cross-training journey that each individual dancer must take in order to build up their physical and mental health. With workouts and programs for all levels and ages we aim to provide correct conditioning for everyone.
In PART THREE of this series on cross-training for dancers we will debunk the myth of strength training and bulking and later in the series provide you information on how to determine which form of cross-training will complement a dancer’s immediate needs and future goals.
Train Like a Ballerina is a ballet-inspired fitness platform designed to help dancers and dance enthusiasts gain strength & flexibility anywhere, anytime. Master your ballet technique with our weekly workout, programs and ballet body specific classes. Train like a beast, look like a ballerina.