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Muscular Strength, Power, and Endurance Training

This is an excerpt from Dancer Wellness With Web Resource by Mary Virginia Wilmerding & Donna Krasnow.

Muscular strength is the ability to exert maximal force in one single contraction, such as lifting a weight that you could lift only once before needing a short break. Muscular power refers to a great force production over a short period of time, such as in fast leg kicks and explosive jumping. Muscular endurance is when less force is sustained over a longer period of time such as in gallops, skips, pliés, and swings. Dancers often confuse endurance with strength, so it is sometimes useful to think of endurance as continuous and strength as maximal.


This dancer displays muscular strength as well as flexibility in this difficult balance.
This dancer displays muscular strength as well as flexibility in this difficult balance.
CPRowe Photography 2012, University of Utah, Modern Dance.


In dance you are required to jump, catch partners, move down onto the floor and up out of the floor at fast speeds, and perform other explosive movements. These movements require a level of muscular strength and power. While technique classes can improve muscular strength and power, it is not necessarily the main goal. Some current dance technique classes are increasingly asymmetrical (practicing coordination on one side only) and are more focused on stylistic and artistic aspects of dancing rather than adequate repetitions to develop strength, power, and endurance. Therefore, you should do supplementary exercises for muscular strength, power, and endurance outside of your dance technique classes. Without a certain baseline of these important abilities, you are more likely to incur musculoskeletal imbalances and injuries. Injuries developed from muscular imbalances or from lack of core strength in large, explosive movements are common.


You need a good level of muscular strength, power, and endurance in order to effectively perform a variety of dance movements such as lifts, jumps, and explosive movements. An adequate level of muscular strength, power, and endurance not only assists the technical and aesthetic aspects of performance, it can also minimize the risk of injury by increasing joint stabilization and improving bone health.


A common method of strength training is with resistance machines or free weights, such as dumbbells. Even more common for dancers is using exercise bands or stretchy surgical tubing as resistance. You can also do strength training using your own body weight, such as in push-ups and leg lunges. You should exercise larger muscle groups before smaller ones, because smaller ones fatigue more quickly. It is important to alternate muscle groups to allow for recovery before performing another exercise on the same muscle group. For muscular strength gains, you should exercise a muscle through its full range of motion for 8 to 12 repetitions. The amount of weight or resistance should be challenging; after the set, you should feel muscular fatigue. Young teens or dancers rehabilitating from an injury should use lower weight or resistance and higher numbers of repetitions. For exercises targeting muscular power, remember to perform fast repetitions. You can repeat exercises two or three times in a given conditioning sequence.


When exercising for muscle strength, you should isolate the muscles to be strengthened; carry out the correct motion fully in a smooth and controlled manner without other muscles compensating. People tend to compensate when they are tired, which is when other muscles take over for the fatigued muscles. When you are exercising, be mindful of this tendency and make adjustments in resistance in order to isolate the appropriate muscles. Whenever possible, exercise a joint through its full range of motion so as to work the entire muscle and not to use too much weight or resistance during the end of a motion.


Apply the principle of specificity by replicating movement patterns of dance as closely as possible and stressing muscle groups that are most needed in current dance activities. For example, when you are returning to technique class or rehearsals after an ankle sprain, you will need to condition the ankle to be able to jump. It is best for you to incorporate foot exercises that best match the jumping speed and range of motion similar to what occurs in dance jumps. While slow and sustained strengthening exercises, such as work with an exercise band, are recommended, you will benefit from restrengthening the feet with an increase in tempo, coming as close as possible to actual jumping speed and with a similar range of motion.


To realize gains in strength and power, apply the principle of progressive overload. Overload should happen in a gradual and progressive manner whereby intensity, duration, and frequency of the exercises are steadily increased. It is a good idea to begin with an initial 2-week period of high-repetition (15-25 reps) training with low resistance. Following this period, increase load with fewer (8-12) repetitions, allowing the focus of the exercise to shift from endurance to strength. A rest period of 60 to 90 seconds between each set is important, and exercises for the same body area should not be done on successive days. You may not notice results for 5 to 10 weeks, but do not become discouraged; results will occur.


You can train muscular power by incorporating explosive exercises after seeing initial strength gains. Plyometrics training is a form of jump training in which you exert maximal force in short intervals, which has been shown to effectively increase leg power. Usually exercises are quite short but fairly explosive. An example of a plyometrics exercise is 6 to 8 high tuck jumps followed by a rest and then repeated twice more. If progressive overload is applied here, the frequency of the jumps may increase from 3 to 4 bouts and the number of repetitions may increase from 6 to 8 jumps, to 8 to 10 jumps, and so on.


Dance technique classes cannot be solely relied on to provide the conditioning exercises needed to target various components of physical fitness such as muscular strength, power, and endurance. These aspects of conditioning allow you to perform dance movements such as jumping, catching a partner, moving down onto the floor and up from the floor at fast speeds, and other explosive movements. It is therefore recommended that you do supplementary exercises for these aspects of conditioning outside of dance technique classes.

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