Transcript (English Translation)
Ok, this has several reasons or backgrounds: Strength training allows you to specifically build up a strength reserve. This enables us to increase or optimize both our training and the performance itself. Because I believe that we can tap into much more potential that has not yet been fully exploited. If you have a a certain level at which you are performing and then push yourself to your limit, you will be performing at that very limit all the time, with all the consequences that this entails: stress hormones, fatigue, exhaustion, and so on. If you now increase your strength reserves through strength training, if you thus have a larger range in which you can move, then you’re not constantly operating at your limit and you can create much more interesting nuances by working at you maximum, at 75%, at 10%, and so on. Let’s say we want to compare this via relative values: your maximum is at 100 and you want to go full throttle, then half the energy would be 50 … But if your range goes up to 400, then the 100 that you have previously achieved will look quite relaxed and you will still have plenty of room to go further. Accordingly, strength training is not, as it is often discredited, just one of many fitness options, but it also has a direct impact on your artistic possibilities and it provides you with more versatility in your performance and choreographic work.
Similarly, when it comes to preventative aspects, these larger strength reserves mean, that you may not have to constantly push yourself to your absolute limit, but that you may be able to achieve the same performance level with a lower percentage of your capacity. This shortens your recovery time, relativizes all sorts of degradation processes that take place in the muscles due to high loads, and you manage to return to performance more quickly. Which is true both on a small scale, i.e. within a training session, but also in the longer term. This means that if you train really hard for a full week, you will still recover faster, in contrast to when you are unfit and crawl off stage on all fours after the first day. So again, you have more opportunities to present yourself, to try things out, and therefore to better realize your potential.
The third aspect is the rehabilitative component. If you do get injured, which can’t necessarily be prevented, then that injury hits you at a higher performance level, meaning you recover faster or you get out of the injury at a higher level as well, and injuries might be less likely to happen in the first place. Of course the whole thing may have a small downside, because the closer you push yourself to the limit, the more the risk of injury increases. But that’s still something interesting I think, especially in the context of rehabilitation and injury prevention in dance. Because my perception is that in the last 15 to 20 years, the issue of rehabilitation and prevention has tended to move in a hyperprotective direction, where everything is very delicate and cautious, and where there is a lot of panic about overloading. But that to me is not prevention. For me, prevention means being robust enough to make it through a performance smoothly. And there’s not a whole lot that you can achieve with a few auxiliary exercises. You need intensities that are close to the target workload or ideally maybe even above it. That means we want to push the limits. I see that on the simple physical level, I see that on the psychological level, but I also see that on the artistic level: going beyond the familiar, risking something, seeing something, bringing something in that wasn’t there before.
Alright, this is a rather complex question that I like to reframe a bit so that we can somehow find a starting point. So the most important thing for a dancer is to specify the exact goal that he or she want to achieve. If we don’t have a concrete goal, then it will be very difficult to set the direction of how we are going to get there. And since there are so many approaches and methods to achieve a given goal, we first have to define it clearly.
There is not really a specific requirements profile for a dancer. “Dancer” is such a broad term that we first have to look at what it is that is actually done. Am I a classical dancer or am I a contemporary dancer, roughly speaking. The next question then is, what happens in my piece. Do I move extremely dynamically, explosively, physically? Or do I perform more like an actor, theatrically? Do I speak, do I sing, do I jump? We have to differentiate all of that, and then decide what we want to specifically address and improve.
Now when it comes to physicality, I think the foundation for everything we do is strength. Without strength nothing happens at all. And in order to influence all possible factors in the most efficient way, strength training offers a great number of options. Because strength training can influence the different forms of strength, i.e. starting strength, explosive strength, maximum strength, and speed strength.
