The Workout
Critchlow in Balanchine's "Diamonds." Photo by Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West.

A fresh perspective: Last year, Katie Critchlow went through seven months of recovery for a debilitating ankle sprain, but the process transformed her outlook on cross-training: “You think that doing ballet class every day is enough, but it's not," she says. “Ballet dancers are hypermobile, and in order to execute everything onstage when you're tired and fatigued, you need a lot of strength to back that up."

Ready to run: About two months after her injury, Critchlow began jogging. “I had to start really, really slow on a treadmill." Her ankle sprain had affected her hip, too, causing her to veer in a diagonal until she balanced the alignment in her legs. Now she prefers to run outdoors around Salt Lake City. “It helps mobilize my joints, so I'll either go at the end of a light day or wait for the weekend."

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The Workout
Photo by Réjean Brandt Photography, courtesy Royal Winnipeg Ballet

The Royal Winnepeg Ballet principal adapts her cross-training for the company's frequent touring.

Travel savvy: Touring seven to eight weeks a year means Sophia Lee hits hotel gyms a lot. “I usually pack my runners and workout clothes," she says. Once she arrives at a tour stop, she'll hop on the elliptical for 20 to 30 minutes. If there's no gym, she'll walk around the city to relieve stiffness from the bus or plane ride.

Picture this: While she's traveling or in her hotel room, Lee does visualization exercises. “I close my eyes, listen to the music and imagine exactly how I'm going to execute each movement. I actually think about firing the same muscles and where I'll breathe in and breathe out."

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The Workout
Yorita's cross-training allows her to be grounded in one piece and light on her feet in the next. (Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy BalletX)

Cross-training keeps Andrea Yorita prepared for the demanding variety in BalletX's repertoire.

Choreographic chameleon: At BalletX, Andrea Yorita performs a wide range of contemporary ballet by dancemakers like Matthew Neenan, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Trey McIntyre. “It's very hard on our feet," she says. “Even within a show, we'll go from socks to bare feet to flat shoes to pointe shoes."

A solid foundation: To keep their pointework crisp, the dancers typically take class on pointe five days a week. Yorita also does Thera-Band work for her ankles each morning, plus doming exercises. “I try to keep all of those little muscles on the bottom of my feet strong, so I can be grounded when I'm dancing in socks."

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Though you may not think about it much, building strength in the muscles around the hips is a must for ballet dancers. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s physical therapist Boyd Bender even likes to think of the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus and the deep external rotators of the hips as integral core muscles. “They’re as important as the abs and posterior trunk muscles,” he says.

Why? Because they give dancers a strong support base for the torso and standing leg, so the working leg can move freely. And they’re key players in petit allégro, since these muscles help create propulsion for jumps and control the hips and the rest of the legs during landing. Bender recommends the following exercises, both takes on a basic squat, for boosting overall hip strength. If you’re not injured, they can be done every other day after warming up.

You’ll need:

A Thera-Band

A clear space against a wall

(Photo by Emily Giacalone for Pointe)
Thera-Band Squat

1. Tie a Thera-Band in a loop around your thighs and position it just above the knees. Stand with both legs in a parallel position, knees slightly wider than your shoulders.

2. Lower into a squat, sinking your weight into your heels as your arms reach forward. Return to standing. The goal, Bender says, is to use your left and right legs equally. Try to counteract the resistance of the Thera-Band, which is attempting to internally rotate and adduct the hips.

 

(Photo by Emily Giacalone for Pointe)
One-legged Squat

1. Stand in parallel or with slight turnout, with your back toward the wall and one foot against it for balance. The raised shin should be parallel to the floor.

2. Keep a neutral spine as you lower into a one-legged squat. It’s okay to pitch forward slightly with your upper body. Bender says this alignment will challenge the gluteal muscles even more. Return to standing (keeping the back leg up on the wall) and repeat on the same leg. Do all reps on one leg before switching to the other.

Challenge yourself:

Once you’ve mastered this one-legged squat, Bender says you can move away from the wall to add more of a balance component. Practice the exercise in center with one leg raised behind you in the same bent parallel position.

