Dancing Smart Newsletter
February 1, 2008
Greetings! I hope 2008 has gotten off to a fabulous start!
Question of the week…
I have a question about abdominal strength. The studio I teach at recently had several students from another studio move to our studio. It's very apparent that the training they have been receiving at this other studio is sorely lacking. One of the major problems I've run into with them is abdominal strength or lack of it. In ballet, I will tell them to pull up the front of their abdominals, but when I place my hand on their stomachs, I feel nothing. I don't think they even know where or how to engage the abdominal muscles. Besides them doing abdominal strengthening exercises, can you recommend any specific ideas for ballet class?
Thank you, Sarah
Excellent question, Sarah! I want to first say that even when dancers do sit ups or crunches on a daily basis it doesn't necessarily mean they will use them efficiently during the dance class.
I'd like to first remind everyone that the only thing a muscle can do is contract. It can do a shortening contraction (concentric), lengthening contraction (eccentric) or isometric contraction, which stays the same length. When you are doing a crunch or sit-up, the abdominals are doing a shortening contraction – in other words – the two ends of the muscles are coming closer together.
If you are lying on your back knees bent and lifted towards your chest, and then slowly drop your toes to touch the ground, doing a leg lowering, you are doing an eccentric contraction.
If you are standing still or sitting in a car and engage your abdominals, you are doing an isometric contraction because the distance between the two ends of the muscle aren't changing.
I teach my students that if they learn how to engage their abdominals properly in standing and in movement, they won't need to do umpteen sit-ups as a part of their training. Have your dancers stand easily in first or parallel position. Have them imagine they are lacing up their abdominals as they do their shoes. Have them place one hand below the belly button so they can feel the abdominal wall drawing up and inwards – while their other hand is just below the sternum, which is the area where the ribs come together in front. The area just below the sternum should be relatively soft as they need to continue to breath easily and effortless while they are using their abdominals.
Too many students engage their abdominals so fiercely it is as if they have put an invisible belt around their waists and have cinched it closed. The first time they need to take a deep breath in they lose their abdominal support.
I'm not opposed to doing extra strengthening for that area – it might help them become aware of the state of their abdominals. Half sit-ups or sit backs, leg lowering, and any of the Pilates exercises are excellent for getting them in touch with their abdominals. Slouching alignment and poor sitting habits outside of class promote weak abdominals.
The challenge is that good abdominal usage in dance means good coordination between their breath and their core strength. Once they understand that using your abdominals doesn't mean the whole area is rock-hard will help them engage them more appropriately.
On with the dance!
"Education is the key to injury prevention"