Moreover, other parameters such as agility, speed, and coordination can all be directly influenced by strength training as well. For this purpose, the training doesn’t have to be highly specific at first. If you have no experience with strength training, it is actually enough if you start with the basic exercises. And they are called basic exercises because they work many joints and many muscle groups at the same time. These basic exercises are deadlifts, squats, pulling exercises like bent-over rowing or pull ups, and pressing exercises like bench press or overhead presses. As I said, these exercises cover many muscle groups at the same time and they involve several joints. Consequently, we target large movement muscles but simultaneously smaller muscles that are responsible for fine coordination and joint stabilization. Once you have created a solid foundation through these exercises, then you can work more specifically.
So once you generally worked your way up to a higher fitness level … Let’s say we have a new piece and still four weeks where the piece is being rehearsed. Now the basics are already there (you can already jump relatively well, you are flexible enough etc.) and depending on what the piece requires, you then tease out a bit more. And four weeks is a realistic time frame for that. However, if the foundation is missing, and then you do strength training for the first time in your life during those four weeks, then you will struggle so much with muscle soreness and coordination issues that you won’t be able to make any progress at all.
Just like the previous question: simple but very complex in detail. Of course this depends again on the training goal. We need to consider a) how much time we have available, b) how far away our goal is, and c) what we specifically want to do. If you are very new to this, then it’s safe to say that for a muscle group that you’re going to work well, you’ll need 2 maybe 3 sessions a week. Then it depends on how you divide up your workout. If you say you just do full body workouts, then you can do 3 full body workouts a week. If you say you want to work more specifically, if you want to separate legs and upper body exercises for example, then you get into split workouts. Then you train one day the lower body, one day the upper body. Monday / Tuesday for example, and then Thursday / Friday the same again. So you would be at 4 sessions.
If you have a lot of time, and say you want to improve in general, it is actually good to implement a higher volume of exercises. Simply so that you can challenge the joints, the muscles, and the central nervous system to adapt to movements. So especially with younger dancers or people who are just starting with strength training I wouldn’t necessarily do 30 sets of squats three times a week. But rather aim for lower volume, but then distribute that over several exercises. Because coordinatively you can achieve a lot very quickly if you simply distribute the basic exercises well. And then it really depends on the time available and the goal set. It is possible to do something every day, or you only want to have a very basic structure for the time being, then you can already make progress with 2 to 3 sessions per week. And then it is also a logistical thing, for example when it comes to training the same muscle group. You can of course train every day … with this regularity, first the coordination increases, then when the coordination is developed, other structural changes begin to take effect. And at some point, training more frequently will result in smaller and smaller gains. Of course you will still get better, but the gains are too small compared to the time you spend to make it worthwhile. Unless of course you want to work very specifically on that one quality.
There are world-class weightlifters who repeat certain exercises for 8 hours a day, or better said who train for a period of 8 hours and then have 3 – 4 exercise sequences that they rotate again and again with slight changes in quality. But they do squats every day, for example. They have to get good at squats, so they do them every day. You really have to see how specific the goal is. If a performance has a lot of movements, you’re going to train more broadly than if you have to do two-legged jumps for the duration of an entire show. And they have to be super high, and I have to keep that up for half an hour. Of course you would then train differently for that.
This is exactly where I would have my classic answer: it depends. We are again taking a look at what our goal is. Let’s start with general fitness development: So you’re just getting started, you don’t have too much time, you want to start with an hour or an hour and a half, 2 – 3 times per week. Then full body programs make sense, for example. Especially with regard to first gaining strength. We then need to distinguish whether it’s a pure strength training or if it’s possibly a bodybuilding training. This is often confused.
