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Irish - Technique & Training
Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By Riverbuddy Comments: 13, member since Fri Jul 03, 2009
On Sat Jan 29, 2011 08:57 PM
Edited by Riverbuddy (213531) on 2011-01-29 20:58:30

Hello,
So I recently started taking a ballet class just so I can look at technical training from a different stand point.
I personally think that enough emphasis isn't given to proper fundamental preparation for irish dancing before we are thrown head first into it. I've been thinking more lately about about proper technique and body usage. And taking this ballet class and reading some threads over at the ballet section of dance.net got me thinking. What I can say is that I'm rather confused now!
So for a long time I thought that building up my upper legs muscles aka my quads was the way to improve my leaps and jumps etc. However now that I have looked into it a little bit more I've been hearing that it really isn't your quads that give you the support to hold your leg up and give you lift. Yes I know that a strong core is vital to balance and overall good form when dancing. However after reading the thread called "Strong legs" in the Guys Ballet section of the Ballet part of dance.net, I have just lost all sense of what level of strength in your quads is actually necessary and exactly what is the role of your quads in jumps/leaps? According to greenpumpkin from that thread, "You should be holding your legs up using muscles like the psoas, deep inside your pelvic region. The quads are mainly for holding up your knee cap and keeping your knee straight."
I'm guessing the same idea pertains to irish dancing? If anyone could help clarify I would be very greatful. I started going to the gym recently to do more leg strengthening with lunges, squats, leg raises. Now I'm wondering if I'm taking the wrong approach to all of this. I don't feel so confident now about how to best approach my training. I thought I had it figured out.

13 Replies to Confused About Quad Strength Relavence

re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By seannettaPremium member Comments: 2312, member since Fri Jul 28, 2006
On Sun Jan 30, 2011 08:25 AM
Well, from my personal experience of ID I can say that my hamstrings and calf muscles are what I use most. And, yes, my abs to keep me straight. But try to think of this a different way: not "what single muscle group will give me better jumps?", but rather "what overall muscle groups can I strengthen to give me the best balance?"

Because balance is what you should be after here. Even if ID makes more use of a particular muscle group, you should be aiming to strengthen the other muscle groups so that you stay strong overall.

Here's an example. I injured my knee while dancing a while back. Turns out it was because my quads are underdeveloped in relation to my other leg muscles, and my kneecap wasn't tracking properly as a result.

Or how about this example - I have terrible shin splints too, and one cause is having overdeveloped calf muscles without properly strengthening the muscles long the shin bone.

So what I'm getting at here is: yes, your quads are important. So are your abs, your shins, your hamstrings, your hips...I'd advise against looking for a specific muscle group that will make you a better dancer, and aim for a balanced whole-body strengthening routine instead. Even better if you could get a physio or a trainer to design one for you.
re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By cmdc Comments: 3084, member since Sat Jun 02, 2007
On Sun Jan 30, 2011 08:28 AM
In ballet when lifting your leg for something like a grande battement, you are not supposed to grip with your quads, you are supposed to push from underneath the leg, more so with the hamstring. This can be quite difficult because our first instinct is to grab with the quad.

The movements we perform in Irish are quite different than ballet and at times you will find conflicting information in either class. In ballet when you jump, you start from a plie, jump, end in plie. Not the case in ID. Just with that difference, your muscles will develop quite differently.

I would definitely work on strengthening your knees, and with that the quads. It will help prevent high impact injuries with ID. Stronger muscles = less injury in many cases.
re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By hummingbird Comments: 10414, member since Mon Apr 18, 2005
On Sun Jan 30, 2011 08:52 AM
Greenpumkin is talking about leg placement from a ballet perspective.

In Irish you land your jumps with a totally different technique, in Ballet you land with the hips, knees and ankles flexed and the heels on the ground, in Irish you don't do this, you flex very slightly and perform what a ballet dancer would describe as a double bounce straight back up onto three quarter pointe with very little flexation of the joints of the leg.

