Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time doing private lessons in studios all over Minnesota. At these studios, I’ve worked individually with dancers on their solos, skills, and technique. One of the skills I repeatedly see during these private sessions is a variety of jumps and leaps, including side leaps, toe touches, switch tilts, and more.
I’ve noticed the biggest struggles for most dancers in their leaps and jumps are:
- Bent front and back leg
- Lack of overall power
- Low jumps
- Difficulty maintaining technique
- Hip turn out
Even if dancers have turnout on the floor and can sit in their splits, without enough strength and power, a dancer’s technique gets lost. This happens because of a lack of strength to hang in the air long enough to rotate the hips and hit their full split in the air before they land. Whether it’s a switch tilt or a regular grand jeté, they simply don’t have the strength built up… yet.
I did three simple exercises with every single dancer.
Take a look at the tremendous improvements in just 30 minutes of private sessions with strength training! 🠟🠟🠟
At the beginning of her session, she didn’t make it high enough to execute her jump — she didn’t have time to straighten her front leg. But after 30 minutes of strength training for jumps and leaps, both legs were straighter, and she was able to hang in the air for a second. You can see that in the slightly clearer after picture.
I worked with this dancer to improve her jumps and leaps with strength training as well. Before, her leaps were even with the window sill, and her head was about midway up the sign on the wall, with a bent back leg.
After engaging her glutes, releasing behind the knee, and strengthening her turnout muscles, her back leg is straighter, and she kept her alignment in mid-air. Her front leg is almost at the top of the window, and her head is level with the top of the sign, meaning she got higher in the air.
All of these improvements in their jumps and leaps with just one 30-minute session of strength training!
And you can achieve these same results too.
How Do Dancers Improve Their Skills So Quickly?
At Dancer-Fitness, we used strength training exercises to engage dancers’ glutes, release tension behind their knees, open their hips, and strengthen their turnout muscles.
Other studios may focus on constant stretching or repeated exercises. But through years of experience dancing and training, I’ve learned that isn’t the way to go.
It wasn’t until I was 28 years old, on my way to becoming a personal trainer, that I learned how the muscles work together and started training at the gym. And guess what? I was dancing the best I ever had in my entire dance career.
That’s why I’m so passionate about creating strength training plans with exercises designed specifically for skills you want to master. Because I’ve seen it work over and over again.
I promise, that these exercises are simple, safe, and effective in improving your leaps and jumps. All you have to do is implement it.
Does Stretching Give You the Same Results?
Stretching is one piece of the puzzle, but it’s not everything.
If you’ve been with me for a while, you know how I feel about over-stretching to improve your leaps and jumps. Many dancers think they need to stretch more often or, worse, overstretch to improve their skills.
When you overstretch, you’re essentially stretching your muscles past their point of stability, leaving them loose and unstable. Just as if you were to stretch a rubber band too far, eventually, it snaps. When you overstretch your muscles, like a rubber band, it can lead to injuries in dancers like you.
Strength training coupled with safe stretching is gentle on your body, so you see results and prolong your dance career at the same time.
To get your legs straighter in the air, make sure you’re stretching and releasing the muscles behind your knees. This loosens the muscles around your knee, releasing the pressure on your joints, so they aren’t as stiff. Then your legs are able to stay straight at the peak of your skills in the air.
Hitting a full split in the air comes from hamstring flexibility but even more so from hip mobility. Take the time to strengthen your rotators so that your hips have the ability to fully hit their range of motion before extending your legs into the air.
I had dancers perform each of the below exercises three times, and then we tried their skills again.
Here’s what we did.
This is my favorite exercise that has had the biggest impact on improving leaps and jumps for dancers.
- Sit in a straddle on the floor with your back straight, your toes pointed, and your arms in fifth position.
- Slowly lean your upper body forward with control until your chest is on the floor or as far forward as you can go. It should take you about 5 seconds to reach the floor.
- Rest for a second on the floor, then lift your upper body back to your starting position.
- Repeat this exercise for 40 seconds.
Keep your knees facing up toward the sky and engage your hips and glutes as you slowly fall forward. This is how you train and prepare your muscles for explosive movements like jumps and leaps and keeps your hips in alignment so you can hit your full range of motion. Don’t let your knees roll forward.
Get your yoga block for this exercise to release the tension behind your knees.
- Put your yoga block in front of you on the floor and rest your right foot on top of it in parallel. Place your left foot slightly behind you with your body facing forward so that your legs create an A shape. Put your arms in fifth position.
- Keep your back straight and slowly lean your upper body forward 45°. Then release the stretch by lifting your upper body slightly for a small break.
- Gently lean your upper body forward, so it’s parallel to the floor. Release your upper body again by lifting up.
- Then lean forward with a flat back so that your upper body creates a 45° angle from the floor.
- Release your stretch and return to your starting position.
- Repeat this exercise as many times as you can for 40 seconds.
If you don’t have a yoga block, use a stack of books or something on hand that will lift your foot a few inches off the floor. The yoga block is the key to releasing the pressure in your knees. It adds a little more resistance and the gradual motion helps ease your muscles into this exercise. Keep your back flat and your legs straight for the most effective and safe results.
Get your exercise band ready to strengthen your glutes.
- Place your exercise band around your ankles and plant your feet a little bit wider than hip-width apart. Bend your knees into a soft squat position and clasp your hands in front of your chest.
- Let’s start with the right side. Step to the side as far as you can, against the resistance of your exercise band. Then step to the right with your left foot to ease the tension in your band. Repeat once.
- Now step to the side with your left foot, as wide as you can. Then step to the left with your right foot. Repeat once.
- Continue taking two steps in each direction, alternating sides for 40 seconds.
Keep your feet wide, so there isn’t any give in your band during the entire exercise. This keeps your glutes engaged, so you see more power and height in your jumps and leaps. Remember that the body works together, so keep your core engaged as well to train your body to stay in proper alignment.
Strength Training Is the Secret
Notice we didn’t do dancers’ skills repeatedly. That leads to tired dancers and nothing to show for all of your efforts.
Instead, we focused most of our private sessions on strength training and the mobility of dancers’ hips and glutes.
And that’s how we achieved incredible improvements in their jumps and leaps.