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Guys in Ballet
What Weights/Gym Exercises Have Helped You Most?
By doctor1 Comments: 26, member since Fri Sep 30, 2005
On Mon Aug 08, 2016 08:16 AM

My schedule allows me more time at the gym than in classes, and I was wondering what weights/calisthenics exercises have given the most benefit for ballet. My biggest weaknesses are balance and pirouettes. The past few months I've worked hard on calf strength, going from being able to do only 3-4 single leg calf raises to 12-15 without too much difficulty. This has helped my balance in retire passe, but it doesn't seem to have helped my turns all that much. So, I'm wondering if there are other gym exercises that have helped dancers in this department.

4 Replies to What Weights/Gym Exercises Have Helped You Most?

re: What Weights/Gym Exercises Have Helped You Most?
By Storm_Trouper Comments: 808, member since Mon May 21, 2012
On Tue Aug 09, 2016 02:17 PM
Edited by Storm_Trouper (249942) on 2016-08-09 14:31:50
Edited by Storm_Trouper (249942) on 2016-08-09 14:51:56
Re single calf raises...
- how long have you been holding the releve position for each time you rise? How long is your endurance sustained raised in 3/4 demi pointe? (I believe it might be better to do fewer releves but held for longer (3 seconds?))
- have you tried going on releve while holding a dumbell or other weight (e.g. 5kg, 10lb) close to your hips? I found this overload training helpful.

I think that for accomplishing turning, well developed static calf strength and endurance in 3/4 demi pointe is one key component; but there are other important, inter-dependent elements as well; such as developed ... torso, shoulder-arm and neck-head placement (as well as neck flexibility for efficient spotting), and stability of all of the various turn out muscles... throughout the dynamics of revolving.

Therefore, any gym routines which improve your placement from head to toes are going to help your turns (so back strength, neck strength, abdominal strength, lats/delts, etc.). IOW its not just good calf and leg strength that gets you through turns, they're important, but its a whole combination of elements that I think leads to greater success in turning.

Outside of classes, I have found practicing turning (in a gym or room with hardwood flooring) was the best way for me to find and improve 'getting over / on top of my leg' (finding the consistent balance position or sweet spot, so the proprioception of correct, consistent muscles engagement from toes to head).

Incidentally, the first single-leg turn I was able to master - prior to mastering pirouettes en dehor and en dedans - was the pique (pose) tour... I think because it is a series of travelling turns; (so there is a forward momentum factor involved, unlike pirouettes. It's easier to balance on a bicycle that is moving forward than one that is standing still, sort of a rough analogy.) And also because I had to grow aware of weight shifts from leg to leg, and getting 'on' the supporting or pivot leg while the other leg moves through retire passe. Ironically, guys aren't 'supposed' to do piques as some claim it is more of a ladies' technique. Nonetheless, it was instrumental to my figuring out and appreciating what turning mechanics are all about, which led to my figuring out other types of turns subsequently, like soutenu, chaine, a la second, etc. That was just me however; its probably different for other people.

How many turns are you doing? Single, double, triple? Both inwards and outwards?

I found using a balance board on 3/4 demi pointe was a fun way to work on fine muscle adjustments to maintain balance, in retire and low arabesque, close to a wall or column where I can place my hands for support (like a vertical barre) and then try to let go.

I've found lunging with dumbells to be helpful too.
Kettle bells and medicine balls for partner lift substitutes work nicely.
re: What Weights/Gym Exercises Have Helped You Most?
By doctor1 Comments: 26, member since Fri Sep 30, 2005
On Wed Aug 10, 2016 02:08 PM
Thanks - I think your suggestion to do calf raises with weights and hold 3/4 demi pointe for a few seconds will help. I still tire at the barre when holding that position. I do that occasionally at the end of calf raise sets, but probably not enough.

I have a similar experience with turns - I can do pique turns all day, and en dedans pirouettes are much easier for me compared to en dehor. I can do those pretty well. En dehor from fourth are hit-or-miss. If I do one decent turn it is because of luck...and from fifth position I consistently fall right out of the turn. I only to singles at this point - I've never tried doubles.

I've done some other reading this week, and believe that in fourth I have too much of my weight on the back foot, and that keeps me from getting up and over. I also think my head might lean into the turn, causing me to fall out of en dehors turns most of the time I try them. So, I'm going to work on these two things, and maybe go back to repeated 1/2 turns and 3/4 turns and get the basics under control.

