Strength Training for Dancers

I completed an MSc 3 years ago at UCL in Performing Arts Medicine, my thesis looked at:

'The Effects of a Plyometric Training Programme on Jump Height in Dancers'

Since my MSc I have been working with professional performers, actors, dancers, contortionists, singers and musicians. I have been using some of the research and information that I discovered from my thesis, when implementing training programmes and rehab, and thought it would be interesting to share this information, discover practical findings, and get other peoples thoughts on this subject.

I wanted to identify if a specific plyometric exercise programme improved the jump height in dancers, the inspiration of this came from my own experience of 15 years playing competitive sport including netball, gymnastics, lacrosse and dance including jazz and street. I was very aware that each discipline required different physical requirements, including speed, power, strength and flexibility. Trying to combine these components can have an adverse affect on technique and quality of performance. Consequently this can have a direct relation to injury risk and fatigue.

Why Jumping?

Jumping is a major component of dance, styles and genres, and lower limb injuries are the most common area for injury in dancers.

Many published articles already express the importance of plyometric training, although so far these are very related and specific to the elite athlete, as opposed to the elite dancer.

 Why Plyometric training?

There is a belief that dance ability is improved by dance training alone, I believe that dancers need additional supplementary training, and I wanted to establish exactly what this additional training should involve.

Dancers need explosive power when leaping and jumping vertically - Plyometric training = trains you to jump.

One thing to note with plyometric training is that it's 'high-impact, high-strain' and therefore if performed when the individual is fatigued or with incorrect technique then injury may occur. However, research has been done in the past looking at the direct link between plyometric training and injury; the evidence is in favour for plyometric training reducing injury rates, it's therefore important to ensure that recovery time and individualised programmes are implemented to avoid injury rates during training sessions, and only the longer term general gains of injury prevention are obtained.

METHOD

I borrowed a Jump Mat (measures jump height - time in the air), from The Institute of Sport Exercise and Health - www.iseh.co.uk

From here the jumps recorded were:

  • Double leg plie jump
  • Single leg jump (right)
  • Single leg jump (left)

The best 3 jumps were taken, and recorded.

Jumps were performed barefoot, as Dianna Gonzalez, from the University of Missouri looked into different types of footwear affecting vertical jump height in a previous study, she looked at different running shoes offering varying degrees of support, and found that the best jumps achieved were the ones performed with no shoes - also to make the study more appropriate, contemporary dance is often performed barefoot.

The 12-day plyometric training programme was then conducted, the exercises included were:

  • Tuck Jumps
  • Lateral bounds
  • Plie Squat Jumps
  • Lunge on Bosu ball
  • Jumping Dynamic Lunge
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Skipping
  • Static bike (warm up and active recovery)

(12 days later)

The same 3 testing jumps were recorded.

What was found?

Jump height improved during the study and although not statistically significant, should not be overlooked when looking at explosive power and plyometric training in the future. Research indicates that ‘stronger athletes perform better than weaker athletes during a vertical jump’, and plyometric training can be used to decrease leg dominance which is so important for both performance, technique and injury prevention.

Moving forwards...

From my interest in rehab, I would like to further investigate pre fatiguing the muscle prior to plyometric exercise, by starting the training session with lower limb weight resistance work such as deadlifts or squats.

Education should be offered to coaches and dancers so they have an awareness of the signs of overtraining and fatigue before injuries occur.

DISCUSSION

Dance is both aesthetic and athletic, and it’s the incorporation between these two attributes that distinguishes dance from other sporting examples. However improving both the athletic qualities such as power and strength and the aesthetic qualities can face it’s challenges. The two are closely linked, and in order for the dancer to be able to jump effectively, and maintain the aesthetic qualities required, they must have a high degree of strength and power to execute the movement.

Plyometric training consists of a large portion of eccentric loading through the muscles, and it is this prolonged eccentric exercise that may lead to muscle damage. This can be characterised by the delayed onset of muscle soreness, reduced pain free range of motion and loss of muscle power/force.

This further emphasises the importance of individual tailored training programmes, with optimal rest and recovery periods included.

For further information about my thesis, and further detail, please contact me - lanesophie@hotmail.co.uk I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

I will be uploading a post soon looking at gym and strength based exercises for dancers.