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5 Strengthening Exercises for Dancers

Overuse injuries are commonly found in dancers due to their intense training regimes. Nearly 60 to 90% of dancers experience an injury or multiple injuries during their careers (Steinberg, Siev-Ner, Peleg, et al., 2013). These injuries include chrondromalacia patella (“runner’s knee”), Achilles tendinopathy, and metatarsal (foot) fractures. Some major causes of injury may be due to anatomic structure, genetics, training regime, improper technique, floor surfaces, age, body mass index, muscle imbalance, nutrition, and menstrual function (Steinberg et al., 2013).

Dance typically includes being on the toes and forefoot in a extreme plantar flexion position, known as “en pointe.” Individuals with poor balance and landing techniques will experience higher ground reaction forces which may subsequently strain the back, knees, and ankles. Incorrect form in many non-professional dancers entail a valgus knee position (knees caved inwards) and hip adduction. Conversely, mature, experienced dancers are able to rely on stronger hip and knee joint muscles to stabilize themselves during landing from jumps. Young dancers also experience lower back pain. Causative factors include high preseason training intensity, history of low back pain, low body weight, scoliosis, and stress fracture in the pars articularis of the spine (Steinberg et al., 2013).

Studies have recommended minimal exposure for young dancers to overload exercises, especially those involving the spine and caution with extensive stretching exercises (Steinberg et al., 2013).

Prevention

Here are a few essential tips to reduce the risk of injury:

  • Wear proper footwear and clothing
  • Drink fluids regularly
  • Do not dance through pain as it will exacerbate the damage
  • Practice correct dance technique 
  • Take adequate breaks during and between dance sessions
  • Ensure proper warm-up and cool-down (approximately 5-10 minutes)
  • Use preventative taping and/or braces if necessary

Strengthening

1) Woodchops – hold a light dumbbell or single cable in the highest pulley position with both hands and bring the weight downwards diagonally to the side of the leg opposite to the starting position. Remember to keep a flat back and tight core through out the motion. Repeat 8 to 12 reps on each side.
2) Lateral Step Downs – stand beside a step or a box, then place one foot on the step. Lift the other leg upwards by bending the knee to 90 degrees. Then bring the foot back down to the ground. Repeat 8 to 12 reps before switching sides. 
3) Core Stability – place your stomach onto a ball and keep the spine in a neutral position. Keep the inner core muscles engaged and reach one arm up in front with the opposite leg extended back. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds before switching sides. Repeat 10 times on each side.
4) Superman Deadlifts – hold a light dumbbell to the same side as the leg that will be extended back on. With a nice tall posture, engage the core and bend forward at the hips while you extend the leg back and reach forward with the opposite arm. Repeat 10 times on each side.
5) Squat Jumps – start with a tall posture, engage the core muscles by drawing the lower ab muscles inward toward the spine. Avoid arching the low back, with arms in a ready position, do a one-legged squat with the body weight equally distributed over the foot. Lower the body downwards by bending at the knees, then jump straight back upwards by engaging your glute and thigh muscles. Repeat 10 to 15 times for 3 sets.

Steinberg, N., Siev-Ner, I., Peleg, S., Dar, G., Masharawi, Y., Zeev, A., & Hershkovitz, I. (2013). Injuries in Female Dancers Aged 8 to 16 Years. Journal of Athletic Training48(1), 118–123. http://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-48.1.06
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