I don't have great turnout - I work on it, but it doesn't seem to improve. I can do almost 180 degrees with butterfly or "froggy" stretches, but when legs straighten my legs rotate back in. I know I can't expect much (starting as an adult) but I would like to still get better. Any suggestions for adult turnout improvement?
re: What Weights/Gym Exercises Have Helped You Most?
By Storm_Trouper Comments: 808, member since Mon May 21, 2012
On Thu Aug 11, 2016 12:20 PM
You raised some interesting points.

(If you desire broader feedback, then post your questions in 'beginner' rather than 'guys' since there is a larger number of people who can respond and provide perspective. Some are teachers. You know this already probably :) Sometimes it's nice to get a guy's adult beginner perspective, however.)

Re turnout improvement... Clamshells exercise seem to have helped me to strengthen my turnout abductors I have found. (I try to do as many reps as possible on each side quickly to failure, then try to do even a few more very slowly, in order to build muscle mass and therefore strength.)

Some gyms have machines for strengthening the hip ADuctors, that I use for stretching my ABductors... where you are seated and your knees are pressed apart (to 180 even, forced apart), like frogs or butterflies but with a gentle, adjustable outwards pressing force. (Like that gimmicky Thigh Master contraption).

Developes where you concentrate on turning out both the supportng and gesturing legs focuses your mind on recruiting, engaging and sustainng the muscles for turnout while standing on one leg.

For en dehors and all turns, I mentioned placement. But I didn't talk about pull up or lift, with open, proud chest. This concept is related to strength and stability of the torso (abs, back), shoulders-arms and head-neck, however. If you don't pull up as if there's a vertical puppet string pulling your head skywards and you don't get over your supporting leg while in retire, then inevitably you will fall out of your turn or lose the axis of rotation on 3/4 demi pointe, I have found. It is sometimes said you think 'press down to go up' meaning there is oppositional forces, like flexible steel cable or rebar once stretched under high tension becomes very taut and iron rod like. (Guys would maybe relate to this mechanical engineering analogy more?) So when you go up on releve 3/4 demi retire to rotate en dehors, think of turning your head-to-toes into a rigid, iron rod through pulling up your torso and bracing your shoulders and arms so they are firm and fixed.

And then find your leg: centre of gravity in your torso is positioned ONLY directly over the pivot point on the floor (ball of your foot of 3/4 demi). As you rotate, you have to maintain the pull up and remain over the pivot spot and stay balanced directly over it. If your torso muscles aren't conditioned well enough you cant maintain the precise posture as easily as if they are I found.

RAD beginners start en dehors from 5th or 3rd, not from 4th or 2nd. And only 1/4 turns at a time where you releve retire without turning from 5th then repeat the prep bit add a 1/4 rotation. I believe this helps with finding one's leg more cleanly than by prepping from 4th derriere when first learning piros en dehors, There's a partial demi plier to get up on to the supporting legs, and only 1/4 impetus rotation force to worry about. So the initial training emphasis is on verticality and correct pull up rather than rotating.

The head-neck should be directly vertically over the supporting leg thigh-calf when looking into the mirror, which requires strong hip joint stability through the turn. That's my analytical experience at least through lots of trial and error, detection-correction. I found that my turns (attempts) sucked until I had developed the requisite strength in the head to toes muscle chain.

I finally pulled off a clean double the other day :) (en dehors) it's just a matter of conditioning I think. It comes easier to some than to others I guess. I am not a fast to learn turner, for sure.
re: What Weights/Gym Exercises Have Helped You Most?
By Storm_Trouper Comments: 808, member since Mon May 21, 2012
On Thu Aug 11, 2016 12:57 PM
I thought of smthg else that might be helpful for your piros...

How strong are your hip flexors, particularly iliopsoas? They help to stabilize your retire gesture leg, maintaining the raised, turned out thigh. If your retire is unstable this can cause your centre of gravity to shift so balance equolibrium over the pivot point is lost (falling out of the clean rotation).

There are gym exercises and cross training to strengthen hip flexors. Like when your torso is vertical and you raise your straight legs to pike position and lower them, repeatedly. I couldn't do 2 initially but now am up to 25-35.