Pure bodybuilding is really about building muscle mass, which is mainly for aesthetics, for the visibility of muscles. Pure strength training is only intended to improve central nervous activation, which means optimizing the nervous system in such a way that the available potential is used to the maximum. So that’s strength training where you don’t gain weight, but where you can get much stronger and faster. And then there are hybrid forms, for example if someone wants to become very strong in the long term, then the extent to which the potential can be exploited is of course limited at some point. Let’s say you have trained your biceps and you have that skinny arm that you can lift 20kg of weight with, and at some point you reach your limit. You manage to do it once and you can’t do more. Then the next step is to increase muscle mass again. Most dancers probably don’t have an interest in that. But sometimes, for example if we now look at the top class, where you want to develop a unique selling point, and you want to be the greatest jumper in the world, then it may be necessary or useful to gain a little more muscle mass, which you then have available as a new potential, and through which you can enhance your jumping power beyond what you have already achieved. That’s where it gets very specific. Where you then have to see whether the coordinative abilities are really exhausted, and whether more mass makes sense. Above a certain point, for example, too much weight tends to inhibit performance, so that you will actually no longer be able to jump any higher. This is something that you then have to specifically balance out. But that’s now a very high, very specific goal.
To get there, that’s important to know if you don’t have strength training experience, the rationale is that a full body training plan, where general strength is developed, has a direct impact on starting strength and explosive strength as well. These are different components or forms of strength that are useful. Now, when you have a higher level of skill and strength, you have to train very specifically when it comes to explosiveness, for example. But someone who is not used to strength training, will already increase his explosive strength just by getting stronger in general. For that person it wouldn’t be worth doing olympic lifts, for example. A lot of people are really into it because they’ve heard that olympic lifts are great for speed. Now everyone wants to learn them. That’s all great, but the process of learning the technique of olympic weightlifting is very time consuming. And the weights you have to move to gain explosiveness, and the coordinative skills needed, aren’t justified for the low results you get when doing this exercise as a beginner. It makes much more sense to first acquire a really solid level of strength and when we talk about values, for the squat for example, someone who really wants to work on performance should aim for something around twice their body weight, and that’s achievable over a period of 2 – 3 years.
Yes, so one is the great desire for complexity. Because dancers can do a lot of highly coordinated movements and therefore always feel the need to do a lot. And sometimes one has the idea “A lot helps a lot” in one’s head. There have to be lots of exercises, and there needs to be one more exercise that can bring out something special. The first thing I would recommend is to stay cool and not add all sorts of extras. Instead, focus on the basics and slowly work your way upwards.
The second thing, once you have a little bit of training experience after a few weeks or months, is the issue of intensity. From my perspective, handbrakes are applied too often where they aren’t yet necessary. There is too much fear and too quickly the conclusion “Now I think I’ve had enough”. No, I’d say you haven’t reached your limit at all. That’s why it’s also very important to measure, control and track what you’re actually doing. You will see that from a certain point you won’t be able to get better every single session. It might also happen that you have a dip. But generally, of course, you try to have an upwards trend. And somehow, over several sessions, it then requires an overload. This can simply mean that it gets heavier from session to session, but it may also mean that the training volume increases. Let’s say we always do 3 workouts with 3x 10 squats. And we always do that with 80kg. Then we can possibly add a training stimulus by simply doing 4 rounds instead. Then we have 10 more repetitions per training session and consequently achieve a higher training volume to which the body has to adapt as well.
Wanting to set a lot of stimuli in order to make a movement more interesting is something I also consider problematic. Standing with one leg on a wobble ball, while holding a resistance band and throwing a kettle bell overhead, while still trying to move a barbell off the ground … Yes the demands of dance are complex, it involves a lot of coordination, but for pure strength training the basic exercises are complex enough on their own. And looking for complexity within simplicity will do more for a lot of people.
To understand this better: A squat helps stabilize your back, position your shoulders properly, train your hip flexion and extension, train your knee flexion and extension, train internal and external rotation of the hip, stabilize your arch … This is all already contained in a squat. To learn and improve these already helps a lot. Don’t add too much, don’t scatter too much, don’t do too many exercises. Variety in your workout is fundamentally important, but adding something new every session is way too much. Because then you don’t have a phase where you adapt.
