Before you whack on the pointe shoes... slip some trainers onto the Christmas List. The bottom line... Strength Training will not present you with unwanted aesthetics for Dancing... provided they are performed correctly and prescribed within the correct boundaries.
Traditionally, in S&C for Sport, gaining strength has included performing sets and reps of certain exercises in order induce a change in the cross-sectional area of muscle and thus the size of the muscle. In the simplest sense... the bigger a muscle is the stronger it is... however there are numerous other factors that influence the ability of a muscle to produce force and therefore produce athletic movement. These include; the architecture of the muscle itself, the recruitment of motor units, firing frequency and the synchronisation of those motor units.
The great thing about strength training for Dancers is that we can improve muscular endurance, power and maximum force without creating a large hypertrophy effect. The reality is this... Power Athletes train like Power Athletes, Bodybuilders train in their own way and so on a so forth. Dancers perform strength training in a unique way that allows them to reap the benefits of improved neuromuscular efficiency, power and endurance.
It is important to understand that their will be some sort of increase in muscle fibre size as a result of strength training. However it is just as important to understand that aerobic activity also provides a hypertrophic (growth) effect of type 1 muscle fibres.
All these things considered, in order to actually have unwanted aesthetics for Dance in the form of large quadriceps and biceps one would need to be performing a high volume of weight training 5< times per week targeting a large volume of weight moved over a very large number of repetitions. Simply Performing Squats and other Barbell or stability exercises will not be enough training volume to induce such increases in muscle size.
Instead, under the watchful eye of a Strength coach, Dancers will perform 1-6 reps per set of large percentages of a 1 repetition maximum or more than 15 reps per set of lower intensity. These two rep ranges can create adaptations in muscular Strength/Power and Endurance. Similarly performing ballistic exercises such as plyometrics allow for recruitment of muscle fibres in a certain way creates positive strength and power adaptations.
Strength training over a period of weeks allows for more simultaneous contractions of two or more motor units which will ultimately mean there is a greater force output from the muscle. This is not referring to the size of the muscle and is simply an increase in unit synchronisation.
To put it into number that you might see in a programme from us...
75-90% 1RM, 4-6 sets, 2-5 reps
85% 1RM, 3 sets, 5 reps
Max Strength Training:
90% 1RM, 5 sets, 3 reps
30-60%, 3 sets, 15+ reps
The reasons for strength training in Dance are quite straight forward. There is the obvious strength and power element for Dancers, however, by strengthening the lower limbs to produce more force, we can offset potential injuries from overuse mechanisms or fatigue.
This is the primary reason that I coach Dancers in the way that I do. I wish to make them more robust so that they can cope with the demands of the Dance injury and perform all the choreography that is asked of them.
Don't fear the weight room, it is a string you can add to your bow and will give you the tools to improve your dancing exponentially.