A Dancer’s Guide to the Gym

Hi everybody! Today I am giving you the dancer’s guide to the gym to help you select which machines are best, the soft fitness area, and how using the pool can be beneficial, as well as tips on finding the best place to spend your time. I hope you find this helpful.

Selecting a Gym

If you are new to the world of fitness studios, it is important that you learn how to choose a gym membership to purchase.  There are a few components that will be significant in your selection:

  • Location – How close is it to your work, school, home and the theater?
  • Price – Especially if you are professional dancer, we operate on a budget.  It can’t be outrageously expensive.
  • Classes – What kinds of classes and programs are offered there?
  • Amenities – What type of equipment does the club have, is there a pool, a track, etc.

Once you have considered all of these factors, review your schedule to see when you would be going to the gym.  For me, it is mostly on days that I don’t have school, every Sunday, and Saturdays after ballet.  Depending on what place you will be coming from most times, it can be helpful to chose your gym based on location.

The Cardio Section

Once you have selected a gym and you are there, it is best to start in the cardio section.  Here you will get a good warm up and it’s a great way to start you off.  On the other hand, it is an area that most dancers struggle with immensely. Here is my routine, which might help:

My go-to is the elliptical trainer.  I almost always start there with a set workout program on the machine.  I plug in my headphones and listen to some ballet music. I start off slowly, while visualizing Natalia Osipova doing fouettés in Don Quixote.  I usually do half an hour or a full hour workout, depending on how much time I have.

My recommendation to dancers on the elliptical is to reduce the incline – a stronger incline makes you work your quads and hip flexors harder, and these are areas that dancers don’t want to bulk up.  A lesser incline will put more of the work in your hamstrings, especially if you add some resistance, but it will be mostly cardio.

I don’t recommend the treadmill for dancers.  Running on the treadmill puts a lot of pressure on the knee joints, even if it is a safe treadmill with pressure absorbers.  The heels will lift off he ground when you are running, and this can tighten the calves and maybe even cause Achilles tendinitis.  Also, running on the treadmill can overwork the quads, glutes and hip flexors, especially if you run with an incline.  I would recommend avoiding it.

Soft Fitness and Swimming

The soft fitness area is the place where you can do your mat work.  I always go there after I finish my cardio. I start with a solid, but lengthy abdominal routine, including a grueling plank series.  I also do my Pilates leg workout (side leg series), and other strengthening exercises on the floor.

At this point, I like to grab a yoga ball and do my planks, crunches and hamstring exercises.  I continue doing my mat work, but I add in some equipment.  After that, I grab a BOSU ball and practice balancing and exercising my foot and work on lower leg stabilization.

Afterwards, I grab some weights and do my arm exercises.  This is an area dancers often avoid, so it’s good to focus on them once in a while.  I try to focus a lot on my upper back at this time, making sure I exert the right resistance and keep lengthening muscles to avoid tension.

Last but not least, if I have time, I like to jump in the pool. I swim laps to help exercise my back and legs. Also, the water massages sore muscles and the water helps even out any tension in the body.  It’s really good for dancers – don’t skip it if you have time!

Weight Work for Dancers?

This is a popular dilemma in the dance and fitness training world: should dancers who don’t want to bulk up be using weights?  My answer is yes …but in moderation.  I like using very light weights to tone my arms and strengthen my back, but it can also be good (again, in moderation) if you are working for quick strengthening of their legs and core.

Thanks for reading today’s post, and good luck at your new gym!  See you on Friday.

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