Some dancers are already bored when they do squats twice a week in a row, but we would do this for twelve weeks. And in these twelve weeks we will have a progression. And through that, there’s already enough adaptation and variation. When you first do a squat that takes you to your limit, you’re going very slowly, with very high tension. Which is a different coordinative experience than when you can go relatively easy and move ten times. And these variations alone make a big difference in terms of training. That means you don’t necessarily need to know 30 different exercises, but to discover and learn the variations within one specific exercise, that’s very interesting.
Ok, let’s split that out a little bit. Let’s start with Ballet and the fear that the body mass increases. If you choose the right kind of strength training and you do strength training that is neuronally based and not based on putting on more muscle mass, well, then you don’t put on more muscle mass. Rather, you improve the central nervous control of your muscles and thus become stronger, faster and more stable. And properly performed strength training helps the body to recognize, learn, and improve rhythm, for example. And rhythm refers here to the correct coordination of tension and release.
Everyone knows that the best sprinters in the world are extremely fast, and they can tense their muscles super fast. But what most people don’t know is that they can release their muscles super fast as well. That’s important. Because if they’d push off and contract super hard in order to move their body forward very quickly, and then remained stiffened, then there would be no further movement. But they have to be able to switch from hip flexion to extension very quickly and repeat that over a hundred meters at a very very high pace. This means that the ability to release at a specific moment and then to tense hard again can be optimized. And that’s something that dancers need very often, this alternation between states of tension. And again, the greater the measure of total release to total tension, and the quicker you can access all of that, the greater the range of variation available to you.
Here again, planning plays a very important role. For dancers who are on tour a lot, it is ideal to ensure in the long term that they bring their basic fitness to a high enough level that they can then draw on. That means starting as early as possible to lay a training foundation so that you can then improvise on tour. For one, of course it depends again on the phase you are in. Mostly when you tour for a block of 2 – 4 weeks, that’s a phase where you either directly perform or where you are preparing for a performance. But you’re in a phase where you’re not so much working yourself into fatigue but where you’re working on being able to deliver your maximum performance. This means the long-term planning where you build a good foundation is important. And if you then have a longer block with touring, where you want to set additional training stimuli, you can create adaptations through bodyweight training or training with additional loads via resistance bands. If you are able to transport kettle bells, you can experiment with these. Or you can work with dynamic, ballistic exercises. For example, if you did squats at home, then you can practice squat jump variations. Or single-leg jump variations to even make it more difficult. In this way you can continue to train effectively on tour or achieve some kind of performance peak.
And under certain circumstances a phase might occur where you simply recover. That means you do the groundwork at home or where you have weights available, and then sort of reap the rewards on tour and only train specific movements, and then finally even recover a few days before the performance. Depending on how the rest of the training load is. Then there is a mechanism called delayed adaptation that can take place during relative recovery. So that you reach your fitness peak at the time of the performance instead of still being in the middle of your recovery phase. This is often forgotten. People often train hard until the day of the premiere, which of course sometimes may be necessary. I’ve experienced a couple of situations where for choreographic reasons a complete choreography was overturned on the day of the premiere. Of course that has a completely different, artistic effect. But potentially an artist must be able to adjust to this as well.
If things aren’t quite as adventurous and you can calculate to some extent, or know roughly what you will be doing in the coming three days, it sometimes makes sense to push yourself 2 – 3 days before the first big event, then actively regenerate and recover, keep practicing your stuff, possibly even shift some of the training into mental training and not to everything physically, not completely destroy yourself, but allow enough recovery so that you are fit by the time of the premiere.
Which sometimes takes courage if you’re not used to it. I’ve worked with many very experienced dancers, and they got on my last nerve, because it was unbearable for them to take a break or not train hard the day before the premiere. But after I used all my persuasive talents and was finally able to convince them, they realized that it could actually be done. Where warm-up training didn’t last two hours, and the warm-up training wasn’t two hours prior to the ballet class, but where they warmed up with short intensive exercises and before that they slept in and ate. Real regeneration. And then all of a sudden a performance high popped up, which wasn’t expected. Well it wasn’t expected by the dancers, it definitely was by me.
