Hey coaches and dancers!
Since you’re here, you may already be including strength training in your practices or weekly schedule. And that makes this coach excited.
Are you thinking about upping your strength training game?
Strength training is when you include skill-specific exercises designed for dancers that train and strengthen your muscles to improve your technique and flexibility. The best part is that you can use your body weight, so you can do it at home or before practice without any equipment
I received a message the other day from someone that said, “Hello, I’m a dancer, and I have a question about overtraining. I’d love to incorporate more strength training in my dance schedule, but I’m nervous that I will overwork myself. Do you have any tips?”
So, let’s dive into my tips, tricks, and resources for strength training.
What Is Overtraining?
Strength training is an amazing way to use exercises to make your body stronger. When you include strength training in your routine, your dancing improves. If you exercise too much, without allowing yourself to recover between each session, it can lead to overtraining and is no longer beneficial for you.
The first sign of overtraining is muscle soreness that’s worse than normal. When you push yourself past that unusual soreness and continue strength training several days in a row, then you start to cross the line into the overtraining territory. This can negatively impact your dancing. Some dancers, when they see their performance become worse, think they need to strength train more, which contributes to a vicious cycle of strength training to fix what overtraining has ruined.
If you continue to overtrain, it will take you longer to recover, possibly weeks.
What Happens to Your Body When You Overtrain?
I love this question because when it comes to strength training and cross-training, the goal is to do exercises that don’t look like what you’re doing in dance class. During your class or practice, you always kick your legs in the same direction, balance on the same leg, and rotate in the same direction. Since you spend most of your practice on your routines, you end up only doing turns on one side of the body or kicking with the other. Dancing alone creates an imbalanced workout.
Both sides of the body don’t get trained evenly because that’s not how routines are choreographed. This is how we run into overuse injuries.
But when you do strength training, you take the time to strengthen each side individually. This allows you to use muscles that you don’t always get a chance to work. Plus, it gives your overused muscles a much-needed break.
Of course, we want to avoid injury and overtraining during practices and when you strength train on your own. I always recommend that you give yourself at least one to two days of rest in between each dance-focused strength training session. Rest doesn’t mean that you’re laying on the couch, but it could mean doing low-impact activities. Try going to a yoga class, going for a swim, or doing a light walk in your neighborhood. Some kind of light activity that keeps your muscles moving and firing, but it doesn’t need to be a heavy workout.
How Do I Know if I’m Overtraining?
For many dancers, the whole goal of strength training is to improve dance technique and skills. You don’t have to be in the gym moving a ton of iron to see those results. For many, strength training is simply being able to understand how to engage your back, core, glutes, and legs to have more control over your skills.
When in doubt, do a check-in with your body. If you have time to add strength training into your schedule, outside of practices — two to three days is great. Always give yourself one to two days of rest in between and check in at the end of the week. Do you feel exhausted? Do you feel like your dance technique is suffering? If you answer yes to either of those questions, take a step back and reevaluate your routines. You may be overworking yourself and need to cut back in order to prevent overuse and overtraining injuries.
A few exercise-related symptoms of overtraining include:
- Unusually sore muscles
- A decline in your dancing
- Unable to perform at your usual level
- Stiff muscles
- Recurring injuries
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s time to take a rest period to let your muscles recover.
Check In With Your Strength Training Routine
You may already know my favorite way to incorporate strength training into your dance schedule is by adding it to your warm-up routines. For you, that could mean getting to class a little earlier to get your muscles warmed up.
If you’re an instructor and you have control over what happens in class, take time to engage your dancers’ glutes with glute bridges. Engage the core with planking and then add variations like jump squats or planking while tapping your shoulders to add challenge and more dynamic movement into those exercises.
Simple Strength Training Exercises for Your Warm-Up
These are a few of my favorite exercises to include in your warm so your entire body, including your glutes and core, are strengthened evenly and effectively. And it only takes a few minutes of your time.
Let’s get those glutes engaged! Try to think about using the muscles in your booty, not your arms or your shoulders, to get into your bridge position.
- Lay down on your back on the floor with your arms straight, lying at your sides. Bend your knees, and keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Relax your head, neck, and shoulders, and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips. Your body should make a straight diagonal line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Then lower your hips down to the floor with control. You should feel the burn in your glutes and hamstrings.
- Repeat as many hip bridges as you can for 30-40 seconds.
This one is for your core strength and stability. Remember to keep your core engaged, like you’re pulling your belly button in toward your spine. This protects your back, so you safely strengthen those abs.
- Get in a plank position on the floor, on your elbows and toes, with straight legs. Keep your body as parallel to the floor as possible, making a straight line from your head to your heels.
- Transfer your weight to your left forearm on the floor as you straighten your right arm.
- Then transfer your weight to your right hand to support your body and straighten your left arm.
- Hold the plank on your hands for five seconds.
- Keep your core engaged as you bend your right knee, then your left knee, so that they are resting on the floor.
- Hold your plank on your knees for five seconds.
- Return to your starting plank position and repeat as many times as you can for 30-40 seconds.
Now, use your core and glute muscles at the same time. Jump squats help you understand which muscles to engage when doing jumps in your routines, so you have a stronger core and glutes, which means you get higher in the air.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and in a relaxed turnout position.
- As you bend your knees into a demi plie, bring your arms in front of your chest and bend them for balance.
- Use your demi plié to jump into the air with straight legs and pointed feet.
- Land on the floor in your demi plié with your arms bent in front of you. If you do it correctly, you should feel your glutes and thighs firing up as you jump and land.
- Do as many jump squats as you can for 30-40 seconds.
Fellin’ pretty good right about now?
Strength Training, Without Overtraining
Strength training safely and effectively is essential for a healthy dancer. But you don’t want to do so much strength training that your muscles become fatigued, hindering your progress from overtraining. This is something I am passionate about.
Strength training has helped dancers improve their skills, jump higher, and dance longer.
Remember to check in with your body when you start or increase your strength training routine.
Not sure if you’re suffering from overtraining or burnout?
Here are a few things to look for.