Depending on the type of training a male dancer is receiving, different strength and conditioning programs are appropriate. Male ballet dancers at some point will need the upper body strength to lift a partner, and male jazz/contemporary dancers need to be able to throw their own body weight in a million different directions (sometimes upside down) and ALL dancers definitely need the strength and endurance to be ON-the-floor-OFF-the-floor-ON-the-floor-OFF-the-floor... So where do we start? I’ll start with what I know would be helpful to all the male dancers…
I know lame, right? But really, in my 18 years of experience training athletes, dancers, and adults I can’t think of a more effective conditioning exercise for men in dance. I’ll tell you why.
Number 1: It’s the most accessible exercise they can do in a studio. I don’t think your dance studio has a Solo-flex (so 90’s).
Number 2: There are dozens of variations of the push-up that will either challenge the larger muscle groups of the upper body (helps with power) or the smaller, deeper muscle groups (helps with stability).
Upper body strength building for a male dancer is challenging because most of their time in class is spent doing muscular contractions against little to no resistance. It is more likely that the strength and size of the legs and glutes of the male dancer will be greatly developed because they are doing countless amounts of plies and lunges and jumps that require them to push against a resistant force (the floor/gravity/body weight). This is usually not the case with their upper body. They are rarely pushing against a force stronger than gravity. And THAT’S why the push up needs to be the male dancers best friend. It will even out the playing field with the legs and create a better looking and better functioning upper body.
Learning the anatomy of a push up is a really wise thing for parents and the male dancers to understand. Once the dancer sees where the fibers of the muscles that are working are, they will think about them when doing the push-up and execute it more effectively.
Aside from doing the standard form push-up, I am going to list two variations that I believe would be really helpful for the male dancer. I spent hours looking for good videos of push-ups and found none (my standards are too high?). We will probably be making our own videos soon because I want to be able to explain the form and execution of the variations so that the boys understand how to do them correctly and why they apply to them as dancers.
Push up variations for the male dancer:
1. “Wide Arm” with externally rotated hand grip:
-Dancer gets into full plank position with his spine in neutral.
-His hands should be about 1 to 1.5 hand lengths wider than his shoulders.
-Turn the hands away from the midline of the body (thumbs straight forwards and other fingers point to the sides).
-When he bends his elbows to lower his chest and nose to the floor they should aim towards his spine.
The reason this is good for the male dancer is because the wide grip and the rotated hand position is going to activate the mid back muscles during the push up and isolate his chest more than his shoulders.
2. Instability Push Ups: This basically means the push up is done when either the hands or the feet are instable. A great example would be to get into the plank push-up position with the dancers feet or shins on top of an exercise ball. The ball will take away their stability requiring the core muscles to trigger in order to keep them from falling. You can take away the hand stability by putting socks under the hands and must be on a wood or tile floor (be careful!). This is valuable for the male dancer because as choreography gets more and more challenging, they need to have super strong core-stabilizers to keep them from falling out of line
How many do they do?
-This is really tricky to know because I don’t know your current strength, but here’s my suggestion: Try to do 4 sets of 5 without breaking form. If that is a breeze jump right to 10. If you are just getting through the sets of 5 stick with that and then increase by 2 more each week until you are Hugh Jackman. You can do this every day or at least 3 times per week.
How do the parents get their dancers to do them?
1. I suggest that you do them with him. Mom, dad, whomever. If your son loves competition, you can turn it into one. If your son responds to companion over competition, do that instead. They are just push ups, and they probably don’t want to do them in the first place so it’s best that they are not bothered any more than they already are by them.
2. If there is not a time set aside for your dancer to do conditioning at home (my mom made me work out every day I wasn’t at gymnastics), I would suggest getting them done during TV commercials or something.
3. Be creative. I think there are a bunch of push up apps for phones and tablets. Download those.
4. See how many your dancer can do in a row without breaking form. Make a chart or something cool looking where he can see his progress each week.