When you do this your quad (and your calfs) are taking the strain from the landing to compensate for the lack of flex through the joints. So an Irish dancer is going to have a different muscle mass in their legs than a ballet dancer because they have to to cope with the different technique.
re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By dancingbarista Comments: 101, member since Sat Oct 09, 2010
On Sun Jan 30, 2011 10:09 AM
Edited by dancingbarista (226879) on 2011-01-30 10:10:35
in reference to greenpumpkin's quote that "The quads are mainly for holding up your knee cap and keeping your knee straight"
I've heard something similar to this from my physical therapist and my doctors. My kneecaps have a painful tendancy to come out of joint/dislocate so my pt's solution was to work with me on strengthening my quads enough so that me knee can't slip out any more. so fare it's worked so i would say that at least one function of the quads is to hold the kneecap.
re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By Riverbuddy Comments: 13, member since Fri Jul 03, 2009
On Mon Jan 31, 2011 10:23 PM
Thanks for the help guys!

A lot of you talked about the importance of the quad to protect the knee. I can relate to that right now. I'm having knee problems right now that are really holding me back, particularly in my left knee. And after seeing a PT, I was told that I need to improve my quad and inner thigh strength aswell as work on stretching my IT band and hamstrings. I think a combination of weaker quads and flexibility are causing a great strain in my knee. And as such I've been trying to work on my upper leg strength and flexibility.

The reason I asked my question initially was because I was trying to figure out exactly what was going on with my knee. I knew that I had to work on quad strength but I also wanted to make sure that it wasn't something that I was technically doing wrong that was taking an unnecessary toll on my knee. So correct me if I'm wrong but I should still be flexing through the upper leg during jumps and leaps whilst harnessing strength from my core at the same time, right?

Would you guys have a recommendation for what a realistic goal would be for dancing and cross training with strengthening/cardio. Ideally yes I would like to do everything every day but that won't realistically work for me. How many days a week should I be working on strengthening the quad if I really want to start to see a change in my knee issues. I'm sure many can relate but it drives me off the wall when I can't spend more than about 30 mins 3 or 4 days a week dancing before the knee pain starts to really get to me.
re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By ID_Addict Comments: 1173, member since Tue Dec 15, 2009
On Tue Feb 01, 2011 06:57 AM
To answer your question about working on strengthening your quads to fix your knee issues: I would say do a few exercises every day. You mentioned you'd seen a PT, so did they give you any specific exercises to do? If so you should do those every day. If they didn't give you specific exercises, maybe you should ask your PT for more advice because you don't want to do anything that will put more strain on the knee while you're trying to fix it.
Also, make sure that you are actually ok to dance (I mean is it an injury that should be treated with rest and physio, or is it just a general weakness that can be fixed with strengthening exercises in addition to dancing?)
Good luck and I hope I've helped a bit.
re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By PogMoGilliesmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 3157, member since Tue Apr 24, 2007
On Tue Feb 01, 2011 07:57 AM
When we've worked with a PT to give our school exercises to help us left and leap higher, the illiah psoas (sp?) was mentioned. This is the small muscle that is at the top of the leg, going into the groin/abdomen. When you lift you leg turned out, this is the muscle you use.
As the others have said, your quad helps you to keep your leg straight, your calves and muscles in your feet are what make us jump, and your hamstrings are what enable you do pull your leg up behind, or in for things like double ups a d bicycles
re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By EireLibramember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 2482, member since Thu Aug 21, 2003
On Tue Feb 01, 2011 08:49 AM
Great Responses!!!

