In dance we’re often told to use our core muscles. To tighten them in order to hold our balance for longer. But the core muscles are also useful in terms of turning and stabilising transfers of weight. As the core muscles can control the force we produce, when turning you want just enough, too much and the turn will become out of control, too little and you won’t have enough strength to turn. On top of this, research has found that strong core muscles decrease the risk of injury to lower extremities, like the legs, in athletes, particularly females (Leetun, et al., 2004). In order to help with this down below I will list a few ways to help increase your core muscle strength.
The number one way to help improve your core stability is by holding the plank for as long as you can. There are quite a few variations on the plank position but within most of them there needs to be a diagonal line between your head and feet. Most commonly we’ll raise the bottom up slightly, but this will take away from work the core needs to do to maintain this position and as such will make the position easier to hold, which will not benefit you as much. Raising the bottom in this fashion will also encourage the back to curve which will not help with posture in the long run. Holding plank position will also give you a good indication of your current core strength and you can use this as a bench mark to see if your training is helping your core improve. I usually get my dancers to do this position on a mat as we tend to do half plank, where the forearms and elbows are on the floor, as I find that this position encourages better form and I see less dipping on the bottom. When doing this with students I tend to make it a competition either between each other or between me and them, seeing who can hold it the longest with the best form.
A nice travelling core muscle builder is what I call the caterpillar walk. You start lying face down on the floor with your forearms by your head, by using your core muscles you bring your legs towards the body folding them underneath. You then slide your upper body and arms forwards, leaving your lower legs where they were brought up to. This action needs to be repeated a lot but it will begin to burn and is probably something that hasn’t been highlighted in many other core exercise workouts. This should not be executed on a carpet though, as it does require a lot of sliding, which could result in carpet burn. Initially I found this through a baby ballet class where we were being worms in the garden and as such it can be implemented in classes from a young age in such a way that they won’t notice they’re doing core exercises.
Another good go-to exercise is 100’s. You lie on your back with your feet planted on the floor, with the knees towards the ceiling. From here you then raise the shoulders off the ground, also raising the arms into a horizontal line. Your mission is then to pump the arms up and down 100 times or for 100 seconds. As it goes on the core strength needed to hold the position will become clear and it will become difficult to get to 100. This is great to add a little bit of competition into a class as well as giving a goal that student can attempt to get to. I think this exercise is particularly good as it keeps you moving and so you can try and distract yourself from the core muscle fatigue by focusing on the arms a little more.
A fourth core strengthening exercise also doubles as a flexibility exercise. This is the cobra position. To turn this into a core strengthening exercise you begin lying face down on the floor with the arms stretched out infront of you. You then lift the arms and the upper body off the ground as far as you can and hold (I usually aim to hold for 3 counts), before lowering back to the floor. Again this is a good active method to core strengthening that isn’t sit-up’s, it should be mentioned that when doing this as a core strengthening exercise I wouldn’t expect students to push their backs into the full stretch they could get to as doing this repetitively could lead to damage.
That’s four exercise that will help you to strengthen your core. Make sure to comment if you try and of these or if you want to find out more about anything dance related. Remember I now have a Facebook page where I share dance related articles and promote the classes I am currently teaching so be sure to like the page to be updated more frequently!