Inside DM

Cross-Training Solutions for Your Biggest Technique Challenges

Sometimes, it takes more than dancing to become a better dancer. Whether you struggle with tense shoulders or weak jumps, adding in the right forms of cross-training can fast-track your improvement. We asked the experts for exercises you can do on your own to fix six of the most common technique problems.


Sway Back

Why it happens: “Dancers are constantly trying to achieve perfect turnout, but when they don't have natural external rotation, they can develop an anterior tilt of the pelvis," says Alicia Ferriere, DPT, at Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York City. “And because we're constantly told to lift through the chest, it causes the ribs to flare, lengthening the abs and creating that little sway on the low back."

How to fix it: Add Pilates—which emphasizes pelvic position and control—to your routine once or twice a week, and build a strength-training regimen that focuses on the core, inner thighs and hamstrings.

Add this to your routine:

Hemi Bridge: Lie on your back with both feet flat on the floor. Draw the right knee toward the chest (still bent) and press into that knee with your left hand to activate the core and hamstring muscles. From there, lift and lower the hips 10 times, then switch sides. “Engaging the hamstrings with abdominal control will help with control of the neutral pelvis," says Ferriere.

Floppy Arms

How to fix it: Add arm-specific body-weight and low-weight strength workouts to your routine, suggests Lauren Williams, founder of Chisel Club and head coach at Tone House in New York City: “These will help you build strength while keeping your muscles long and lean."

Add these to your routine:

Lunge with Overhead Press: From standing, step forward into a lunge, holding a 4–10-pound medicine ball in front of your chest in both hands. Hold the lunge as you press the medicine ball straight overhead, keeping the hips square. Lower the medicine ball back to your chest, and return to the starting position. Then repeat on the other leg. Repeat 20 times for three sets.

Weak Jumps

Why it happens: “Explosive movements are directly affected by muscle fatigue, poor nutrition and low energy," says Abby Bales, DPT, CSCS, at Spear Physical Therapy in New York City. “You can't get huge jumps out of tired muscles." Add in a lack of core strength and an imbalance in your slow- and fast-twitch muscles, and you've got a recipe for a not-so-grand jeté.

How to fix it: Pilates reformer work helps train the extremities to move while the pelvic core is engaged. Strength training with weights maintains joint stability and basic strength of the muscles. Plyometrics helps give you more explosive jumps.

Add these to your routine:

BOSU Jump Squats: Stand on a BOSU (round side up), with the feet slightly separated. Squat down, jump and land back on the BOSU in a shallow squat. “The jump is small and quick, so it'll challenge your core and balance," says Bales. Do three sets of jumping for 30–45 seconds.

Lateral Bench Jumps: Find a bench that's approximately knee height or lower. With your feet together, jump side to side as quickly as you can for 15–30 seconds. Do three to five sets.

Tense Shoulders

Why it happens: Stress causes the body to naturally tense up.

How to fix it: Consider yoga. The mind-body connection has physical, mental and emotional benefits and helps alleviate stress. “Yoga helps us get present with what we're feeling and what's happening in our bodies," says Bethany Lyons, a former dancer and owner of Lyons Den Power Yoga in New York City.

Add these to your routine:

Shoulder Integration: Lift your shoulders to your ears, lengthening the side body, and expanding the mid-back as you breathe. Then draw the deltoids straight back, bringing the tips of the shoulder blades down your back. Let the shoulders naturally settle instead of jamming them down.

Chaturanga to Upward-Facing Dog: With the shoulder integration in place, get into plank position. Shift forward onto the balls of the feet to move the shoulders forward. Lower down so the elbows are at a 90-degree angle, stacked over the wrists and slightly away from the body. If your shoulders aren't in place, your glutes will pop up in the air and you'll feel pressure on your wrists. From there, flip over the toes, press through the hands and the tops of the feet. Raise your chest into Upward-Facing Dog, with the upper arm bones back. You shouldn't have to shift forward more.

Lack of Stamina

Why it happens: “You wouldn't expect an endurance runner to be amazing at the 100-meter dash, right? It's the same thing with intense variations," says Ferriere. Class combinations are rarely as long and aerobic as variations. Poor breath control may also be a factor.

How to fix it: Practice short bouts of intense activity, focused on whatever your variation specializes in. “If your performance has a lot of jumps, practice short petit allégro combinations with only short breaks in between," says Ferriere. “You can also practice sprints, jumping rope or intervals on the bike. You want to build your endurance to high-intensity activity during which you can maintain proper, steady breath control."

Add this to your routine:

Resisted Exhaling with a Balloon: Lying on your back with feet on the floor, exhale into a balloon, getting all of your air out. Maintain that abdominal control as you inhale. Repeat until the balloon is fully inflated. “You'll feel your ribs come down toward your pelvis, and your abs will engage," says Ferriere.

Bad Balance

Why it happens: Balance issues could be genetic, or have to do with nutrition, fatigue or temporary nasal congestion. But generally, it comes down to basic strength. “You can't achieve maximum balance if the pelvic core isn't properly engaged and you're not finding your center," says Bales. “Train your body to quickly engage your core."

How to fix it: Strengthen your core—and that doesn't just mean the abs. Work in relevé on unstable surfaces, like BOSU balance trainers, foam pads or wobble boards, which will force you to find your center. Bales also recommends a Pilates reformer routine to target the entire core. She says, “The proprioception feedback you can get forces you to recognize when you're not in control of your movements."

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