Strength Training for Male Dancers

Male ballet dancers require all the strength attributes of their female counterparts in addition to the ability to lift said counterparts in many different ways. The type of strength required by male dancers can be developed using Olympic weightlifting training techniques.

Like ballerinas, male dancers need to have strong “core” muscles. The core muscles are the muscles that flex & extend the hip and the muscles that flex, extend, and rotate the torso.

In addition, male dancers need to have good “overhead” strength. Overhead strength is the ability to lift an object overhead, to hold an object overhead & move the legs, or to hold an object away from the body. Overhead strength is most efficiently developed using tried and true Olympic weightlifting exercises.

The following exercises are listed in order from simple to complex. The order also provides a fine progression to develop strength required for and to learn the Olympic lifts.

The first four exercises (Turkish Get-Up, Overhead Squat, Front Squat, Push Press) are excellent for developing core and overhead strength. The last two movements (Snatch, Clean & Push Press) are variations of the Olympic lifts, and in addition to developing core and overhead strength, develop explosive strength, speed, and coordination. (It is rumored that Russian high jumpers practice snatches all winter long.  If you want to jump high, do the snatch!  Check out how high this son of a famous weightlifter can jump: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtXKllfwV-w)

The last three movements (Push Press, Snatch, Clean & Push Press) most closely resemble lifts that male dancers must perform on stage.

All of the exercises can be performed with any available resistance, whether it be a medicine ball, kettlebell, dumbbell, barbell, or even a (perhaps tiny) dancer. These exercises can be performed by dancers of any age or physical condition as the amount of resistance can easily be changed.

The Exercises

1. The Turkish Get-Up. The Turkish Get-Up is a simple exercise that works the entire body. To perform the Turkish Get-Up, lay on your back with one arm outstretched, grasping the weight, elbow locked. Now, without unlocking your elbow and keeping the weight in the air above you, stand up. Keep your eye on the weight at all times! Reverse the movement until you are lying back on the floor to complete a repetition. (Demo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vhJza-2xiI)

2. The Overhead Squat. The Overhead Squat is the ultimate core building exercise. The Overhead Squat effectively raises the body’s center of gravity and the core muscles are called into play to stabilize the arms and torso throughout the movement. To perform the Overhead Squat, hold the weight overhead with arms locked out & shoulders shrugged back, squat down as far as you can go. The Overhead Squat can also be performed with one hand and makes a nice additional movement to the Turkish Get-Up. (Demo: http://media.crossfit.com/cf-video/CrossFit_OHSBasics.wmv)

3. The Front Squat. The Front Squat is a great exercise for strengthening the core muscles in addition to the thighs. Front Squats are superior to back squats because the resistance is placed in front of the shoulders rather than behind the neck. This more closely mimics the functional strength required to hold a few bags of groceries, hold a child, or lift a dancer. To perform the Front Squat, hold the weight in front of the shoulders or on the upper chest, squat down as far as you can go. (Demo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvVPrpusmrk)

4. The Push Press. The Push Press is an awesome upper body development exercise. Most of the upper body muscles are called into play in this exercise as the leg muscles work in synergy with the core muscles to hoist the weight from the shoulders to the overhead position. To perform the Push Press, with the resistance at the shoulders, quickly dip the hips then explode them upwards in a jumping manner. At the top of this leg drive, using the momentum created by the legs, press the weight overhead and shrug the shoulders back. (Demo: http://media.crossfit.com/cf-video/CrossFitJournal_BozOverhead2PushPressPre.mov)

5. The Snatch. The Snatch is the king of resistance exercises. Using a combination of explosive leg strength, speed, coordination, and core strength, the weight is lifted from the floor to the overhead position in one swift motion. To perform the Snatch, grasp the resistance on the floor with back straight, head up, and knees and hips bent. Lift the weight off the floor. As the weight passes knee height, explode the legs and hips upwards in a jumping manner. Just before the weight reaches its maximum height, quickly get under the weight in the Overhead Squat position and stand up. (Demo: http://media.crossfit.com/cf-video/cfj-nov-05/power-snatch.wmv)

6. The Clean & Push Press. The Clean & Push Press is used to lift the heaviest poundage from the floor to overhead using two motions. To perform the Clean & Push Press, grasp the resistance on the floor with back straight, head up, and knees and hips bent. Lift the weight off the floor. As the weight passes knee height, explode the legs and hips upwards in a jumping manner. Just before the weight reaches its maximum height, quickly get under the weight in the Push Press position and stand up. Push Press the weight overhead. (Demo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Um0NpVhHFRg)

Incorporating the Exercises Into Workouts

The above exercises can be incorporated into the weekly workout regimen either by substituting these exercises for other existing exercises throughout the week OR by creating workouts that center around these exercises.

Keep in mind that the above exercises are very taxing on the body and as such should be performed at the beginning of a workout if incorporated into existing routines.

These exercises involve multiple joints and involve a very long range of motion. Because of this, the exercises can be quite demanding on the cardiovascular system. In addition, lifting a weight overhead provides a systemic stimulation that can be challenging even for well conditioned athletes who are not familiar with it.

However, this makes it easy to create a great workout using only one or two of the movements.

An easy to create workout system is to set a timer and conclude the workout at 20 minutes. Once the timer is running, perform a total body warm-up at a brisk pace for five minutes. Then for the next 15 minutes, pick one of the movements and either see how many repetitions you can perform of a set weight during that time OR perform multiple sets of the movement while increasing the weight and decreasing the repetitions with each set, halting the sets at the 20 minute mark.

Three of these 20 minute workouts a week will get any dancer in great overhead lifting shape, as well as increase their cardiovascular endurance, leg strength, jumping ability, speed, and coordination.

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