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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Gaining strength?


Mazenderan

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Hey. :yes:

 

I'm feeling a little despondent just now. I'm carrying a couple of injuries due to weakness and alignment issues, and I feel like I keep moving one step forward two steps back. It takes me ages to build up even a little bit of strength, and my alignment is somewhat dysfunctional. It's hard to control my turn-out and extension, and when I do I'm recruiting the wrong muscles/ligaments.

 

I'd really like to hear how other adult students have successfully built up strength, both in class and out.

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“Injuries due to weakness and alignment issues?” You need to say more about those before you can act on anything specific. In general, I should say, “cause” is often really difficult to ascribe to an injury other than referring to the injury itself.

 

Again, in general, there are two different kinds of strength. One is general, that is the extent to which one is strong in a wide variety of physical activities demanding strength. Ballet typically doesn’t require a lot of general strength. The second kind of strength is specific strength, which is the kind of strength unique to doing the specific exercise one is doing. Typically when someone in ballet says they lack strength, it’s the specific kind of strength they are talking about.

 

So how do you get specific strength? You get it by stressing yourself in the action where you need that specific strength. By stressing those specific muscles in the specific movement pattern, your body adapts to what you are asking it to do.

 

Let me give an example from way back when I first started ballet. Before I go on, I need to say that when I began, I had a very very high level of general strength. In my beginner class we were often asked to balance in retire. I had trouble doing that, in part because I didn’t have the alignment skills at that time, but also because I just wasn’t strong enough to hold that retire position for more than a few seconds. As a result I sorta became obsessed with balancing in retire. Did it all the time and for longer and longer times. Over time my alignment improved quite a bit so I could establish my balance in a reasonable amount of time. From that point on it became a matter of how long I could hold it. My balance got to be really good, so the determiner became how much pain could I tolerate in my calf. It became a game. And, oh yes, my specific strength in holding a balance in retire really really improved.

 

If you keep doing an exercise (any ballet exercise will do just fine) until you really feel the stress in the muscles (feel the pain so to speak), you will strengthen the specific muscles you use in that exercise.

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Sorry about the lack of detail - that was unhelpful of me. I am generally long and bendy. Hypermobile in the hips and lumbar region, and my sacroiliac has become 'clicky' and mobile. I supinate a lot day to day - sometimes to the extent of standing on the sides of my feet. (although I have manged to stop sickling in class). Hip flexors are chronically tight. My posture is lordotic.

 

My physio's assessment was that a lack of strength in my glutes and abs was contributing to instability around the hip/pelvic area. My knees wavered about embarrassingly during one-legged plies. I have unstable sacroiliac joints, patellofemoral maltracking (both knees, go me! :yes: ), costochondritis, hip tendinitis and trochanteric bursitis on my left side.

 

I do pilates, though I feel like it's taking me forever to gain strength, and my hip flexors are very 'grabby'. I often find it hard to activate the proper muscles in class. Yoga was a disaster. I tried a home workout. I have no idea what I was meant to be feeling, but I overstretched and damaged my sternum. I didn't feel any stretch - then I felt a pop and then a lot of pain. Stationary bike means my maltracking kneecaps are relatively under control - although I find the repetitive range of movement means I have to stop and stretch out my hip flexors every ten minutes.

 

I do try really hard in class. I often work until I feel pain in the muscle. I would really like the strength to hold my turn out (my retires are weedy) Unfortunately, working on this is what caused my hip injury. I was trying really hard to hold my turn-out (I have quite a big turn-out for an adult beginner, although not the beautiful 180) - and totally overloaded my piriformis muscles.

 

How did you build strength in retire without injuring yourself?

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When I was first starting back as an adult, I took a lot of floor barre classes and did pilates with a PT to build strength. I'm also long and "weedy" and not naturally very strong in my core. The floor barre really helped a lot.

 

I recently did something to my SI joint again, but I have found that biking seemed to be helping to stabilize everything. I bike about 9 miles a day on hills. It's also given me a lot more power in my quads and my leaps are much stronger than they ever were just from ballet alone.

