Cross Training for Dancers

Marissa T Schaeffer, SPT, CSCS

Dancing alone is not always enough to make you the best dancer you can be. Like any athlete, a dancer must be appropriately physically conditioned to perform at their highest level. It is also a well-known fact that dancers get injured. Research has shown that 67-95% of the dancers in professional companies are injured annually 1. Numerous factors increase a dancer’s risk for injury including, but not limited to, poor technique, decreased endurance or conditioning, and insufficient neuromuscular control 2-4.

Dancers can mitigate these risk factors and increase their level of physical conditioning by engaging in carefully crafted cross-training programs that are targeted towards addressing any gaps in a dancer’s physical conditioning, strength, range of motion or technique/neuromuscular control. Such cross training can improve a dancer’s health and wellness, advance technical skill, and promote the longevity of a dancer’s career 5-9.

Cross training seeks to improve overall fitness while reducing risk for injury.

Increasing Cardiovascular Fitness

Dancers need to have good cardiovascular fitness in order to have the stamina to complete ballets without fatigue. Once fatigued, a dancer’s ability to perform technically complicated movements can be compromised and the risk for acute – or sudden – injury increases.10 For example, if a dancer becomes fatigued after performing a long jump sequence in a ballet, he may not have the stamina to perform a subsequent sequence of lifts with proper form.

Research into the cardiovascular fitness of dancers has told us that dance class and rehearsal are not sufficient stimuli to train the cardiovascular system to meet the demands of performance.8 It is therefore important that dancers train this system by engaging in activities such as biking, swimming, circuit training or running in order to decrease susceptibility to fatigue and injury.

Improving Neuromuscular Control

Our nervous system – our brain, spinal cord, and nerves – tells our body how to move through space. This is called neuromuscular control. Sometimes these systems do not communicate properly, leading to movement habits that may increase the potential for injury. Decreased neuromuscular control, especially within the trunk, has been associated with an increased risk for injury in the lower extremity and back.8, 9, 11 Different types of cross-training, like pilates, strength training, or gyrotonic can help correct some of these movement patterns by training the neuromuscular system to move in a more efficient, healthy way.

Building Muscular Fitness4, 6, 12

Resistance training increases muscular strength, endurance, and power. This can help improve a dancer’s ability to