While dancing may be considered an art for many, it is as physically demanding and rigorous as any sport. Regardless of its classification, it is an activity that demands high amounts of mobility, stability, strength, and very high amounts of power. Most sports do not get style points, but dance does. The vigorous activity needs to be handled with grace and ease, dramatically increasing the physical demands.
Given these demands, dance athletes can benefit from formal strength training. Unfortunately, strength training is uncommon in such performing arts, particularly for its youth. Strength and conditioning coaches like me firmly believe that these athletes can benefit from formal strength training, even the young ones. Strength training can improve performance and reduce the likelihood of injury.
Dance can involve a vast repertoire of movements. Most of them involve high degrees of mobility and power. The higher the kicks, the more impressive. The further and higher the jumps, the better the score. You get the idea. And in order to kick higher and jump farther, building a solid level of strength will help these athletes achieve that.
Researchers in New Zealand sought the results of a formal strength training program on a group of young dancers. The dancers ranged from 12-16 years in age. The dancers performed a strength training session for roughly one hour twice per week for nine weeks. The young athletes had never received any kind of formal strength training before, but all had nearly a decade of dance experience. They were experienced dancers but newbies to strength training.
After nine weeks, the dancers were excited to see their results. Every tested parameter demonstrated improvements for all the dancers. In research terms: their joint stabilities significantly increased, leg strength significantly increased, and their leg power significantly increased. In addition, they all reportedly felt stronger and more capable as athletes.
I have to say, most research gives moderate evidence at best to support a theory. Not this one. This study was a home run. Every tested category demonstrated significant improvements to each tested dancer. This study alone proves that strength training will improve dancers’ athleticism, allowing them to enhance their dance skills. Strength training is highly appropriate for dancers, like any other sport.
Further research shows that strength training doesn’t have detrimental effects. One of the worries about strength training is it could reduce flexibility. More research proves that is not true, as dancers were able to maintain their mobility after a strength training program. The study also shows that strength training improves coordination and proprioception, vital attributes to dance.
Hopefully, I’ve steered you towards pro-strength training for dancers. But now what? What exercises, how much is too much? Unfortunately, if you ask ten strength coaches, you’ll get ten different answers. And the truth is there is no one best formula. Every young athlete is different, with different needs at varying levels. The best place to start is by mastering the basics:
These are fantastic bang-for-your-buck exercises that will provide an excellent foundation of strength. Young dancers don’t need to try the fancy exercises they see on Instagram. They need to learn the fundamentals before trying the less necessary exercises. The best part is no equipment is required. These are most of the exercises performed in the referred study. The dancers were able to complete all these in-studio with zero equipment.
Once these movements are mastered, here are the next-level exercises I would recommend:
- one arm planks
- hip thrusts/bridges
- Bulgarian split squats
- band squats
- depth jumps/box jumps
For some of these, some equipment may be required. Sometimes these are already in the studio. Formal weights aren’t required. Backpacks work great as weights.
Like any young athlete, it’s easy to do too much of a good thing. The conducted study completed the exercises twice per week for two months. These exercises can and should be completed year-round, but I wouldn’t recommend going more than twice per week. I also wouldn’t recommend high-intensity training for pre and intra-pubescent athletes. More isn’t always better. For dancers, we are only looking for a moderate level of strength. Higher-level strength isn’t a bad thing, but the time and energy required for high strength levels would be better served in skill development for the as high skill activity as dance demands.