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Cross-Training - What It Is & How to Do It as a Dancer

The purpose of cross-training is to exercise in a way that deviates from your main sport/athletic endeavor to allow your body a break from the repetitive motion it is so inundated with already. At the same time, this cross-training should still allow you to gain traction and improve in your main sport (i.e. dance).

As a dancer, it can be tempting to gravitate towards cross-training methods that look like ballet - doing exercises turned out, mimicking arabesques and other ballet positions while holding 5 lbs. dumbbells, and balancing on Bosu balls. The plethora of ballet-based workouts along with tons of videos of dancers training this way on social media these days makes this all seem like great ways to fulfill your cross-training requirements. While it may be a nice way to showcase your dance skills, is this really the optimal way to cross-train?

Will this type of cross-training give you benefits? Sure, to an extent. But, it will also make you more susceptible to injuries, shorten the overall “life” of your body in your dance career, and burn through precious energy stores…without giving you the results you are really looking for.

Here’s why:

We’ve all been brainwashed to think exercise is this magical health tonic that is nothing but good for you. But, the truth is…exercise is not all unicorns and rainbows. Exercise is actually a stress on your body. It’s your body’s adaptation response to exercise that is beneficial for you…not the exercise itself. If done properly (with enough intensity), exercise creates microdamage to your muscles, joints, and tissues. This microdamage stimulates your body to adapt and rebuild itself stronger so it is better able to handle the increased demands on it. However, exercise also plays a role in causing your joints and tissues to wear down prematurely.

Think of it this way - all exercise has a cost-to-benefit ratio. And, the different forms of exercise are nowhere near equal in this regard. Some cross-training methods will be effective at creating a positive adaptation response in your body…but at a very high cost. Others will have minimal destructive effects on your body…but won’t have the intensity to cause your body to adapt. On one end, the damage far outweighs the benefits. On the other, while you may not incur much damage, you don’t reap much benefit either.

Since your art is so rough on your body as is, it is even more important that you cross-train with methods that allow you to level up while minimizing the wear and tear on your body. We already have short careers, injuries, tired muscles, sore joints to contend with just from doing ballet. Why would we want to exacerbate those symptoms with cross-training that adds to our deterioration and exhaustion? We need a method of cross-training that builds us up rather than breaks us down.

If the benefits of cross-training come from varying from your main sport or activity, shouldn’t we be exercising in a way that doesn’t look like ballet? You spend hours every day working in turned out positions while you take class and rehearse. Going to the gym afterwards to continue doing the same movements, except this time with the added challenge of ankle weights or wobble boards, just adds to the stress your body is already inundated with from your dancing. You need to give your body a break from all that…let it work in a way that isn’t as familiar and overdone.

When trying to decide what cross-training methods to use, don’t be fooled by popular trends or what you see other dancers doing. Exercise is a stressor and can take you further from your goals if you aren’t careful. Just because something looks like ballet, is popular on Instagram, or labeled as “exercise for dancers” doesn’t automatically mean it should be trusted to fulfill your cross-training requirements. Remember what “cross-training” is designed to do. Save your dance moves for the studio and stage…train differently when you are in the gym.

Photo credit (title): Rachel Neville

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