Everything You Need to Know About Conditioning

Conditioning is a huge way of honing technique.  It can help you improve so much, not to mention preventing injury.  Before we dive deeper into exercises you can do for each part of your body and how to improve specific steps using conditioning, let’s learn more about what conditioning is and why it’s important, in addition to some terminology, of course.


? Essential question:  What are the three types of conditioning and how do they work to improve your dancing?

What is conditioning?

Conditioning is the changing of the range of motion of a body – whether it is in the short-term or long-term, whether it is flexibility, strength, or stamina you are trying to change, or whatever may be the case.  It’s all considered conditioning – afterall, you are putting your body in a different condition.

There is permanent and transient conditioning (long-term and short-term), as well as stretching (dynamic, static, ballistic), strengthening, and cardio.  All “conditioners” you do are called exercises – whether it is a stretch, strengthener, or cardio exercise.

The different types of conditioning are reviewed below.

Permanent and Transient

Permanent conditioning is performed when the muscles are warm and most pliable.  Transient conditioning is performed when muscles are not completely warm and still tight.  Permanent conditioning is the safest form of conditioning and is the most effective, especially in the long-term.  Transient conditioning is a riskier form of conditioning and is effective only in the short-term.

Flexibility

Flexibility is a prized possession among dancers.  It’s well-known that it can be achieved in the long-term with permanent stretching and in the short-term with transient stretching.  But, it is often overlooked that it can also be achieved with a technique called massage.  They are both very effective – and massage is great for injury prevention.  It is a technique often used in physical therapy.

Stretching

There are three types of stretching: static, dynamic, and ballistic.  Dynamic and ballistic stretches increase muscle tissue temperature – whereas static doesn’t, but it’s the most effective form of flexibility increase.  We’ll review each type in detail below.

Static stretches are where you use an outside force, such as gravity, a barre, or a friend to help you reach outside your ROM (range of motion) so that you may increase it.  This is the most effective form of stretching.  Examples of this may include the butterfly, frog, all splits, lunges, etc.  Most stretches are considered static stretches.

Dynamic stretches are where you use your inner force, your muscular system and momentum, to reach your ROM and slightly past it.  This isn’t the most effective form of flexibility increase, but it’s the safest by far and it also increases muscle tissue temperature, which is fantastic for injury prevention that can be used before activity.  Examples of this may include swings in attitude, arm and leg scissors, and floor barre exercises.

Ballistic stretches are where you use solely momentum, and lots of it, to reach way past your range of motion.  This is a very effective form of flexibility increase in the short term – but it’s extremely dangerous and should never be performed unless you’re very warm.  It also does increase muscle tissue temperature – but it shouldn’t be used before activity because you already must be very warmed up to use this technique.  Examples of ballistic stretches may include grand battements in which you “tilt” your upper body to achieve more range of motion, and layouts.

Massage

Massage is a very safe and effective technique used for flexibility increase, injury prevention, and decrease in soreness.  It’s often recommended by physical therapists.  Massage is recommended before and after any activity or conditioning of any kind.  It’s very useful and should be a trick in every dancer’s bag!

There are two types of massage: active and dormant.  Active is where you or a friend actively is pressing their hands into your muscle.  This is a very effective form of massage.  Dormant massage is when you use a non-living item such as a lacrosse ball, field hockey ball, golf ball, tennis ball, foam roller, massage stick, foot roller, water bottle. etc. to massage out the tightness in a muscle.

Strength

Strength is an often overlooked and completely necessary skill for all ballet dancers and dancers in general to have in their book.  Strengthening is the exception to the permanent/transient conditioning rule – it’s just as permanent whether you do it while your muscles are warm or cold.  In fact, strengthening is often used as a warm up itself to prepare for transient stretching.

Resistance

Resistance training is a favorite amongst dancers.  There are two types of resistance strengthening: use a resistance band (thera band) or using weights (ankle weights, large weights found in the gym, etc.).  The most common among dancers is using the band.

Resistance training is typically known for creating “bulk” in dancers – or building up and bunching up muscles without lengthening them.  Resistance bands do this much less than weights.  That’s why bands are so much more popular.  But, if you do resistance training with weights but with more reps at a lighter weight, then it won’t build bulk.  The same goes for using a resistance band, actually.  If you do 20 clamshells with a super heavy resistance band, your buttocks will get big.  If you do 50 clamshells with a lighter resistance band, your buttocks will stay small, yet still get strong.

The right thing takes longer sometimes, and this applies especially with resistance training.

Pilates

Typically the most popular type of strengthening exercise to do.  This is your basic machine or no-machine type of strengthening that is beneficial all-around.  Pilates won’t build bulk because you are using absolutely no resistance – just the weight of your own body.  Pilates is great for dancers and is highly recommended by many people.

Cardiovascular

Cardio is very popular among other athletic activities, but it is definitely the most overlooked by ballet dancers.  Ballerinas really do need to do more cardio than they already do, and it can do some amazing benefits for your dancing.  There are many types of cardio, and some of them are very dangerous for dancers, whereas some are totally fine and will do some really great benefits.  We’ll discuss most of the types of cardio and whether they should be completed or not by dancers.

Running

Running is generally not a good idea for ballet dancers because of the amount of pressure it puts on the joints.  There are many other ways to do cardio besides running, and those ways are often overlooked.  If you are asked what you usually think of when someone says the word “cardio,” I bet you it will be somebody running at the track.  If you are a ballet dancer, you need to get that image out of your head, because that is exactly the opposite of what ballet dancers should do for cardio,

Elliptical

The elliptical is a great machine that doesn’t put hardly any pressure on the joints and still gets you the same cardio workout that you’re looking for.  I highly recommend the elliptical, and so do many, many others.  If you are going to do cardiovascular exercise, try this out!

Biking

Biking is a great cardiovascular workout that doesn’t put any pressure on the joints, but there are some down sides.  Biking is known for developing the glutes and quads, two muscles that other people prize and ballet dancers should despise.  Developing these muscles is a very bad idea that should not be done too often.

It’s good for ballet dancers to work these muscles occasionally, for say an every-other-week bike ride, but if you bike every day or every other day, it becomes too much and those muscles will become overdeveloped, which is the opposite of what you want during cross-training (strengthening).

Biking should be done, as it is a great cardio workout that alleviates pressure on the joints, but it should be done in moderation due to the muscles that it develops.

Test your knowledge

Do you really know everything about conditioning?  Try answering the questions below.

  1. What are the two types of conditioning that determine the longevity of the conditioning?
  2. What are the three main types of conditioning?  Can you describe them?
  3. Why should you be conditioning on a daily basis?  What can it do for your dancing?

If you answered no to any of these questions, I recommend going back through the article to review.  Also, don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comments section below!


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