While I'm not an expert by any means, I would guess that ballet dancers focus on quad strength a bit more than Irish dancers because they demi-plie (bend the knees) more when they prepare for big jumps. The quad is definitely used more when you're allowing yourself to bend your knees. Irish dancers aren't supposed to sink that low as we prep for jumps, but keep our legs as straight as possible and be high on our toes, so we use more ankle/calf/hamstring/core strength to achieve our jumps.
re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By dancingbarista Comments: 101, member since Sat Oct 09, 2010
On Tue Feb 01, 2011 09:34 AM
Riverbuddy-- I've had the same problem of trying to balance pt exercises with my desire to get back into actual dancing. After I first saw my pt, i took a break from dancing and just focused on my exercises. In my case,dancing wasn't really an option because I really didn't want my knee to come out again and also I had tendonitis in my knee from the whole shallow kneecap issue. I had to go to my pt for about 2 monthes, twice a week for a 30 min routeen of stretching/strengthening. at the end of two monthes she put together a sheet of exercises & stretches and made sure I knew how to do them properly. I now try to spend about the same amount of time (30 ming), doing my assigned exercises. I try to do this every other day but it's really more like every 2 or 3 days/week. So to answer your questions here's what I would say. 1) if you pt hasn't already, ask for exercises/streatches. 2)I would say take a break from dancing for a few weeks but again, ask you pt. if you pt says no dancing, ask if you can do cardio like working out on a stationary bike or the like.

best of luck in your recovery!
re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By Kirvin3member has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 822, member since Tue Jul 01, 2008
On Tue Feb 01, 2011 11:16 AM
PogMoGillies: The muscle you have in mind is the ilio-psoas. The quadriceps are the main muscles (4 of them actually - thereby QUADricep) on the front of the thigh. Tehy all basically work together and their main job is to straighten the knee, and to a lesser extent help flex the hip and help the patella (kneecap) track in its groove on the end of the femur (upper thigh bone). The patella is actually partially burried inside of the tendon, only the inside surface is not covered by the quad tendon. This is why "unbalanced" quads affect patellar tracking.

As others have said, in Irish Dance the calves produce more of the force to jump because we don't bend the knees much to jump. You need strong calves, quads and core for power, and balance with the other muscles (buttocks, hamstrings and front of calf muscles) to prevent other damage/overuse injuries.

Hope this helps some, I am a physical therapist and Irish Dancer.
re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By Riverbuddy Comments: 13, member since Fri Jul 03, 2009
On Fri Feb 04, 2011 04:27 PM
Yes I have been given exercises by my PT. I haven't been sticking to them all the time. I've been using different exercises as well that target the same muscles. Basically I was given exercises for the quad, inner thigh, outer thigh, and IT band and stretching exercises as well for the legs.

Sometimes I question if my knee is well enough to dance on. Sometimes I think I'm just being wimpy and that the pain realistically isn't that much. But then sometimes I feel like I may be too hard on myself and set unrealistic expectations. I guess I've just been through so much with leg issues that I'm also just getting mentally worn out by the idea that I may never be able to live up to my goals. I'm currently a prizewinner and I'm trying to bridge the gap between prizewinner and prelim. This is no easy gap to bridge as I'm sure many know. I just feel like I'm disappointing myself and this knee injury is just holding me back.
I did take about a month off in December from dancing. I just did cardio and strength stuff during that time. But the pain came back like before not too long after I started dancing again.
re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By dancingbarista Comments: 101, member since Sat Oct 09, 2010
On Fri Feb 04, 2011 08:12 PM
Riverbuddy, I think you and I are in the same boat. I too feel frustrated and slightly depressed by my injuries (I have a pt apointment tomorrow). Know that you're not alone :). As fare as the pain, don't do what i've done in the past and not target the problem areas enough before starting up dance again. I found that I was so anxious to start dancing again that I wouldn't really take enough time to let the pt exercises take affect and then i'de end up injuried again. It kind of became a yo-yo cycle of not taking long enough to transition back into dance = more time out injured. I've been out of dance for about 6 monthes because this time i really want to make sure that I'm ready to start back. So my advice would be to not rush things (trust me, i know this is hard!).
re: Confused About Quad Strength Relavence
By MeBeemember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 521, member since Wed Mar 02, 2011
On Sat Mar 26, 2011 08:14 PM
You never want to focus on just ONE muscle group, thats how things get out of whack. You have to remember that your muscles are ALL connected, you have to think of them that way. If you have great quad strength but terrible foot/ankle/calf strength, you're not going to get the height you want for dance.

A balanced, strong leg (and core/back!) is essential for dancing, not just one particular muscle group.

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