Of course the question is again: what is our goal? When you first want to build a proper foundation in terms of strength, then bodyweight exercises are sometimes limiting. With some of the exercises you can’t push yourself as much as you can with weights. Finding an equivalent for deadlifts that you can do with body weight is relatively difficult. There aren’t too many options. You can improvise a little bit towards a direction where you can roughly get to the motion sequence, but not to the workload. That means to really increase the basic strength, weight training is advantageous. But then there may be cases where someone is very acrobatic or who is just into it, and who would like to train with body weight. One can then create very high loads through exercises of this type, through calisthenic exercises, as well.
However, this requires on the one hand that you have knowledge about the angles, load levels, etc., and on the other hand this often requires very high coordinative skills, especially when you want to generate a high load. Which is not to say that weight exercises are poorly coordinated, but as an example: Push-ups quickly reach a point where you can’t get more out of them. You then have to change, for example, from two-arm to one-arm push-ups or raise the position fo the feet, which puts then more pressure on the shoulders than on the rest of the target muscles. You could also practice plank push-up variations, where you practically have your legs free in the air, and where you move your upper body or your entire body with your arms. But this requires complex coordination and the ability to keep your legs in the air at all. In other words, this is again a very specific goal. But it could certainly be legitimate if someone would want to incorporate something like that.
I’ve worked with breakdancers who do turtle positions or scorpion figures, who move only on their arms and bring their legs above their body. For them, this is a specific and actually useful training goal, and the are very strong in this specific exercise, and can transfer that to weights with relatively little effort. And therefore both training variants are possible. You just have to take a differentiated look at where you actually want to go.
And that brings me back to my favorite example: the squat. We often have the discussion that someone says you can simply improve your jumps by jumping. That’s what all dancers do and there is no need for anything extra. Which is not fundamentally wrong. It’s true, you can indeed improve your jumps by jumping. But you will also reach a limit at a certain point. That means that you have to think how you can put more of a load on yourself in order to make progress. That’s where you get into things like depth jumps. That means you jump from an elevated position, land, and thereby have an increased load that you can move. However, there is the disadvantage that jumps take place in a very short time. So you should consider that if you really want to prepare well and be safer in the long term, squats offer the opportunity to progressively improve while under controlled slow tension, possibly minimizing or reducing risk of injury. And then you have a very effective measurable improvement. This is also possible with jumps, but for that you measure the height of the jump. In most cases this requires equipment. There’s also a somewhat tricky procedure using certain jump tests where you can see things as well, but less specific or measurable.
In other words, the principle of maximum strength, or later explosive strength that is needed for jumps, can be applied very specifically through squat variations. So if you have the opportunity, and if you have the equipment available, then I do see advantages in weight training. Which is not to say that bodyweight training is bad, or shouldn’t be done, or can’t be effective. Again, it depends on the skill level.
If someone has problems doing push-ups and even has problems in the kneeling variation, which is already very easy, then a preparatory exercise with very small dumbbells might make sense. From which you should then quickly move away and continue to progress. Then you have a phase where you get an effect with kneeling push-ups, then you can stimulate again with regular push-ups, and then you keep increasing like that.
And then you will notice after a while – you would orient yourself on tension times and repetition numbers – if you now manage to do more than 20 push-ups in a row, you can do 30, 40, 50, then the intensity you would need to generate an increase in strength or muscle growth is too low. The conditioning that you then generate would only be an endurance training. Then it depends again on what you are aiming for. If you say you want to get really strong in the upper body, then you either need an additional load for your push-up, someone to lay on top of you, or you need a weight plate on your back, or you would then do bench presses.
