Ditch the Gym: 10 Top Outdoor Cross-Training Options for Dancers

March 16, 2020

If dancing across a stage is the greatest way to break a sweat, pounding a treadmill under fluorescent lighting has to be among the worst.

“A lot of people hate the gym,” says Lauren McIntyre, an athletic trainer and clinical specialist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Health. Luckily, you don’t need a gym membership to cross-train effectively.

Working out outside boosts your mood and self-esteem, improves cognitive function and reduces stress, according to Jo Barton, head of the Green Exercise research program at the University of Essex. It’s also an easy way to get vitamin D, which dancers run notoriously low on.

Cross-training outside also just feels more fun: Barton says people report enjoying the activity more and are more willing to do it again. Her group’s research even shows people often work harder outdoors but feel like the task is easier than if it’s done inside. “Sometimes, you don’t even feel like you’re getting a workout because you’re enjoying it so much,” McIntyre says.

Outdoor exercise can be a particularly good choice for building aerobic fitness, which can lag in dancers, says McIntyre. “You can do outdoor activities that enhance your cardio-respiratory health all year long.” She suggests choosing whatever activity you like most—just be smart. For instance, the week before a performance may not be the time for downhill skiing, and if you’re prone to ankle injuries, skip trail running.

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Running: If you’re not hurting and your form is fluid, running is a cheap cardio workout you can do almost anywhere.

• Hiking or trail running:
Improves leg strength, balance and proprioception. “It can be almost like doing a StairMaster when you’re going uphill,” McIntyre says.

• Biking:
Excellent nonimpact cardio.

• Rollerblading:
Serious work for your hip abductors.

• Basketball:
“You’re going to get a great workout,” McIntyre says. “If you enjoy it—and you have that hand-eye coordination—rock on.”

• Swimming:
The total-body workout. No impact, all conditioning.

• Stand-up paddle boarding:
Strengthens your core and stabilizing muscles.

• Kayaking:
The rare arm-focused cardio workout.

• Skiing:
Cross-country and downhill will get your heart and lungs pumping.

• Snowshoeing:
“If you get motoring pretty quickly, you can work up quite a sweat,” McIntyre says.