Ballet Dancers – Exercises to Help Prevent Injuries
Ballet is a form of dance and theatrical art that has been a part of human culture for a very long time. The beauty and atmosphere created within the story conveyed by the ballet dancer is only surpassed by the amount of practice and preparation that goes into the performance itself. Each movement is carefully choreographed and strung together to tell a story to the audience. This collection of poses, flowing movements, twists, and leaps require tremendous balance, agility, stamina, and strength. Due to the repetitive nature of rehearsals and practice, ballet dancers are prone to overuse type of injuries such as:
- Low Back Pain – Muscular Strain, SI Joint Dysfunction, Facet Joint Arthropathy, Disc Derangement
- Neck Pain – Muscular Strain, Facet Joint Arthropathy, Disc Derangement
- Hip Pain – ITB Syndrome, Snapping Hip Syndrome, Bursitis
- Knee Pain – Patella-Femoral Pain Syndrome, Patellar Tendonitis
- Ankle Pain – Achilles Tendonitis, Ankle Sprains, Shin Splints
One of the common misconceptions about ballet dancers is that they are artists rather than athletes. Years of working with both professional and amateur ballet dancers has helped us realize that they are athletes in every sense of the word. An athlete is defined as “a person who is skilled in exercises, sports or games requiring strength, agility, and stamina” (Webster Dictionary). Ballet performance requires all of these things but at a different pace and speed compared to traditional sports such as soccer and basketball. One of the things we have also realized is that ballet dancers spend a tremendous amount of time perfecting their art but very little time focusing on improving their athletic ability (strength, agility, stamina). This results in an athlete who is consistently overworking certain muscles increasing their chances of developing many of the injuries previously mentioned.
There is a solution to this perplexing problem….encourage ballet dancers to participate in a training / conditioning program! We have already established that ballet dancers are athletes but many dancers do not participate in training and conditioning programs like other athletes. Many dancers have expressed concerns that they may get too tight or too bulky if they started exercising regularly. Others have stated they don’t have time and it won’t help anyway. We believe the opposite is true, participating in a ballet specific strength and conditioning program will decrease the chances of a dancer developing many of the common overuse syndromes stated above.
Below are some exercises that will help ballet dancers develop strength, agility, balance, and stamina so that they may be able to perform at a higher level as well as avoid injury. This is not a specific program for all ballet dancers as each individual’s deficits and needs will vary. These are some examples of common exercises and demonstrations of them via photos or video. Please consult a health care professional such as our physical therapists or strength and conditioning specialists to assess what your individual needs are prior to initiating a formal strength and conditioning program.
One of the most important points for a dancer is proper posture throughout the movement or dance. This can be achieved with superior core strength as this will allow the dancer to maintain certain positions for extended periods of time with grace and fluidity. Core strength is the basis for everything they do and also can greatly reduce the likelihood of developing many types of injuries. With that said, one of the most important exercises to include in a dancer’s program is
It is imperative to maintain good posture and positioning and try to hold it for 30 seconds, then rest. Make sure you are able to suck your bellybutton in towards your spine. Try repeating 5 times. If this is easy then hold the plank for up to 60 seconds. Once the dancer has mastered the basic plank, you can then add alternating leg lifts and then arm and opposite leg lifts:
Alternate your legs (or arm and leg) 10 times per set. Repeat 3 sets.
Next you can move to Side Planks:
Once you have mastered the basic side plank, challenge yourself with doing a reverse fly or leg lift. Perform 10 reps then switch to the other side.
For about $15 we recommend you invest in a physioball. Usually a 55cm or 65cm ball is appropriate depending on your height. It is a great way to challenge your balance while you perform a crunch while laying on it:
If you have a medicine ball ($35), you can use it to make crunches more challenging by performing a crunch while holding onto a ball:
Or by bringing it over your head (pullover):
Lastly, if you have a partner, play catch with them:
The next group of exercises is with you lying on your stomach on the ball. These exercises will work your low back and gluts. Make sure you suck you bellybutton into your spine. The first exercise to perform is to lift your arm and opposite leg, then switch to the other side. Try to do 10 on each side alternating as you go:
Try lifting both legs at the same time for 10 reps:
Try lifting both arms for 10 Reps
One of my personal favorites is walking out on your hands until your feet are at the end, then perform a push up, and then walk it back in. Try this one for 10 reps and you will feel your entire body working:
Performing all of these exercises on the same day would be too much. We recommend doing one exercise from each grouping per day giving you a chance to work all of your core muscles equally. Hopefully these exercises will help you become a more complete ballet dancer and keep you out of the orthopedic surgeon’s office.
As athletes you assume a 100% risk of injury. In the event that an injury does occur, call our office at 384-6490 and let one of our highly qualified physical therapists help you get back on the dance floor as soon as possible.
COMING SOON: Lower Extremity Exercise Programs for the Ballet Dancer!