Switch up your reps: For a balance between strength and stability, Bender recommends the following rep patterns for both exercises. On Monday, do 3 sets of 10 squats at a moderate pace. On Wednesday, do 1 set of 10, pausing 5 seconds at the bottom of each squat. (Keep alternating the sequences each time you work out.) Remember: More squats build strength, whereas longer pauses focus on stability. “The holds also give time to ensure your technique is correct,” says Bender.

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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.

Inside PT

Though you may not think about it much, building strength in the muscles around the hips is a must for ballet dancers. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s physical therapist Boyd Bender even likes to think of the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus and the deep external rotators of the hips as integral core muscles. “They’re as important as the abs and posterior trunk muscles,” he says.

Why? Because they give dancers a strong support base for the torso and standing leg, so the working leg can move freely. And they’re key players in petit allégro, since these muscles help create propulsion for jumps and control the hips and the rest of the legs during landing. Bender recommends the following exercises, both takes on a basic squat, for boosting overall hip strength. If you’re not injured, they can be done every other day after warming up.

You’ll need:

a Thera-Band

a clear space against a wall

(Photo by Emily Giacalone for Pointe)

Thera-Band Squat

1. Tie a Thera-Band in a loop around your thighs and position it just above the knees. Stand with both legs in a parallel position, knees slightly wider than your shoulders.

2. Lower into a squat, sinking your weight into your heels as your arms reach forward. Return to standing. The goal, Bender says, is to use your left and right legs equally. Try to counteract the resistance of the Thera-Band, which is attempting to internally rotate and adduct the hips.

 

(Photo by Emily Giacalone for Pointe)

One-legged Squat

1. Stand in parallel or with slight turnout, with your back toward the wall and one foot against it for balance. The raised shin should be parallel to the floor.

2. Keep a neutral spine as you lower into a one-legged squat. It’s okay to pitch forward slightly with your upper body. Bender says this alignment will challenge the gluteal muscles even more. Return to standing (keeping the back leg up on the wall) and repeat on the same leg. Do all reps on one leg before switching to the other.

Challenge yourself:

Once you’ve mastered this one-legged squat, Bender says you can move away from the wall to add more of a balance component. Practice the exercise in center with one leg raised behind you in the same bent parallel position.

Switch up your reps: For a balance between strength and stability, Bender recommends the following rep patterns for both exercises. On Monday, do 3 sets of 10 squats at a moderate pace. On Wednesday, do 1 set of 10, pausing 5 seconds at the bottom of each squat. (Keep alternating the sequences each time you work out.) Remember: More squats build strength, whereas longer pauses focus on stability. “The holds also give time to ensure your technique is correct,” says Bender.

Spice Up Your Life

If you’re tired of eating the same bland meals, it’s time to step up your spice game. Not only will you add more complex flavors to your diet, but you’ll get bonus nutritional benefits. Here are five common seasonings that all dancers should add to their cabinets.

Cayenne pepper: Capsaicin, which gives the spice its kick, increases your metabolism. It can also cut down cravings for salty, fatty foods.

Add a dash to: hummus, popcorn or avocado toast

Cumin: It’s high in iron, which keeps you from getting fatigued.

Add a dash to: roasted veggies or pork

Ginger: This spice can ease upset stomachs as well as muscle soreness from strenuous dancing.

Add a dash to: a green smoothie for extra zing, or pancake or muffin batter

Nutmeg: It contains antibacterial compounds that kill germs to boost oral health.

Add a dash to: coffee, cocoa or fruits like pears, bananas or apples

Oregano: It’s a source of vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting, and it’s especially high in antioxidants.

pepper

Add a dash to: pastas, soups or salads

The Upside of Stage Fright

If you’re feeling nervous before you step onstage, interpreting your anxiety as excitement—instead of telling yourself to calm down—may result in a better performance. Though it sounds counterintuitive, a study published by the American Psychological Association found that feeling excited can help you focus on positive outcomes while dwelling on your anxiety and trying to calm down usually means you’re thinking about what could go wrong.

Question: Which type of workout is best for your brain?

