I get asked this question a lot: “Should I wear ankle weights at barre for cross-training purposes?”
The short answer is no. Keep reading if you want the juicy stuff.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the videos of dancers (some of them famous) moving through a workout reminiscent of a choreographed routine at the gym. They can look quite beautiful as they balance on bosu balls in a gorgeous arabesque while holding 3-pound dumbbells, mimicking port de bras movements with their arms. Or, maybe they are busy doing some complicated sequence that involves hitting ballet positions in between more traditional workout moves. Or, they are using bands and tubing to stretch their extensions and work their line while balancing on a vibrating power plate.
All of these seem like logical ways for dancers to cross-train, right? After all, these dancers are beautiful…and these moves certainly look balletic and similar to what we do in our careers. Plus, if everyone else is doing it, it must be right. But is this really what you should be copying for your cross-training?
Let’s break this down by asking “why” – why are you cross-training in the first place? Whether you know it or not, your main objective with your cross-training should be enhancing STRENGTH.
Most dancers think they are strong; but they’re not…or, at least not really when compared to the relative strength they could possess. (I’m not insulting you…just speaking from personal experience😉). True, we are definitely hardcore and possess a high pain tolerance. And so, we pride ourselves on thinking we are strong. But being strong-willed is very different from being physically strong. You need strength on a deep level that penetrates all the way down to your bones and connective tissues to experience peak performance. In order for most dancers to even get a taste of what it is like to be this physically strong, they would have to actively try to optimize their full-body strength through a separate activity.
So, if your aim is to maximize STRENGTH with cross-training, what’s the best way to do that?
Answer: simple movements that allow you to focus on creating as much tension in your muscles as possible.
I don’t know about you, but I am a terrible multitasker. If I’m in the driver’s seat, I can’t hold an intelligent conversation while attempting to stay between the lines on the road. It’s ridiculous. But, I fully own my mental limits;) The same thing goes for your body. If it has to divert energy towards balancing, holding unstable positions, or following complicated sequences, it has trouble devoting enough energy into muscle contraction to get actual benefits from the exercise. An easy way of looking at it – any kind of strength exercise that doesn’t require close to 100% of your focus and energy probably isn’t sufficient enough to make you stronger.
Chances are, if your cross-training looks like ballet with ballet-like positions and moves, balancing acts, complicated routines, not only is it inefficient…but it can also be dangerous. You already put so much strain on your joints, tendons, and ligaments while doing your craft; you don’t need to add to that with cross-training. You want your joints to be in a safe, stable position anytime you apply extra stress.
This is why wearing ankle weights at barre or center is not a good idea. It puts a lot of extra pressure on the knee and hip joints in particular while they are already in compromised positions. Think about it – how many dancers have knee or hip problems just from normal ballet technique? Add on another 5 pounds to your ankle while you are already straining in unnatural positions, and you are going to get a lot of unnecessary pulling on those joints.
This is also why complicated sequences and ballistic movements put you at greater risk of injury. If you aren’t able to stabilize your joints in their proper positions because the exercise has so many moving parts, it wouldn’t be hard to do some serious damage with a simple mistake or careless movement. Complicated training = greater risk…which opens the door for injuries. If you enjoy this type of training...great! Live it up! But if you are just doing it for the benefits of cross-training, you'd be better of doing things differently.
On the other hand, when you keep your cross-training simple and focused, you have a better chance of ensuring your safety. Plus, it can be super-efficient when done right. You can get real, game-changing results with 30 minutes in the gym. And there you go…your cross-training requirements are complete for the week. But, the workout needs to be straightforward, to-the-point, and intense.
When it comes to cross-training, keep it simple. Remember why you are cross-training in the first place. Whether you know you need it or not, your body requires extra strength to remain injury free and perform at its highest level. The best way to get that strength is through a concentrated focus with your cross-training. Don’t be fooled by what looks pretty or ballet-like on social media. In fact, if your cross-training looks or feels "artistic"…you are most likely doing it wrong.
Photo credit: Estilo Antunes