Strength Training and Analyzing Performance for Dancers

One aspect that is not fully appreciated is that utilizing a strength training program will allow the dancer and athlete to withstand a higher capacity for work. That is, if a dancer is looking to increase performance on a specific level, there must likewise be a larger general foundation to allow for this specific adaptation to take place.

Further, following a resistance training program offers bigger benefits than simply bigger biceps – there are increases in bone density, muscle strength, muscle hypertrophy, along with other physiological benefits seen through the energy systems if appropriate protocols are followed.

If you have a bboy who wants complete a certain combination of powermoves: Swipes to flare, to windmill, to backspin, and they can only perform swipes to flare before fatiguing, there are several things to examine: technique, relative strength levels, ability to recover between movesets, along with individual movement styles.

If this individual cannot perform the movement without sacrificing technique through muscling the movement into place, how else can they increase their performance?

The two things that come to mind involve movement dysfunctions, and a lack of work capacity (or the ability to perform greater workloads, or even more simply put they fatigue too quickly for the given demand). While I view this through a continuum of general to specific movement, Gray Cook refers to a pyramidal scheme. Let’s analyze this in relation to dancers.

Performance Pyramids

This idea is best exemplified through Gray Cook’s Performance Pyramid, which can be found through his book Movement. At the end of the day, a larger base of general work capacity and movement foundation will allow the athlete or dancer to more specifically hone in on their skill level down the line. The buffer zones refer to areas that could use work to either help restore function or improve performance.

Optimum Performance Pyramid

Optimum Performance Pyramid

The Optimum Performance Pyramid shows the profile of a dancer who owns their strength on a relative level, and at the same time they can perform the finest of movements and control. This can be said of almost any dance at the “advanced” level of movement. However, if a dance wanted to increase his performance levels, perhaps it would benefit him to increase his functional movements (or increase his base), then increase his requisite strength and power levels (his performance), and then let’s analyze where he lies afterwards due to his larger increase of capacity.

On this notion, let’s look at this in terms of a dance who displays great levels of relative strength, but cannot display this strength in his movements on a fine and specific level.

Overpowered Performance Pyramid

Overpowered Performance Pyramid

This is an athlete that exhibits great power and strength in order to dance, but lacks the requisite stability for finer movements such as single leg work, or even diaphragmatic control under duress. I’d even venture to take a guess that this is a dancer that may get several injuries over time due to the lack of their understanding of the functional movements (squat, lunge, push-up, hip hinge, anti-rotation, anti-extension, etc.)

Underpowered Performance Pyramid

Underpowered Performance Pyramid

Here is a dancer who has requisite mobility and stability, but lacks the ability to truly power through their movements. Along with specific technical training, this dancer will see both technical and muscular growth on several levels after appropriate training takes place.

Underskilled Performance Pyramid

Underskilled Performance Pyramid

This is variation of dancer that excels in athletic qualities outside of the dance, but simply cannot apply those qualities to the specific skillsets, whether it is due to lack of time practicing technique, effort levels, or maybe he or she has transferred to dancing recently from another sport! Whatever the case may be, this is perhaps the one dancer that does not need any further pursuit of large increases in strength and new ranges of motion (mobility), barring injuries, imbalances, etc.


So, what are the next steps for an aspiring dancer that often spends large amounts of time practicing specific technical movements (footwork, powermoves, transitions, etc)?

1.  Next time you compete, practice, or session, after watching rounds or movements, analyze which pyramid represents your skill and movement level, and see where you can improve.

2. Increase functional movements (whether strength related or increasing stability in movements).

2. Address weakest portion of movement patterns (often found through movement assessment).

While the optimum performance pyramid should be the end goal for any dancer, in reality the path towards that will look different for each dancer.

For example, if I were to begin dancing again, I would need to spend large amounts of time on technical training, as I have the requisite mobility (I’m hypermobile as it is) and my strength levels are more than adequate. However, for another dancer, other qualities might need to be pursued!

Keep it funky.


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