 

In daily life, I often do simple balances on one leg and fondu exercises. I don't use my full rotation, but just try to slowly identify which muscles I need to engage (and which ones I need to engage a bit less) I general find that I am "gripping" my piriformis and not using the other rotators enough. Also my weight needs to be more forward on my foot to really allow those rotators to do their job. I think it's helpful to do transfer of weight exercises outside of class, where you're not focusing on arms, the steps, and all that other "stuff":o

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Another SI sufferer! This has to be the most annoying joint in the entire body! It's just so painful when it clicks out!

 

You mention gripping the piriformis, and that's exactly what I do (and have done to the point of injury). I think I might do as you suggest and try transfer of weight exercises outside of class - without the distraction of arms and music. I'm coming to the conclusion that my weight is simply too far back most of the time in class.

 

TY :wink:

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I have a huge lordotic curve, and for the 1st 3 years of Pilates my teacher had me working from an imprinted lower back position. We also work on hamstring and gluteal fold activation, and many, many intense iliopsoas stretches. I also work on the outer rotators, and massage/ stretch my piriformis to keep it from grabbing. The sideline clamshell really helps me find those muscles, with minimal turnout to keep the piriformis from taking over the work. How do you do your Pilates work? I found that 6 months on the Reformer and the Cadillac machines with a teacher one on one were very helpful and saw tons of improvement from that, in class and out. I am also extremely hyperflexible, and working in a small range of motion is difficult, but really gave me control over those wacky joints, including my SI joint, which moved ALOT, and now only moves during a certain time of the month. For that, we do bridge work, moving from simple bridging up, rolling down to roll overs.

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I've been doing Pilates for about a year now - I'm the world's slowest learner! :o It takes me forever to identify muscles. It took 6 months for me to discover my lats and then make the connection between those and all those corrections in ballet class! We don't use any machines - it's just a mat class with about 6 people. What do the machines do?

 

I've not heard of an imprinted lower back position - what is this?

 

Intense ilipsoas stretches sound good! Mine are so tight that the sort of pull me out of proper alignment. May I ask which ones you do? Mine feel jammed all the time.

 

The grabby piriformis sounds familiar. It just wants to do it all, doesn't it? Like yourself, I've been given clams to do - but adjusted so that there's very little turn-out involved. I've got bridges to do as well - those are hard! I have to admit though, my SI joints are feeling a lot better. I think the tennis b a l l s massage has worked wonders, too.

 

It is such a pain when there's too much flexibility. It's so hard to control anything and use the proper muscles. I have a nice amount of turn-out at maximum, but I just can't work there. Do you find it very difficult to work in a smaller RoM?

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It's definitely hard to decrease range of motion in the working leg, whether in Pilates or ballet. An imprinted position is working so that your whole spine is in contact with the floor, like the start of a bridge. As for the machines, they put your body in alignment and help you to get a feel of the exercises when done correctly. When I was injured and couldn't dance, I took 3 mat classes a week and a private lesson with a certified Pilates instructor on the machines. Upon my return to dance, I was stronger and better than I had been in a really long time.It really made things easy! I recommend checking out the Pilates Method Alliance website: PMA- find a teacher- uk

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Thanks for the info in Pilates, missvjc420. I'm quite lucky in that my physio is very keen on pilates and is using a lot of pilates exercises for my rehab work - as well as encouraging me to continue classes and home practice. She's also told me I need to correct my posture all the time, not just in class - and showed me the imprinted position you mentioned. I can't believe how different everything feels in proper alignment. My abs are actually doing stuff!! I can feel muscles working. I'm going to be wrecked after my first class with proper alignment!! :o

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I understand where you are coming from, although I don't have that many injuries. It has just been this go around, the feet and ankles that have been problematic for me. I never had this problem in my late 20s when I danced. I think my flat feet have caught up to me. I also take less classes now--I used to take 3 ballet a week and 2-4 times a week. Plus I would do an hour of barre by myself daily, jogged 4 miles and swam daily. I think it was that extra work on my own that gave me strength very quickly. I think you need to take a wholistic approach to it, by increasing your "general" strength and then start working on your individual issues. Different from Gary, I never pushed myself before to the point of pain--it just came very naturally (youth!) and nowadays I'm too lazy/pain adverse to do that. I'm going to work on first getting my general strength back up by outside gym workouts before I start adding the at home barre. I also did it in front of a mirror so there was never a question of developing bad habits.

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