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National Ballet of Canada's Emma Hawes swims to strengthen her loose shoulder joints (photo by Daniel Neuhaus)

Every dancer has their own cross-training regime, tailored to their workload, injury prevention, rehab or particular roles. It's up to you to talk to a physical therapist about what exercises you should be doing to meet your own technical goals. But in the meantime, here are some of our best tips for effective cross-training:

  1. Do it in the morning. There are lots of reasons why AM workouts can be more beneficial, but we're most compelled by evidence that morning workouts might be easier to stick with.
  2. Scale your approach up or down depending on what you're training for. When it's summer intensive time, gradually work your way up to peak intensity.
  3. Try something new to keep yourself inspired. Ever heard of aerial yoga? What about TRX suspension training?
  4. Pools are an amazing training resource for everything from cardio workouts to fine-tuning your alignment.

And if that's not enough #fitspo for you, dig into our Workout archive to find out how the pros keep their bodies in peak condition.

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It's important to let your body find parallel, as well as turned out, positions. (Photo by Isaac Aoki)

You work hard on turnout in class every day. But once you leave the studio, make sure you’re in parallel. Walking around turned out stresses your hips, knees, ankles and feet, causing micro-trauma that could lead to injuries like tendonitis or knee pain. It could also hurt your technique. “You’re overusing the muscles you need for ballet class,” says Erika Kalkan, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Langone Medical Center’s Hospital for Joint Diseases. “Those muscles will be fatigued, so you won’t be able to use them as efficiently when you’re dancing.”

Kalkan explains that if your legs naturally turn out when you’re walking, your body is probably compensating for some weakness or tightness. Be sure to stretch your calves as well as your external rotators (sitting down with your left leg straight in front of you, cross your right foot over the left knee—making a number 4—and lean forward with a flat back, then switch sides). Kalkan also recommends strengthening your internal rotators with reverse clamshells (lying on your side with your knees bent and together, lift your top foot) and practicing doming exercises to build up the intrinsic muscles of your feet. Then, once you get on the street, consciously remind yourself to keep your toes facing forward until it becomes a habit. Your technique will thank you.

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Everybody wants a higher extension, but achieving your best line is a long-term effort that includes both flexibility and strength. Here are two of our best tips on how to improve your développé devant by engaging and releasing the hard-to-find psoas muscles.

Strength

Controlled extensions to the front are not only physically difficult, but they’re sometimes hard to understand anatomically. Obviously, you want to work on increasing your flexibility with daily hamstring stretches. But often, the culprit is a weak iliopsoas—a group of deep core muscles that attach at the spine and run through the abdomen to the front of the hip. Your iliopsoas is crucial in lifting the leg, but it’s tough to find, and even tougher to activate.

(Courtesy Karen Clippinger)
Try this iliopsoas strengthener recommended by kinesiologist Karen Clippinger, author of Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology: Tie a medium-weight Thera-Band around your legs just above the knee and lie back on your elbows with your knees bent and feet lifted off the ground. Your pelvis should be tucked under at first to help you find your iliopsoas. Pull one knee in towards your chest, straighten the leg without letting the knee move away from the torso (it’s okay if you can’t fully straighten it) and return to the starting position, repeating six times on each side (eventually increasing to 10 reps). As you gain strength, practice the exercise with a more neutral pelvis, and gradually progress from leaning on your elbows to a more vertical position leaning on your hands.

(Courtesy Karen Clippinger)
Another exercise is to simply place the leg on the barre in croisé devant, keeping the hips square and lifting out of the supporting hip. Rotating from the top of the hip, feel a lengthening, spiraling energy through the working leg and lift it off the barre. Hold for five counts and slowly lower. Don’t worry if you can only lift it a few inches—this exercise will strengthen your deep turnout muscles, which will take pressure off the quad and create support from underneath.

