Today I have an awesome guest post from Joel Minden (www.joelminden.com), who is a strength and conditioning specialist, who also happens to be a ballroom dancer, and has a Ph.D in psychology. So, yeah. He’s pretty smart.
Joel and I have been talking about dance training things lately, and I asked him if he’d be so kind as to write something about plyometric training for dancers. My main question being: Should dancers even do plyometric training? I have my own opinions, and as it turned out, Joel and I ended up getting into a pretty good discussion about it.
And for those of you who don’t know what plyometric training is, don’t worry, Joel does a really awesome job of explaining it. In a nutshell, it’s form of training to get more power for things like jumps, etc. but it can also be pretty taxing on the body.
Plyometric training can help athletes get to the next level, especially if they participate in a sport that has a need for high jumps, or explosiveness (like dancing sometimes does). But is it an appropriate method of training for dancers? If so, what are some things to consider? How can it benefit dancers?
Here’s Joel’s take on plyometric training for dancers.
Plyometrics for Dancers
Dancing at the highest level requires excellence in numerous domains, including posture, alignment, balance, extension, agility, strength, and power. Some of these abilities are developed almost exclusively through dance-specific training; others can improve through a combination of technical training and an adjunct conditioning program.
Power is one ability that may be improved through systematic training outside the dance studio. Power can loosely be defined as a combination of strength and speed. When conditioning programs are used by dancers and other athletes, strength is typically developed through resistance training and speed is typically developed through sprinting. The limitation of both approaches for dancers is that isolated strength and speed are generally much less relevant than power to dance performance. For dancers, the development of power is particularly important for dynamic jumping both vertically and horizontally.
How is Power Developed?
Improvements in athletic power can be achieved through plyometric exercises. Example exercises include jumping drills for the lower body and explosive (e.g., clapping) push-ups for the upper body. For dancers looking to improve the height and distance of jumps or control the rate of acceleration and deceleration in jumps, the addition of plyometrics to a training program appears to be ideal.
Three Phases of Plyometric Exercises
Plyometric exercises have three phases. The first phase is eccentric. Eccentric refers to the contraction of a lengthened or stretched muscle. For example, when a dancer lands after jumping, the knees and ankles bend and the muscles of the calves and quadriceps contract while lengthening to absorb the impact of the landing and prepare for the next explosive jump.
If you didn’t rely on this eccentric muscular contraction, the joints would collapse rapidly upon landing and the subsequent jump would be much less dynamic. The eccentric contraction in this case is similar to the effect of pulling on a resistance band; the resistance felt as the band is lengthened is similar to the resistance created by the contracting muscle as it lengthens.
After the muscle and tendon stretch at the end of the eccentric phase (e.g., the end of the lowering phase of plié), the second phase of plyometrics occurs. This phase is amortization, or the transition from the eccentric phase to the next jump. The amortization phase is quite brief. If the amortization period is extended, the subsequent jump becomes less powerful. Imagine pausing for several seconds in plié before jumping; the jump that follows will not travel as much as it would if the jump occurs immediately after the muscle and tendon stretch to capacity.
The final phase of a plyometric exercise is concentric. This is where the muscle contracts as it shortens. In the explosive phase of jumping, the calf muscles and quadriceps shorten and contract as the dancer leaves the ground and travels rapidly through the air.
How Does Plyometric Training Work?
It’s believed that the greatest improvements in power from plyometric training occur when the amortization phase is emphasized. This means that the period between the eccentric and concentric
Phases should be as brief as possible. Using the depth jump as an example, after jumping from the box platform to the ground, explode up immediately after the descent (bend in knees and ankles) has been completed.
Do Dancers Benefit From Plyometrics?
Plyometrics may be avoided by some because of a belief that dance ability improves primarily as a result of dance training, and that other activities merely take time away from working toward improvements in technique.
In most sports, athletic performance is directly related to markers of fitness, such as strength, power, or endurance. In contrast, dancers’ goals are typically related to achieving aesthetic competence, and activities that appear to be unrelated may be avoided. If one accepts that aesthetic competence should be the ultimate goal for dancers, the next step is to determine the method for achieving this. It is reasonable to assume that aesthetic competence depends on fitness to some extent, but which aspects of fitness are important and how much do they contribute to dance ability?
In a study of university and professional contemporary dancers, Angioi et al. (2009) examined the relation of various dimensions of fitness to aesthetic competence. Fitness parameters included body fat %, muscular power and endurance, aerobic capacity, and joint mobility. The aesthetic competence measure was developed by directors of dance companies and the elements included controlled landing from jumps and turns, controlled lifting and lowering of limbs, controlled shifting of body weight, core strength, alignment, posture, extension of limbs, elevation and turning technique, timing and rhythm, and performance expressiveness.
Participants were 17 dancers who completed a series of physical fitness tests. None had any involvement in supplementary fitness activities for at least 3 months prior. The physical fitness indicators were body composition (body fat %), lower body muscular power (jump height), upper body muscular endurance (push-ups), central body muscular endurance (planks), joint mobility and muscular flexibility (active and passive ROM in the hip) and aerobic capacity.
Three hours later, dancers performed a 60-second sequence designed for this study. Dancers’ aesthetic competence was evaluated by directors of professional dance companies. The two significant predictors of aesthetic competence were push-ups and jumping ability (on the right and left legs). The data indicated that about 30% of the variance in aesthetic competence could be accounted for by jumping ability.
These data indicate that fitness is particularly important to movement quality in dancers. Lower body muscular power was one of two strong predictors of aesthetic competence. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that plyometrics training can benefit dancers looking to improve performance quality.
Plyometric training can be quite demanding. It is not recommended to perform these exercises unless certain strength and mobility conditions can be met. An assessment by a qualified strength and conditioning professional is strongly encouraged before programming begins.
Note from Monika: Joel and I would like to emphasize that randomly adding a DIY plyometric training program to your dance training is probably not a great idea. We are just throwing hypothetical ideas around, is all.
As with resistance training, adequate rest between bouts of plyometrics training is important. To improve jumping ability, targeted plyometric exercises should be performed approximately one or two days a week. The recommended frequency of plyometric training will depend on a number of variables: performance season vs. off-season; age, fitness, and ability of the dancer; and intensity and duration of current dance training. The amount of rest between repetitions and sets will depend on the intensity of training. The total number of repetitions in each workout will typically be between 40 and 120. Plyometric workouts are typically performed for 30 minutes or less.
Both single and double leg exercises are recommended. Jumping in place, multiple jumps, bounds (e.g., explosive skipping), and box jumps are examples of exercises that can benefit dancers.
And in case any of you are wondering why the title of this article has “part 1” in it, it’s because IT’S NOT DONE YET! I had a little bit more to add to this discussion. Part 2 coming… Soon.
What do you think about dancers doing plyometric training? Add your 2 cents in the comments below. Oh wait- We don’t have pennies in Canada anymore. So I guess thoughts are free now. And that’s probably a good thing for all of us.
Joel Minden, Ph.D., CSCS, is a clinical psychologist, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and sports nutrition coach. In addition to teaching psychology and kinesiology at California State University, Chico, Joel provides consulting services to athletes and he is a competitive ballroom dancer. His website is www.joelminden.com.
Angioi, M., Metsios, G. S., Twitchett, E., Koutedakis, Y., & Wyon, M. (2009). Association between selected physical fitness parameters and aesthetic competence in contemporary dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 13(4), 115-123.
Baechle, T., & Earle, R. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Third Edition. National Strength and Conditioning Association. Human Kinetics.