Cross Training for Dancers

Cross training is just what is sounds like: crossing over to train in difference disciplines.  Cross training is often attributed to athletes, but it’s just as important for dancers.  “In dance, fatigue is a factor in 90% of injuries and overuse contributes to 65% of dance injuries. Fatigue and overuse injuries can become chronic problems that trouble the dancer daily. Cross training can help reduce risk of these types of injuries by balancing out the muscles of the body and providing relief to the muscles that are constantly worked.” – Leigh Heflin (MSc Dance Science).

Here are some popular aerobic and anaerobic exercises, but feel free to share how you cross train, too!

Aerobic – develop stamina

  Running: Running is a great cardiovascular exercise that is cheap (all you need are some sneakers!).  Running strengthens completely different muscles than those used in ballet (this can be good to an extent, but over-development of the quads and calves may cause stress on a dancer’s hamstrings).  Since running on concrete can cause wear and tear on a dancer’s knees, especially if you run with turned-out feet, dance science specialists recommend cross-training on an elliptical machine to avoid stress on the joints.

Cycling/spinning:  Cycling is also a popular cardiovascular exercise, especially because many gyms now provide personal televisions on the bike machines!  In moderation, cycling can greatly increase a dancer’s endurance, but try to “seated” bike machines so that you can prevent curving your lumbar spine for a long period of time.

  Swimming:  Swimming is probably the #1 recommended form of cross-training for any athlete.  Swimming is a zero-impact sport and is great for dancers recovering from injuries.  The variety of swimming strokes strengthen muscles of the entire body, and requires the athlete to focus on his/her breathing pattern.  The only issue? You’re going to need a pool, so find a friend with a pool or join your local gym.

Anaerobic – develop muscle strength and power

Weight-training:  If you have access to gym machines or free weights, don’t be afraid to take advantage of them!  If not, go for “isometric exercises” (ones that utilize your own body weight) such as push-ups, planks, lunges, and sit-ups.  Weight training will not make you bulk up unless you’re deliberately trying to by drinking protein shakes and taking supplements.  Low-resistence, high-repetition exercises will rev up your metabolism and tone up your muscles.

  Yoga: No matter what area you’re looking to strengthen (balance, flexibility, lung capacity, stamina, strength, or stress relief), there is probably a form of yoga for you!  In yoga, there is a special focus on the relationship between the body and the mind, which is sure to benefit you in your dance classes as well.  Types of yoga.

  Pilates: Pilates was specifically created to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility without building bulk.  Pilates is often the “cross-training of choice” for dance companies and schools across the globe.  While dancers often take mat classes which utilize one’s own body weight, Pilates also employs use of special machines such as the “reformer” and the “chair” to help strengthen long, lean muscles.

  Gyrotonic:  Gyrotonic is similar to Pilates in that it utilizes special equipment to develop one’s strength, flexibility, and breath.  The main difference between the two forms is that Pilates is very “linear” while Gyrotonic is more “circular” (it was actually developed by a swimmer).


Bar Method:  This new craze actually focuses on dance-training.  In a bar method class, you’ll strengthen your “dancer” muscles through a series of physical therapy and ballet-inspired exercises.

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