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Flexibility vs. Strength in Dancers

core stability

By Danielle Hoguet, DPT

When you think of a ballet dancer, you probably picture someone with a long graceful body who can bend in unimaginable ways. When  people learn that I was a dancer, usually their first response is, ‘you must be very flexible.’ It is very true that ballet training stresses flexibility. Dancers, whether ballet or other styles, spend a significant amount of time stretching and pushing their bodies past their natural limits to achieve maximum flexibility. It’s important for dancers and aspiring dancers to understand though that flexibility isn’t the only thing they need to train.

The Importance of Strength Training for Dancers

What good is flexibility if you don’t have the strength to properly utilize it to the fullest extent? Lifting the leg and holding it for an extended period of time, as dancers must do, requires a lot of leg strength and control. However, this also requires lots of core control. When a dancer lacks core strength, that’s when we start to see various compensatory movements to maintain leg heights.

Compensatory Movements:

  • Hip Hiking
  • Pelvic Rotation
  • Trunk Leaning

The core is more than just what we think of as the six pack muscles. Learning to stabilize all aspects of the core is essential to improving height with developpe, arabesque, attitude etc. Core stability is also important in controlling turns, jumps and transitional movements in ballet.

Traditional abdominal exercises like crunches and sit ups are effective in improving your abdominal strength. However, these exercises only target one set of abdominal muscles. They do not address stabilizing the core while the extremities are moving. Furthermore, these are often performed incorrectly which can cause more harm than good to the body.

Exercises that Improve Core Strength and Stability

Pilates is an excellent supplemental to ballet training because it stresses core control a few position:

  • Core control in a neutral spine position
  • Core control with movement of the arms and legs
  • Core control for sustained periods of time

Pilates also teaches proper breathing techniques to maintain core stability while you are moving. This helps with endurance during long dance sequences and variations.

Core strength also helps to support the spine. Dancing can be particularly taxing on the spine, especially in young dancers with hypermobile joints. A former dancer and a physical therapist, I encourage all dancers, no matter the age or level, to incorporate core stability exercises into their daily exercise regimen. This will help them to use their flexibility to the max!

If you are a dancer and you have questions about how to improve your skills, your conditioning or if you are dealing with a pain or injury, call Loudoun Sports Therapy Center at 703-450-4300. Schedule a personalized evaluation with our dance specialist, Danielle and get back to dancing pain-free!