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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Does ballet weaken quads?


psavola

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I recently noticed (I spontaneously went to lift some weights with a friend) that I've lost a lot of strength in quads after starting to do ballet seriously. I used to have decent quad/tigh strength. Then 3 years ago I got more serious about ballet and dropped gym as that took time, was much less fun and did not feel very useful. I reasoned ballet class would keep my general leg strength up. It didn't. Now I've suddenly got ridiculously weak quads. An average non-exercising jane off the street had much better quad strength than me. :blushing: I'm used to perceiving myself as rather fit, so this was quite a surprise.

 

So now I am trying to figure out wheter having little quad strength is a problem, and if I should do something about it. I have no special bent-knee problems in ballet; my technique is improving, although my teachers have commented I need more strength in the legs and torso. However, I've strained a hamstring twice :shrug: during the past year. My hamstrings also have also gotten overstretched very easily lately - they used to be able to take pretty much anything. (although that might also be explained by the strains)

 

So my questions are:

 

1. Is having weak quads generally a problem in ballet?

 

2. Can weak quads predispose a hyper-extended dancer to an injury? Especially hamstring injuries?

 

3. Are two strains a year a lot? A little?

 

4. Have some people on this board had similar experiences of losing quad strength while dancing? Opposite experiences? :blink:

 

Honestly puzzled, :huh:

Päivi

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I'm definitely not an expert on this subject so my answer is only from my personal experience as a ballet student. You may get more qualified answers from the moderators and other more experienced people.

 

It may be that your strength has become more balanced throughout your whole leg than just in your quadriceps. I would say that normally, ballet will not strengthen those muscles in isolation of others unless you are doing the same moves repeatedly, like grand battements. You may notice a loss in strength in those particular muscles but are gaining strength in other leg muscles to become more balanced and stretched overall. I'm not sure if I'm making sense. There are so many uses of muscles in your legs and pelvis and gluteus in ballet and those muscles, which may be harder to assess directly, may be getting stronger. Yes, your teacher may see that you need to work on your core and leg strength, but I would guess that she or he is not focusing on your quadricept muscles directly in making that statement. In fact, if you are hyper extended she may be talking about strengthening the backs of your legs and into your hip to pull you up and off of your knees to lengthen the line of your leg. I have recently been given this correction from a teacher I respect and it has indeed helped with my alignment and balance.

 

Not to worry, though, with lots of ballet classes and practice your legs will be beautiful and strong, even if your quads are not as strong as you would like. Give it time. There are plenty of advanced ballet moves and jumps that require definite quad strength and in practicing them you will get strong in that area. Think of it as becoming a more balanced and stretched strong body.

 

Also, if you've had an injury you may not be using your legs correctly and have lost some strength because you are protecting yourself. Or, it could be that you are still learning how to use your legs and hold yourself over them and your hyperextension, although very beautiful in an extended leg, tends to make you weaker in the knees while landing jumps and holding balances and so leads to more injuries. There is a fine balance to find there and it takes eagle eyes in your instructors and learning how the wrong and right way feels before you learn which muscles your particular body needs to strengthen to hold you in a correct posture.

 

Once again, I'm not an expert but I hope that helps. :shrug:

 

Candi

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:huh:

 

Psavola, You might also try asking that friend to balance in passe or say, execute a grand jete en tournant. You could show them what you have gained even in your loss of strength. They will be left feeling like the weak one after you wow them with your ballet virtuosity!

 

Showing off can do great things for the ego! :shrug:

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Nice work, Candi :shrug: I agree with you, and will only add that I think the loss of strength is probably due to the injuries. While the quads will not be as strong as they would from weight lifting, they don't have to be. But they do have to be strong enough to help control the hyperextension. It is indeed a balancing act, and my guess is that your body is changing and adjusting to a totally different form of exercise, and that you are getting more stretch, or will, once the hamstrings are strong. Most dancers have to work harder at strengthening the hamstrings than the quads! We spend so much time stretching them, but they do tend to get weak sometimes.

 

Be very careful with your stretching, especially before class. Warm up those hamstrings really well before you do ANY extension stretching.

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Päivi,

Are you absolutely sure that you are straining your hamstrings (diagnosed by a ballet doctor---MD or DC?)

 

I have pain that could be misconstrued as a hamstring pull, but it's not. It's some major SI joint dysfunction and ligament damage. The hamstrings themselves are fine. But I can't stretch my leg or bend over. The hamstrings KILL, but there's nothing wrong with them.

 

If you have a loose construction (which you probably do seeing as how you have hyperextended knees) you may be prone to joint injuries, which can mimic other conditions like muscle pulls. Strengthening specific areas will help...but you need to get a good doctor/physical therapy team going. Or else you're just guessing, be it informed or not...

