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Top 5 exercises to improve leg strength for dancers

If you're like most dancers you've probably been told at one point or another not to use your quads because it will make your legs bulky. This myth has been punishing dancers, especially ballet dancers for at least the last 60 years.

In a time where choreographers and dance companies are demanding much more physical and at times acrobatic works it is more and more essential that dancers strengthen their legs for the high intensity they put them through daily.

These 5 exercises can be added to any warm up or done in a dedicated workout to improve and bulletproof your legs.

The VMO Squat:

The VMO or Vastus Medialis Oblique muscle runs along the inside of the quadricep and is essential for stabilising the kneecap. This movement is best done on an incline to allow the knees to pass the toes and emphasise the tension on the VMO. If their is a slant board in your studio for calf stretching turn it around and do 5 sets of 5 squats every minute on the minute.

Deep lunge pulse:

In this exercise the front ankle is placed in front of the knee and the back leg is extended as far as possible to the back with the toes tucked. The back knee is then lifted off the floor without the hips moving and 4 small pulses are done for one rep. Again complete 5 sets of 5 reps every minute on the minute. Use this exercise to open up the hip flexor while increasing strength through the range of motion. This will help to keep your hips square in arabesque as your strength improves

Hip flexor raises

If you have ever struggled with increasing your extensions and want a simple exercise to help this is the one. The hip needs to engage to lift the leg past 90 degrees and this exercise will help to strengthen the muscles that stabilise the hip to allow you to do that safely.Start by kneeling on your back leg and extending the other leg to the front. Lean slightly forward while engaging the glute of the leg you are kneeling on. Lift the heel off the ground and hold for 4 seconds then return to the floor. Complete 5 rounds of 5 reps per leg. The exercise can also be done with the front leg turned out for more adductor/inner thigh engagement.

Anterior TIbialis Raises

This one is so important for pointe work, landing from jumps, and protecting yourself from knee and shin injuries. Sit against the wall and walk your feet forward away from the wall. Lift your toes off the ground by flexing the foot as much as you can. By strengthening your anterior tibialis you will be able to better control your landings and will also have much better control coming off of pointe. Plus the stronger your Anterior Tibialis, the less impact your knees will take when landing. Complete 5 sets of 10

The Sissy Squat

Probably the most difficult of the 5 exercises, this exercise will bulletproof your knees in ways no other exercise will. Start at the barre, but eventually do this unassisted. As you bend your knees, allow them to pass your toes as you keep your hips and torso in a straight line going as far as can be maintained with control then returning to the starting position. Complete 5 sets of 5.

Doing these exercises a few times a week and not only will you feel more stable in class, your knees, ankles, hips and shins will thank you for protecting them. I'd love to hear how you go with the exercises and if you would like more guidance send us a message or come see us at the studio for mobility and stability coaching!

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