The most common thing I see in warm ups are actually a lot of stretching exercises. And sometimes very extensive sessions of that kind. Where you have to question if this is actually a warm up. It’s of course again a specific question as to what exactly you are warming up for. And realistically you have to consider if a warm up of one and a half hours is really a warm up or if it’s not another kind of training. And whether that might possibly be a waste of time. When you have a full day of training, for example on tour, we often said ok, there’s a break where you cool down. The idea that you do your class in the morning and that will keep you warm all day just isn’t true. You will cool down even if you wrap up warm. The pulse goes down, the blood supply changes. This means that when you cool down, you have to warm up again. But then you don’t do a two-hour warm up. But you should consider whether you can create some kind of general warm up. Of course there is the question of what comes next in terms of movement demands. That means you first need a general whole-body warm up, where you need a slight increase in pulse rate and maybe slight onset of sweat production. All major joints should be exercised once, and if we know we have requirements for mobility, then it is recommended to do dynamic mobility exercises.
Static exercises that are held for a long time tend to be counterproductive, except for very specific cases. If you have someone who is very high-stress, very active during a performance and you notice he or she is tensing up, then sometimes it’s good for that person to stretch to lower muscle tone. But that’s just about bringing them down from a state of hyper-excitement. In a normal warm up for flexibility, it’s more like trying to slowly get into your range of motion, and that rather dynamically, because you would be moving rather dynamically in your performance as well. Unless you’re doing something where you’re lying on stage in a split. Then it would make sense to prepare for that statically as well.
In general, this is where goal setting with long-term planning comes into play again. Someone who prepares in general, say at the beginning of a season or at the beginning of his or her career when he or she knows they want to dance, ensures that the level of flexibility needed is there. And that may mean that you first try to get the range of motion through static training. Let’s say we want to have full front and side splits. Then we work on stabilizing that dynamically. That means we’re basically doing strength training within our range of motion. And we often see that many people DO have passive mobility. That is, they sit in a split on the floor, but once they sit they can’t get out again. So it would be a good goal for a dancer to say, I can go into a split without using my hands and I can also get back out of a split without using my hands. This would extremely increase control over mobility and also reduce the risk of injury to the hip, for example.
There are certain measure called corrective stretching. For example, if someone has a particular muscle group that is shortened, and that hinders the person’s performance, it does indeed make sense to lower the muscle tone and increase the range of motion. But in general, passive stretching tends to lower muscle tone to such an extent that you then need to perform activating measures again. That means you tone yourself down in order to tone yourself up again. That doesn’t make too much sense. Instead, you should look at where you want to go in terms of performance.
For one I would work on increasing effectiveness, In the sense that you reduce the amount of time you need so that you can actually use a recovery period as a recovery period. You don’t wanna say my lunch break is from 12pm to 2pm so I do lunch from 12pm to 12:15pm, and then at 12:30 I stretch until 2pm and then I start again. Then one hasn’t recovered. And eating in 15 minutes and going right back is no fun either. That’s where it’s important to have confidence in a method you’ve developed. And to know you can warm up in 10 minutes.
That’s also not unimportant when you’re in a company and you know that there’s a high susceptibility to injury. Or there’s a complicated piece and the risk that maybe a few people drop out and you might have to fill in. Then you can’t warm up for two hours. Then the fear that you’re not warmed up properly is already a brutal factor in increasing your susceptibility to injury. If you can systematically rely on getting warm in 10 minutes, then you will indeed be able to get warm in 10 minutes. And this is a great advantage for your mental practice as well. You know you get in, you warm up, it works. Likewise, if you have to work with different artists or choreographers, where you might realize the person needs a while to get ready. When they come in and you think it’s going to start and it’s taking another hour for something to happen, then you might be able to pace yourself and work on other things. And when you know there’s the signal, the choreographer starts rummaging in her bag, it’s about to start, then you still have 10 minutes to warm up. Then you’re not busy for hours with some sort of pseudo warm up which only tires you further and actually takes you away from what you want to do.
Gefördert durch die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien im Programm NEUSTART KULTUR, Hilfsprogramm DIS-TANZEN des Dachverband Tanz Deutschland.