Strength Training for Dancers: Basic Rules
Dance vlogging and Social Media often includes a high volume of videos demonstrating exercises to help Dancers become better at Dancing. Many of the exercises are highly specific to certain movements that Dancers wish to perform.
In years gone by, stretching and "limbering" have also made up a high proportion of what is recommended for Dancers due to the extreme lengths that choreography goes to in order to wow an audience.
When a strength coach is approaching the task of developing a Young Dancer or Athlete it is important to create a needs analysis. This is to determine which aspects, physical attributes and strength characteristics need to maintained, improved or changed. The basics of training Dancers of any age should take into consideration the range of motion Dancers use continuously and reflect the volume or amount of Dancing the individual performs per week.
If we take for example the vocational Dancer between the age of 11 and 18, their exposure to Dancing will be high however their exposure to other disciplines such as; sports, games and play-time may be diminished. Therefore, one goal of a Strength Coach may be to encourage the individual to move in a variety of ways that contrast to Dance or Ballet so to develop movement patterns, Neuromuscular control, Agility, Speed and Strength.
On the other hand, Non-vocational Dancers of the same Dance standard, may participate in a variety of sports and extra-curricular activities beyond just Dancing and their Dance exposure may not be as high as vocational Dancers. This is not necessarily a bad thing! Exposure to non-Dance activities such as other sports may aid the athletic development of a young budding Dancer.
Without branching too far into the research, it is easy to see that reported injury rates vary amongst pre-professional Dancers. However, it is apparent that lower limb injury rates make up the vast majority of the reported injuries. Recently, when asked what injuries "I come across most" the reported incidences I have seen does not reflect the research in terms of the injury site despite being lower limb issues in the majority. Over-use injuries of the hip within young Dancers can occur commonly due to the large range of motion and repeated static stretching that non-vocational and vocational dancers perform. However, this is purely the complaints that have been mentioned at Science in Dance.
The research paints a clear picture that injuries to the ankle such as tendinopathy and strain are most common. Similarly stress related injuries, from over-use, such as stress fractures and posterior ankle impingement during pointe work are also common.
As strength coaches it is important that we consider the common injuries associated with Dancing. Therefore, a major aspect to strength programmes, is giving the body the capacity to cope with the amount dancing that a young individual may perform.
As stated many have stated before us, injuries cannot be prevented. Merely, the risk of injury can be lowered and mitigated. Perhaps this is the silver bullet to performance?
If we can increase the capacity of a Dancer to cope with Dance training and lower injury risk, this will give them more opportunity to improve.
We know that fatigue is a main factor/driver in the occurrence of fatigue. Perhaps due to the breakdown of technique and increased cognitive distraction. Therefore if we can make the body and key strength characteristics more fatigue resistant/stronger we may be able to reduce the risk of injury due to improved endurance and ability to perform repeated movement.
Basic Rule 1: Build Neuromuscular efficiency and Coordination
Basic Rule 2: Build the Capacity of key Strength Characteristics such as muscular endurance
Proprioceptive Exercises and Basic Movements are a great way to familiarise all types of Dancer with strength training to illicit training adaptations for robustness.