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Top 6 Strength exercises for Dancers


So, you’ve got your self to the gym… now what?

Stretch? Join a class? Treadmill? Elliptical? Kettle bells? Weights? Cable machine? Instagram “look how hard I’m working” pout face or muscle pose?

No, no, no. Stop, stop, stop.

Quit looking around at everything and everyone who is following the stickers on the machines. Get your foundations sorted first. Chances are the gym is not your natural environment. Chances are that you don’t want to spend a huge about of time in the sweat factory because you are either in full time training, have a heavy rehearsal period, or working a split shift (or you're on top of your game and aware of your recovery structure).

You need effective, transferable, bang for buck exercises that will support all of your reasons for going to the gym – whether that be strength development, technique support or injury prevention. When working out, the gym is a place to make effective focused change, get in and get out, having done a good job.

When I talk about strength training, or the general basic workout, I always recommend the SUPER 6.

The super 6 is a group of 6 compound exercises that will work pretty much every muscle in your body. Not only that, they will give you better muscle recruitment and firing patterns in your movement as you will be working through movements that are actually useful and used in your dancing - and every day life. Sure you can do lots of leg extensions, bicep curls and crunches, but that’s for later. To do that now would be narrow minded and short sighted and probably become a hindrance to you movement capacity later on.

Now because you are a level 10 bad ass mover you possess the understanding and patience to make your self a level 20 bad-ass mover by stepping up your supplementary training game.

The Super 6:

Squat.

Main muscles worked: Lower back, Glutes, Quads. Supporting muscles: Upper back, Abdominals, Hamstrings, Calves Described by some as the king of exercises, the squat is essential, not only because it will give you buns of steel but because when executed and developed correctly squats will give you correct lower-body mechanical range and muscular firing patterns, increase your force development and absorption i.e. jump height and landing capability, increased core stability and increased neuromuscular signaling to name a few.

Deadlift.

Main muscles worked: Lower back, Glutes, Hamstings. Supporting muscles: Hands/grip strength, Upper back/traps, Lats, abdominals, quads, calves

Rivaling the squat and potentially being the most “bang for buck” exercise, the deadlift is an essential posterior chain development exercise. For those who don’t know what a deadlift is, think of it as a Cunningham flat back with a weight in your hands which you have just lifted of the floor.

This exercise is going to develop a great posterior muscle chain relationship helping the hamstrings, glutes, lower back and upper back work together to produce and control forces.

Bench press.

Main muscles worked: Pectorals, Triceps

Supporting muscles: Deltoids, Wrists, Upper traps, Rhomboids, Serratus anterior, TVA, Lower back, Glutes. A powerful staple in your strength building arsenal, this is effectively your push up except you lie on your back and press a weight away from your chest. Having enough upper body strength to support yourself and your movement is essential to having holistic movement capabilities. As dancers our focus tends to be on our “core” and our legs. That is literally only half the picture. We must develop our upper body strength and we must do so correctly, making sure there are little to no imbalances between left and right, front and back.

Row.

Main muscles worked: Trapezius, Rhomboids, Biceps

Supporting muscles: Hand/grip strength, Deltoids, Lower back, TVA

If we are working our anterior upper body muscles with a chest press, we must balance this out by working our posterior upper body muscles by performing a row. Just like rowing a boat. This will be performed buy pulling a weight towards your body as opposed to pushing it away. Just like the dead lift this is an essential movement as we tend to focus more on anterior muscles such as the chest and this must be balanced out buy working the back.

Shoulder press.

Main muscles worked: Deltoids, Triceps

Supporting muscles: Hand/grip strength, Pectorals, Trapezius, TVA, Abdominals, Lower back, Glutes.

This is the base of all overhead movements, whether that is a big lift or a handstand. Having this fundamental movement pattern is essential for progressing to advanced movement vocabulary – and it’s often a movement attempted and not trained. The other thing to say about this movement is that its arguably one of the best core stability exercises as the resistance is furthest away from the ground contact (our feet on the floor), meaning that the whole body structure is having to work to stay balanced. You have to remember that core stability isn’t about how well you can hold a plank or a bridge, but the ability to fully stabilize a moving structure.

Pull up. Mail muscles worked: Lats, Biceps

Supporting muscles: Hand/grip strength, Upper back, TVA, Abdominals

Advice – never leave this exercise to last! This is the exercise that you are most likely to neglect or give up on because it is possibly the hardest on the list. As dancers, we don’t really have a need for this movement as we rarely have anything to pull up on. This is exactly why you should train this! As with all exercises on this list it’s not all about the exercise but the way the body works as a whole to achieve the movement, creating better muscular connections. You’d actually be surprised how much we use a pull up movement pattern in the dance studio, especially in floorwork movements. Yes its hard, but it is about having all the links in your chain strong. No weak links. That’s it. That’s the super 6. It will serve as the foundation to all your gym adventures from here on out and develop your movement ability and capacity.

Start all of these exercises simply. Don’t go straight for the heavy weight. Be sensible. When you have played with them all start implementing them in to a simple training programme.

Start by trying to perform these exercises once a week. You could do them all in one go or split them in to two – 3 one day and 3 another. Simple super 6 split:

You can separate the super 6 into pull actions and push actions – anterior and posterior focus (front and back)

Pull actions would be:

Dead lift - Pull up - Row

Push actions would be:

Squat - Bench press - Shoulder press

Happy training. Khyle.

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