Answer: Cardio

Why: New research published in The Journal of Physiology suggests that when compared with weight training and high-intensity interval training (bursts of intense activity followed by a more moderate recovery period), running caused more neurogenesis—that is, the creation of new cells in the brain’s hippocampus, which plays a role in memory and learning. Running doubled and sometimes even tripled the amount of new neurons in a study using rats, though researchers expect similar results in humans.

How did the other workouts stack up? Weight training showed no changes in the hippocampus, and interval training yielded far fewer new neurons than longer, steadier bouts of cardio. Although you can still increase your stamina and strength with interval or resistance training, when it comes to brain health, a constant pace on the elliptical may be a smarter choice.

Nutty Nutrition

A handful of walnuts—approximately 14 halves—may not seem like much of a snack, but this small amount boasts numerous health benefits for dancers. What’s in a handful?

4 grams of protein to fuel your dancing

monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—the healthy kinds—which have anti-inflammatory effects and can help heal microtears in the muscles

almost half of your daily requirement of manganese, a mineral that may help ease PMS symptoms

a combination of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fats that could help you recall choreography more effectively, since walnuts have been linked to better memory, concentration and processing speed

Get cooking: Aside from making a great dance bag snack, you can add walnuts to any meal of the day. Throw a handful on oatmeal or a salad, or mix into chicken salad with apples and grapes for an extra crunch. If you’re not crazy about the taste, you can still reap the benefits by blending walnuts into a fruit smoothie, or grinding them into pesto served over whole-wheat pasta.

Good News for Dancers

From radical floorwork to obscure partnering, other dance genres are increasingly influencing new ballet choreography, so it’s to your advantage to try your hand at different techniques. And if that isn’t enough of a reason to shake up your cross-training with a hip-hop or contemporary class, consider this recent study from the University of Brighton. Researchers found that 30 minutes of contemporary, street or swing dance classes burned more calories than 30 minutes of more traditional cardio work like running, cycling or swimming. Improving your stamina doesn’t have to be boring. Add in dance’s energizing powers and its ability to reduce fatigue, and you’ve got one effective workout.

The Workout

Sock walk: As soon as she wakes up, Pazcoguin pulls on compression socks and takes her dog for an hour walk in Central Park. Their heavy elasticity alleviates recurring toe and joint pain in her right foot. “They help increase circulation at the start of the day,” she says.

Creative cooking: Pazcoguin wouldn’t dare skip breakfast. “I would be an absolute grouch and pass out.” She makes her own “breakfast rice” by blending raw cauliflower in her Vitamix and sautéing it. “I’ll add salt, pepper and healthy spices, like turmeric—it’s great for reducing inflammation—and poppy seeds, which also have antioxidants. Then I’ll put an egg on top.”

Therapy on the go: Whether she’s at work, on the road or even out to dinner, Pazcoguin always has her favorite massage tools in her bag. The Thumbby—“basically a silicone mini-cone that mimics a therapist’s thumb”—releases tension in her calves, shins and piriformis (one of the external rotators). Her Stress Buster Massage Ball targets her lower back and thighs.

Pazcoguin in Justin Peck's New Blood (photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB)

Favorite workout: She swears by her Gyrotonic sessions with master teacher Emily Smith. “Not only is she great for building strength in my weak spots, but she fixes a lot of the issues in my body before a PT is needed.” Pazcoguin says Gyrotonic is “super for core strength.”

Always on her mind: Pazcoguin had a Lisfranc injury as a teenager that damaged the joints in her arch and still haunts her. “My entire right midfoot will shift over my big toe, so it’s a constant effort to get it to shift back so there’s support around my fourth and fifth metatarsals.” Aside from therapy and Thera-Band exercises, she also practices engaging her hamstring and turnout muscles, using her leg’s strength to maintain skeletal alignment when her foot gives her trouble.

How she gets through tough ballets: Breathing can be a challenge, says Pazcoguin, “especially when you’re trying to move as fast as these Balanchine roles require.” She applies techniques from singing—she’s appeared in Broadway’s On the Town and with musical theater troupe American Dance Machine for the 21st Century—like slowly compressing, then releasing and reactivating her abdominals. “It’s helping me engage my core in a much different way.”

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