When training as a ballet dancer, many hours are spent in the studio working on set exercises or choreography. While ballet training may offer a type of fitness regime, in the December 2005 issue of “Dance Magazine,” Linda Hamilton, a former New York City Ballet dancer, advises that dancers get out of the studio to try other types of conditioning or cross-training exercises to complement their dance training and to help prevent injuries.
Ballet classes offers little in the way of cardiovascular endurance training, yet dancing can become difficult if you are lacking in this area. Doing 30 minutes of low-impact cardio training, two to three days per week, will vastly improve your lung capacity, as well as your overall cardiovascular health. Avoid running on hard surfaces since the impact can be taxing on the joints, resulting in an injury or general wear and tear. Swimming, walking or using a stationary bike are all low-impact options.
Ballet requires strong core muscles, not only to help execute the steps but also to protect the lower back. Weak abdominal muscles can lead to low back vulnerabilities. Although sit-up or crunches are popular ab exercises, they can put stress on the neck or back. One alternative to a sit-up is the plank. Hold yourself in a push-up position for 30 to 90 seconds. Make sure your back is straight and ab muscles are contracted.
Another core-strengthening exercise is the quadruped. Start on your hands and knees. Slowly raise the right leg behind and your left arm in front so the raised arm and leg are parallel to the floor. Hold this position for a couple of seconds then return back arm and leg to the ground. Repeat with the left leg and right arm. Repeat the cycle 10 to 15 times.
Participating in yoga or Pilates classes can also offer core-strengthening exercises.
Arms and Upper Back
Ballet dancers spend hours strengthening their legs and feet, yet few exercises work to strengthen the arms and upper back. When doing exercises targeting the arms, ballet dancers need to be careful not to add too much bulky muscle to their upper bodies; lifting weights may not be the best option. Push-ups use your own body weight and can be modified by resting your knees on the ground for a less-intense workout.
Elastic Resistance Training
Resistance training with elastic fitness bands or tubing can help to strengthen, tone and relieve chronic pain. An elastic band can be used in place of weights for exercises, such as bicep curls and shoulder presses. It can also be used to add difficultly and resistance to exercises, such as squats.
It is also important for ballet dancers to keep their feet strong, thereby preventing injury, pain and cramps. Wrap an elastic band around the toes or ball of the foot. Slowly point and flex the foot, using the band as resistance. Repeat 15 to 20 times, and then switch feet. This will help to build the muscles in the foot, as well as strengthen the ankle joint.
Stretching lengthens and loosens muscles, allowing a ballet dancer to perform graceful dance movements without injuring herself. Tight muscles lead to poor body mechanics during movements and increase the risk of joint and soft tissue injuries. The goal of stretching is to gradually increase flexibility by extending the muscle only as far as it can go without pain and holding the stretch until the muscle relaxes. Always warm up before stretching to prevent muscle strain.