Hold up! Ballerinas lifting weights?
The title alone might be orthodox, with conflicting images of lithe, graceful ballerinas versus rugged, muscly weight lifters. Should ballerinas lift weights then?
Lifting weights does not necessarily mean that a ballerina will bulk up like the hulk. Rather, lifting weights correctly can merely sculpt your body into a leaner build and has been a major component in the training regimen of almost all ballerinas. Lifting weights also reduce the risk of injury due to weak core or leg muscles.
Here are some reasons why such weight training should be done by ballerinas.
To lower the risk of injury
Besides being fitter, supplementary strength training helps to prevent injuries. Dancers are prone to tear or aching muscles or sprains such as shin splints due to a lack of strength or resistance exercises. According to the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine in 2013, biomechanical imbalances, including a weak core and eccentric leg muscles, are mainly to blame. Research suggests that 36% of professional dancers retire due to a musculoskeletal injury, mostly due to spinal and weight-bearing joint pain.
Thus, focusing on both the cardio aspect of ballet dance and the strength aspect of lifting weights is the best solution to emerge as a more proficient ballerina.
To develop strength
Credits: Katsumi Ishizaki
To excel at ballet, your lower body and upper body must be able to withstand extended periods of intensive workouts. Having flexibility and stamina alone is not enough, especially for intermediate to advanced ballerinas who would need explosive power to smoothly execute most routines, such as sautés and grand jetés. Furthermore, high core strength is essential in more technically advanced moves, such as arabesques and pirouettes.
What better way to develop strength than to train with weights at the gym? However, the weights should not be too heavy to avoid building too much muscle, especially since heavier legs would make it harder to jump and leap gracefully. As such, go for moderately light dumbbells at higher repetitions for each of the 3 to 5 sets that you plan to do. For the maximal quality of the weight lifting, ensure that the rest periods in between sets are long enough for a full recovery.
Also, it is worth noting that male ballerinas will need a sizeable amount of arm strength, in particular, to lift female ballerinas which is common in ballet movements.
To develop stamina
Even though the hours of dance practice should suffice in improving your stamina, it might start to stagnate. This is normal in any physical activity that you do as the body is incredibly adaptable to the physical demands of training over time. This means that the usual ballet sequences for a set piece become increasingly easier after having spent weeks or months perfecting them.
Renowned US fitness organization American Council on Exercise (ACE) has explained that this phenomenon is termed “general adaptation syndrome” whereby you can hit a fitness plateau although you may be doing everything correctly!
To set new challenges that are not as familiar to your body, perform variations of weight lifting by training with different
- muscle groups,
- number of sets, repetitions or rest intervals,
- types of weights,
- loads of the weights.
With strengthened muscles as aforementioned, you would have the ability to dance for longer durations without tiring out as quickly, hence breaking through an endurance plateau.
To tone up the body
As difficult as it is to concur, despite recent body positivity movements, a svelte, toned figure is the golden standard for ballerinas, even in today’s world. This is because such a figure fits in with the traditional narrative of how dancers in ballet ought to look, and is what the audience of theatre performances or dance shows would expect.
The lean look and long limbs of ballerinas distinguish them from the rest of us and other types of dancers, somehow making ballet appear more elegant, light, and easy. The muscle definition that often lines ballerinas’ bodies also symbolizes the blood, sweat, and tears put into their dances.
Credits: Nashville Ballet
On a related note, being merely slender without any muscle, or skinny fat as some might call it can be an eyesore. Imagine seeing flabby arms, or a rotund tummy of an otherwise slim-looking ballerina in leotards. The fats and lack of muscle might end up being a distraction for viewers, away from the beauty of ballet shows. Ultimately, humans are visual creatures by nature.
Therefore, to reduce those fats and replace them with firm lean muscle tissues, you need to adopt a healthier diet and lift weights at least once a week. If you are interested, we also have a post on the diet of professional dancers.