Cross-training is very common among professional athletes such as hockey, baseball, football, and basketball players. As dancers we spend so much time working on our ballet technique, pointe shoes, rehearsals, and classes when do we have time for another activity?

However more and more we are finding that to get the most out of those rehearsals and classes is to cross-train.

What is cross training?

Cross training is training in two or more sports in order to improve fitness and performance, especially in a main sport.

What is cross training for dancers?

Cross-training is a very broad term used to explain diversifying your training. However with dancers there are many levels for cross-training depending on how broad you want to go. For our ballet dancers I’m just going to break it down into 3 levels.

 Level 1: Diversification in Ballet – Cross-training in styles of ballet

This level of cross-training is the most common in ballet dancers. It is good to get experiences with different styles of ballet whether it is classical, contemporary, neo-classical, Balachine technique, Vagnova technique, etc.

There are lots of different ballets and lots of different styles. It is good to cross-train in different styles to become a stronger dancer. A classical ballet can teach you artistry, while a contemporary ballet might work on your technique more.

This level of cross-training is pretty simple, now let’s explore more.

Level 2: Diversification in Dance – Cross-training in styles of dance

Going a little bit further out of our comfort zones, it is good for dancers to explore other styles of dance. Ballet is the basis of all dance. Every other style of dance is rewarded by learning and studying ballet. However artistry and movement for ballerinas is improved by learning and studying other styles such as modern and jazz. It is a wonderfully rewarding training process that many of us start out and explore during our youth which we should continue to explore as we look forward to a career in dance.

 Level 3: Diversification in Exercise – Cross-training in other sports

Now we get to the bread and butter of this article; Cross-training in other exercises and sports. It is easy for a dancer to diversify in dance, and most of the time, we are doing that anyway, but we need to explore other forms of exercise to really improve our performance and stamina. The rest of this article speaks to understanding different types of exercise, and finding how you can cross-train.

Your Target Heart Rate:

Before we talk more about cross-training we have to talk about exercise and calculating your target heart rate. Your target heart rate is used to determine the type of exercises you do and therefore what you are getting out of that type of exercise. To calculate we find 60-80% of your maximum heart rate.

Equations shown below:

220 – Your age = maximum heart rate (HRmax)

Your maximum heart rate (HRmax):________

Your resting heart rate (RHR) (count pulse for 60 seconds first thing in the morning):__________

(HRmax – RHR) x 0.6 + RHR= _____ (low)

(HRmax – RHR) x 0.8 + RHR=______ (high)

Your Target Heart Zone (low-high):_____________

Types of Exercise:

For a greater understanding of cross-training lets break our exercise down into two categories; Aerobic & Anaerobic

Aerobic: This is the type of exercises that keep you in your target heart zone for at least 20 minutes. This is a low intensity type of exercise for longer periods of time.

Examples: Running, Swimming, Cycling, Elliptical, Etc.

Note: Now all these examples work as long as they are being used at low-intensity. By raising the intensity you can make them anaerobic exercise. You can determine that by looking at your target heart rate.

Benefits: Weight loss, increased endurance, improves cardiovascular health, & overall keeps your body healthy

For Dancers: I want to point out the endurance part of this training. When preparing for a long ballet or performance cross-training with this type of exercise will help improve your endurance and keep you stronger throughout the performance.

Anaerobic: This is the type of exercise performed at high intensity for short periods of time. Anaerobic literally means “without oxygen” alluding to the how your body is processing oxygen at a faster rate than it can take it, and therefore your body begins to use other sources of energy.

Examples: Lifting weights, Tennis, Volleyball, Football, Pilates

Benefits: Resistance training builds lean tissue, raises your metabolism, and trims fat.

For Dancers: Some of these exercises also differ slightly for dancers than for other athletes, for example, a dancer would weight train using smaller weights and more repetitions to create lean muscle mass, while someone looking to build up muscle would use high weights for a low amount of repetitions.

Over- Exertion 

A word of caution for all dancers

Cross-training will help you, but not if you are already tired. If you are already spending an entire day in the studio working, then go home at the end. Eat, give your body the rest it needs, and start again tomorrow. The worst thing you can do for your body is to over-work it because that is what will lead you to an injury. It is all about balance.

In Summary

I hope dancers reading this will be more comfortable fitting cross-training into their schedules. Some popular choices for dancers are yoga, pilates, gyrotonics, zumba, and elliptical work outs. Whatever you choose, now you have a greater understanding on what you are doing to your body and how it can help you in your ballet and dance studies.

Article by: Gillian Lastinger