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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Leg and thigh muscles


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Good question, agggnesss. I have the same question myself. I started ballet for the first time in Jan 2007, but have been weight lifting for many years now. When I spoke abt this with my ballet teacher, she commented to lighten the bar-bell weights. She commented that shortening my muscles with my weight training runs counter to the lengthening that ballet does. My quads look like a petite American football player's :angry:.


To the ballet teachers and experts: I am well past 35, and will never see a professional ballet career. But owing to my advancing age :( , I really like to keep my muscles and bones strong. I do weight training 2X a week. For my thigh and leg muscles, I do 30 lbs on the barbell and also 8-lb dumbbells. For my chest, I use 20 lbs on the barbell and 5 or 8 lb-dumbbells. For my biceps and triceps, I use 5 or 8-lb dumbbells and 10 lbs on the barbell.


Having said all that, what do you recommend I do about my weight training and the heaviness of the weights that I should use, short of eliminating this workout all-together?

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Agnes, most of us ballet teachers really do not have a lot of knowledge about weight lifting. We do know that it can be counter-productive for female ballet dancers, for the reasons you state above. Therefore, if you wish to lengthen the muscles, the weights would have to stop, IMO. However, I am not an expert in this area.

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:) Thank you, Victoria. I was really hoping that I would not have to stop the leg and thigh weight training. But you are of the same opinion as my teacher :P .


Any other comments out there? How about reducing the weights, and by how many lbs. as an option? Without ballet in the picture, the numbers that I provided can actually increase, just because my muscles have gotten stronger since I last upped the weights.





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This is a really great question!!

I don't do weight training - but I do ride a stationary bike every day. Does that have negative effects by chance?

Sorry to lump another question onto yours, Agnes!!

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No prob, ineluctability. There is another post "Arm/shoulder exercises, sort of a two-in-one question" that I also replied to. You might find the posts to that one of value as well.

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Agnes, you're going to have to lighten up considerably on the weights if you want to elongate muscles. Ballet works to do the latter, but weight trainings tend to make for "piano legs". Another thing to consider is genetics. How do the other women in your family look in the leg department? If they tend to the short and blocky, you may be fighting a real losing action here.

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Victoria and Mel, your comments serve only to reinforce what my teacher already told me. Thank you for your inputs. I'll reduce the barbell weights to 15 lbs. For sure, that alone will remove the pronounced quads that I now have.


Mel, my genetics is actually quite good. I am the runt in a long line of women with average height (5'4" - 5'9"), but telephone-pole looking legs. Then again, I am the sole weight lifter in the clan.


One more question, will, if at all, lengthened thigh muscles help me increase the lift of my battements? Currently, front/side/rear are all slightly above 90 degrees.

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Agnes, good news on the genes! Now as to extension, remember if you're doing a developpé or a grand battement, what you're doing essentially is deploying a crane! Think of the image. If your calf muscle in particular is less bulky, it will make the extension easier.

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I do weight training since years. I had to start because of backproblems and I asked my chiro and my boyfriend (physio) if it would harm my ballet training. None of them really could help me because they dont know too much about ballet but my boyfriends meant it would be okay as long as I stretch the muscles so that they don't get unflexible. My balletteacher thinks that it would be good...


I work with less weight but I do more repetitions (10-25) and I don't think that my dancing was harmed since then...

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Last night, I reduced my leg barbell weights by half to 15 lbs. The good thing abt that was on both lunges and squats (plies a la seconde, really), I was able to come down lower, which stretched my quads (lunge) and my hamstrings (squats) more than when I was doing heavier weights. And I tried to not sit on my hips on the squats, so it really was akin to plies a la seconde.


I think I will keep this setup for the time being to reduce the little bulk that I do have on my quads. And like you Claude, I stopped having lower back aches since I started weight training years ago.


Luckily for me, my calf muscles are shapely, but definitely not bulky, so I don't have to worry about those.

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I do squats to increase the power of my glutes and hamstrings for jumping. There are different ways to position yourself on the smith machine when doing squats so that your quads and lower back aren't taking the brunt of the load. Make sure you check your form if you are feeling it a lot in your quads. Also make sure your weight is on your heels. Squats have been my saving grace for powerful jumps.

With the dancers I train, I only have them do leg extension or "leg barbell" to strengthen their surrounding knee muscles...I never have them use more than 20 lbs. (Of course this may vary depending on the type of equipment.)

From my personal experience, I was able to actually lengthened out my look by weight training. However, I am a certified trainer and know exactly what to do to accomplish this...had I just gone into the gym not knowing what to do, I may not have been so lucky! There are more dancers weight training these days than you think...especially in the larger companies such as NYCB.

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The older I get the more I realize how important strengthening is for we older folk. And for dance people who believe weight training is going to turn you into a draft horse, let me give a counter example—Twyla Tharp. In her mid 60s, she’s quite a weight trainer and gym rat and has been for quite some time. She says she does her gym work so that she can dance, no longer on stage but while developing her choreography.


Females listen up—to get any kind of real muscle size from weight training you have to train seriously hard, as in hours at the gym pushing yourself like mad. And if you want to get the really big muscles, you had better find a source for testosterone, pretty much a requirement for big muscles.


Weight training is an excellent fitness activity. Having said that, I really don’t think it affects your ballet one way or another. Do it if you enjoy it. Don’t feel you must weight train either.


It is true that people who do a lot of intense weightlifting do develop what we would call a “tight” muscle quality. But those same people weight train intensely and do minimal stretching. Dance people who weight train generally don’t weight train that intensely and do a lot of stretching.


For the dancer who enjoys weight training, I think you have to ask the question “what fitness quality am I trying to develop with my weight training?” You also have to reorient yourself away from the numbers (pounds or kilos) and toward the “feel” of the exercise. For example, if you are weight training to develop muscular endurance, you want to use a weight that is light enough to let you do quite a few repetitions until the last one is something of a struggle. If you are training to improve explosiveness (think jumping), you want to move the weight very fast for just one or a few repetitions. As I said, the actual weight you use is close to being irrelevant. What is important is how the exercise feels in relation to what you are trying to accomplish.


As a follow-up to the tight muscle idea, one thing I like doing is a stretch after each set I do with weights. The weight set serves to heat up the body making the stretch easier and nicer. As a follow-up on that notion, by far the most effective means of stretching I’ve found is combining exercise (just about any will do as long as it heats the body) and stretching.

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Garyecht and primaballrina, thank you! I just love to hear from folks with similar experiences.


Weighing in your perspectives with those of Victoria's and Mel's, I will use no more than 20 lbs for my squats and lunges; I've found that I can endure the 3 minute sets done in the gym classes, with the last few reps as more challenging due to muscle fatigue. I can do it too with 30-lb weights, but as I said in my earlier post, my quads are just a tad more pronounced than a PETITE (can't state height and weight due to BT for Dancer's restrictions) female dancer's.


Primaballrina, can you tell us more about these leg extension exercises, and what is a "leg barbell"?

With the dancers I train, I only have them do leg extension or "leg barbell" to strengthen their surrounding knee muscles...

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Good post Garyecht.


My boyfriend also told me that weight training can be used to relaxe the muscles. With less weight and the "feeling" of relaxing while doing the exercises it should be possible to loosen the muscles a bit. You will also pump some blood into the muscles, which helps to soften it.


Weight training is still better than hanging on the sofa :D

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