Dancers and Plyometric Training- Part 2

Dancers and Plyometric Training- Part 2


Welcome back to the discussion! Let’s jump right in (haha, get it? Jump? Cause it’s a plyo article??)…

In PART 1, which you should read now if you haven’t already, Joel did a great job of detailing exactly what plyometric training is, and how it could potentially help dancers  develop jump height, and just plain dance better in general.

I agree with the things Joel was saying, but I was a little disappointed that his article didn’t answer all my questions. A foolish notion, I know, to expect to ask one question and get all the answers.

My main concern was, yes, in theory, it sounds like plyometric training, which is great for athletes who want to improve their power and jump height is a good idea. But dancers are a little different than other athletes.

And yes, dancers are indeed athletes. The definition below could be used for “dancer” to a TEE, if you added in something about artistic expression at the end.

Athlete- “Someone who engages in social comparison (competition) involving psycho-motor skill or physical prowess (or both) in an institutionalized setting, typically under public scrutiny/evaluation.” (Baechle & Earle, 2008)

So anyway, should dancers even perform plyometric training? Is it good for them? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Here are the major concerns I have:

1) Do dancers need a particular level of relative strength before beginning plyo training? For example, the NSCA  recommends (and this is probably for men, mind you) that before beginning a plyometric training program, athletes should have at least a 1.5x bodyweight squat. Considering that barely any dancers even resistance train, I don’t know of a single dancer that meets that qualification.

And also, based on that, a lot of people would be shot for the things they do in the gym.

Then I stumbled across this (go read it), from Vertical Jumping (.com) and it seems they’re of the opinion that “strength first” is a myth. Hmmm.

It is silly to think that beginner athletes without a large strength base can’t handle plyometric training. You just need to use exercises that don’t have the same degree of landing forces, or if you want to use the shock methods, you simply use a lower box height that allows the athlete to still be challenged, but also to safely perform the exercise.

And Joel said this:

I agree with you [Monika]. This recommendation [strength first] may be more applicable to athletes who don’t have experience with power training. Dancers incorporate plyometrics into their training already. I don’t think there are big injury concerns if they get started immediately (even without the strength base).

Moving along to my second concern about dancers doing extra plyo:

2) Many dancers are constantly performing through their injuries, which are rarely ever diagnosed. Most often, these injuries are only addressed when they get to the point that they can’t even dance anymore. I remember needing to take pre-show painkillers to perform. Not a fun time.

Encounters, choreographed by Arsenio Andrade- This was a performance I distinctly remember needing copious doses of ibuprofen to get on stage for…

These injuries, especially to their backs, knees, hips and ankles, could potentially be aggravated by additional plyometric training. And the fact that dancers will need to often perform through these injuries might in itself be a contraindication for doing plyo training.

If you are a dancer, and you love your art, you will do what you need to do, which probably means performing through an injury. We’ve all done it. I’m not saying this is good, but I’m saying it might be necessary at some point, and so you may not want to put any extra stress on your vulnerable joints.

For example, I am working with a couple of dancers right now who are recovering from pretty awful ankle sprains, and one who has some nasty hip and back dysfunction, which causes her pain. Would I make these guys jump up and down any more than they need to? No, probably not.

Joel sez:

Yes, these injuries are a major concern. Dancers train through them anyway, so perhaps plyometric training won’t be any more damaging than what they’re doing already. On the other hand, plyometric programs are usually (relatively) high volume, so the repetition might be really dangerous. This is why I think supervision is important.

3) Many dancers have muscles imbalances due to the nature of their art. Some can be corrected to an extent to help them perform better, and some are a necessary evil.

For example, many dancers are hamstring or lower back dominant, and don’t use their glutes. Glutes can be trained, and this training will help you  perform better and not get hurt. Dancers also tend to have incredibly tight ilipsoas and quads, which can pull on the spine, in a bad way, and cause back and hip injuries if they are not first taught how to work with these issues.

But, due to the nature of dance you WILL need to have some weird imbalances, especially if you need turnout. That’s ok. But you have to realize that because you are functionally asymetrical for your art, you are at risk of getting hurt.

Joel sez:

 Agreed, and that’s exactly why I don’t want to be more specific about recommendations 🙂

Is it smart to do power training with your hamstrings and lower back as the prime movers? Have you had a lower back or hamstring injury? You tell me…

4) The non-specific joint angle when performing plyo exercises might not be beneficial for dancers, could cause injury, and not improve performance. This concern is especially for dance styles that require the use of turnout.

Donna Krasnow (dance professor at York University, Ph. D in dance science, all around smart lady) told me some interesting things when I asked her about plyometrics last summer in THIS INTERVIEW. Here’s a quick recap of what Donna told me when I asked her if dancers should do plyometrics and Olympic lifting:

“Yes. If the dancer has a need for it.”

She explained to me that many dancers are naturally good jumpers and it would not be a productive use of their time to work on something they are already good at. Hip drive power does help with vertical jump height, which is of importance to dancers, but if they don’t need much extra help in that regard, it is not necessary.

She states that the training must be specific to dancing. For this very reason, she is not in favour of ballet dancers doing much plyometric training. Her experience is that it will not transfer over to a dance setting as one would like it to, for the feet are in a parallel position which is not very helpful for dancers who work in turn-out.

I asked about doing plyometric work in a turned out position, and we both agreed that it would probably not be safe for the knees.

Olympic lifting could however be quite beneficial for dancers needing help with their jumps.

And here’s what Joel said:

In my opinion, plyometric exercises that don’t involve turnout are preferred because with greater technique demands comes the problem of poor exercise performance due to physical limitations. If plyometrics are performed for general power, I don’t think it’s necessary to incorporate dance technique into the program as well. From my perspective, dancers (and other athletes) should emphasize technique during dance- or sport-specific training and use more basic movements during strength and conditioning. Squats, for example, might be used to develop lower body strength, but the actual movement is quite different from anything dancers actually do in class or performance.

Very interesting indeed. But again, this is more of a concern for dance styles that use turnout- like ballet, but often in modern, jazz and contemporary as well.

Ok, let’s wrap this up, because concision was never my strong suit. Yes, concision IS a word.

It is my view that plyometric training for dancers COULD be a good idea, but rather than ask how, I think we need to ask if and when to do it, and more research clearly needs to be done.

Joel’s final thoughts:

I think the individual abilities, physical limitations, fitness, and current training practices of dancers make it somewhat dangerous to try to give more detailed guidance about things like plyometrics in an overview article. I mentioned in the article that it’s important to be evaluated by someone who understands the nature of plyometric training and how to program effectively for people with different backgrounds. I really believe that, for the most part, people should avoid this type of training unless they are supervised.

My short answer to all of this is, yeah, I think dancers can benefit from plyometrics if they do basic movements with the goal of developing power. If they have physical limitations, it’s particularly important to do plyometric movements that require very little technique. Off season is probably the best time, but for dancers who perform year round, there are just too many variables involved in developing a program to make more detailed recommendations.

Ok. So. Conclusions?

I guess we can both agree that the answer will probably always be, “it depends”. Which is extremely dissatisfying. Such is life…

Personally, I always err on the side of caution (having been overtrained and injured before), and I would be very reluctant to get a dancer to do things like box/depth jumps, unless I had a really good feeling about it. I often act based on feeling. It’s usually a good system.

It is unfortunate that there’s just not a whole lot of research done on training dancers. When they first come to me, the state of most of my dancers are bordering on post-rehab, not high performance, and I don’t usually even consider plyometrics for them.

So. What do YOU think? I know Joel and I would love to hear your thoughts. With our eyes… So leave a comment below!