 

The pirformis is your main rotator muscle. We use it a lot in ballet. And it can really make you miserable if it gets over-worked or strained. The sciatic nerve lies right alongside it. That nerve goes all the way down your leg and can cause symptoms of pain in a lot of places.

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spinbug, Ms. Leigh,

 

Thank you for your input. My basic body alignment has definitely been getting better in the past few years. It's good to know I won't need to worry about my quads. :rolleyes: I can worry about my hamstrings instead. :)

 

lampwick,

 

No, I'm not absolutely sure. The first time I went to a PT who used to be a ballet dancer and got the diagnosis from there. (I know it is not an official diagnosis that way, but most of the doctors here are pretty useless for dance purposes.) The second time felt pretty close to first one except less serious, so I did not even bother to go anywhere. Not perhaps the smartest move?

 

What is a MD or DC? Are they abbreviations of spesific doctor specialization fields? (I'm sorry, English is not my native language)

 

I do have a generally loose conctruction - pretty much every single joint in my body is hypermobile to at least some degree, and some of them, like hips, spine and shoulders are way out of the norm. (I would probably have made a fine contortionist. :wacko: )

 

Päivi

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Does ballet weaken the quads? The answer is yes, no, and has no effect—all three. It totally depends on your reference point.

 

If your reference point for strength is based on gym work (e.g., weigh training exercises like squats) the answer is yes ballet does weaken the quads, not because of the inherent nature of ballet, but because you are either doing much less weight training (substituting ballet for weight training) or because you are trying to do both at a high level and that is fatiguing the legs resulting in a loss of strength.

 

If your reference point for strength is the “person in general,” that is the untrained individual, the answer is no. Ballet will strengthen the quads, as exercised muscle is almost always stronger than unexercised muscle.

 

If your reference point for strength is a generally fit person (but one who doesn’t weight train), the answer is that ballet has no effect. From strictly a physiological point of view, the quads are just exercising in a ballet class.

 

One other technical point has to do with what you mean by strength. In other words, how you measure your strength. One way is to count the maximum weight one can do a leg extension through a complete range of motion. Another way is to take a moderate weight and count how many reps you can perform in a leg extension exercise. Yet another way is to do any kind of jump (vertical or horizontal) and measure the result. If you measure strength by jumping, ballet will surely improve quad strength almost no matter what you do as long as the muscles are not fatigued. Allegro is superb training for that type of quad strength.

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For me, there has been a strong correlation with ballet and weaker quads. Whenever I do ballet only for a while and then return to jazz or folk, the quads are soooo weak. Ballet doesn't seem to keep up the strength required to work in parallel plie :D

 

For someone who wants to do mainly ballet, this is probably no problem at all :)

 

I've had to work on quad strength so as to protect my knees. I have a funky bone structure, and the kind of knock-kneed, somewhat hyperextended build that seems to predispose one to thunder thighs. It has been very important for me to build up strength in the inner quads, the vastus medialis, to balance out the muscles and get the kneecap to track correctly. Anyway, it seems to me that weight training, esp. with a leg extension machine, is not very useful for dance anyway, since it won't develop proprioception and control the way free weights or other exercises do.

 

My favorite quad exercise is a sort of small squat -- feet parallel, hip width so that legs are absolutely perpendicular to the floor, then slowly bend the knees, leaning forward with the torso, feeling the inside of the leg strongly pulled up. Keep the heels down and don't let the knees bend further than a straight angle. Straighten up, feeling the heels push through the floor to engage the hamstrings and buttocks. (It seems that this exercise has helped me to get rid of my thunder thighs.. of couse combined with ballet, lots of stretching, and learning to control my hyperextension :blink: )

 

But I digress.

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Guest Cojack

I take class two times per week, for the past four years. About six months ago I noticed my quads seemed weak, in fact weaker than they had been before. It was as if the rest of my legs wanted to do movements a certain way, but when it came time for the quads to kick in and do their part, they failed. The result was I could not raise my leg as high, for example.

 

I talked to my instructor about this, specifically asking if I was perhaps doing something wrong that might be causing this. She didn't think so. But she offered a quad strengthening exercise, which has helped a lot. Since then she also asked me to start thinking more about my turnout; for instance, being conscious of my inner thighs as I pull my legs in to close. This correction has been too recent for me to say whether it will affect my quad strength, but it does seem to be working my legs a bit differently, as I feel sore in new places.

 

FYI, the strengthening exercise my instructor recommended is this: Sit on floor with legs extended straight out in front of you, feet flexed, back straight. Turn out your legs to first position (as if standing, but you're sitting). Lift one leg at a time up and down. Can also be done moving the each leg in circles, inward and outward. I found this exercise to be very effective; it targeted my muscle right where it seemed to be weak.

 

Cheers,

Cojack

Edited by Cojack
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