Amy Brandt

 

Flexibility

(Photo courtesy Thinkstock)

If you constantly find yourself reaching for a foam roller, you’re not alone. “Dancers’ hip flexors are very often tight because of how much they use them every day,” says Michelle Rodriguez, founder and director of Manhattan Physio Group. Each développé devant and cambré forward fires this set of muscles, so it’s no wonder why dancers complain of the chronically tight spot. Here, Rodriguez offers her tips for a proper lunge that stretches not only the tensor fasciae latae, psoas and iliacus muscles, which all help flex the hip, but also the quadriceps. “Ideally this stretch should be done every day, even on your day off from dancing,” says Rodriguez. Save it for after barre when your body is warm, or at the end of class or rehearsal.

 

 

Hip Flexor Stretch

1. To set up to stretch your right side, kneel on your right knee. Rodriguez says you can position a towel or legwarmer underneath to cushion it if necessary. Place the left leg in front of you with your knee bent to about 90 degrees. You can place your hands on top of your knee, or hold on to the barre with one hand for balance.

2. Firmly squeeze your lower right gluteals, and zip up your abdominals from your pubic bone to your belly button. “By activating these muscles, you will be able to place your pelvis in the best position to maximize the stretch,” she says. You should now feel it in your right hip and thigh.

3. Throughout the stretch, keep the thigh you’re kneeling on vertical. “A very common mistake dancers make is to go too far into a much deeper lunge,” says Rodriguez. If you use a larger range of motion, you risk getting less of a stretch in the tensor fasciae latae, psoas, iliacus and quadriceps.

4. Once you can maintain the shape with proper muscular engagement, only then should you slowly lunge forward, says Rodriguez, towards the end of the stretch.

Repetitions: Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat on the other side. Do two complete sets.

Madeline Schrock

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

News

Emma Hawes (photo by Sian Richards)

'Tis the season to start dreaming up resolutions, and if one of yours is to boost your workouts, then we have you covered. Read on for a round-up of some of our best workout tips!

1. Don't be afraid to target your weaknesses. The National Ballet of Canada's Emma Hawes uses her workouts to focus on stabilizing her hypermobile shoulder joints. Use the extra reps in your own workouts to focus on what actually needs strengthening, not just what you wish was different (i.e. endless foot exercises).

2. Have you been trying to squeeze in morning workouts but just can't get yourself out of bed on time? Research shows that jump-starting your day with physical activity (as opposed to hanging out in a split before barre) has a whole host of benefits. Here's how to make it happen:

  • Mark your calendar. You wouldn’t skip out on a doctor’s appointment you’ve had on your schedule for months. Similarly, when you pencil in your gym time, you’re more apt to follow through.

  • Invite a buddy. When you know your friend is waking up early to meet you at the gym, you’re less likely to bail on your cross-training plans.

  • Get to bed. Though it’s never good to scrimp on sleep, it’s especially important to wake up feeling rested when physical activity is first on your list.

  • Lay out your clothes (and any special shoes or equipment you’ll need, like a yoga mat) ahead of time, so you’re not rifling through your dresser for a sports bra at the crack of dawn.

  • Pack your bag with anything you’ll need for your dance day if you’re going straight to the studio afterward.

  • Prep your breakfast. Don’t forgo the first meal of the day in order to fit in a workout. Instead, pack a portable breakfast, like a homemade smoothie made the night before, or yogurt, a granola bar and fresh fruit.

3. Give yourself enough time to warm up before performing. Acacia Schachte, who danced with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, commits to Pilates, yoga and a ballet barre before she hits the stage, so her core feels steady and she can dance freely.

4. Try something totally new, like TRX training. Even though this workout was developed by a Navy SEAL, tons of dancers swear by it because it forces you to work against your own body weight—even when you're off balance or destabilized.

Rebecca Krohn (photo by Henry Leutwyler)

5. Fuel yourself properly. New York City Ballet principal Rebecca Krohn eats every couple of hours because her body needs it. Find a balance that works for your energy levels so you can dance your hardest.

6. Take a nap! Sleep is essential. We broke down the best ways to catch some shut-eye, even when you're rehearsing nonstop.

 

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue. 

 

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