Great dancers make ballet look effortless, but performing those impressive leaps and turns requires great athleticism. Male dancers need the strength to lift ballerinas high into the air and the stamina to perform lengthy ballets, all while looking graceful and elegant. Along with daily ballet class, men practice cross-training exercises to help improve the form and function of their dancing and remain in peak condition.
Men who dance lift weights to make their arms, backs and legs more efficient at partnering and lifting women. Weightlifting helps build lean, powerful muscles while increasing the strength of the bones and connective tissue, reducing a dancer's risk of injury. Male dancers start strength training in their early teens before beginning partnering work and increase the length and difficulty of their workouts with time.
Men who dance tend to have more limited natural flexibility than their female counterparts, especially in the legs and hips. To achieve excellence in ballet, men must still have enough flexibility to kick and lift their legs high in all directions. While most dancers stretch before and after ballet class, those who wish to make their bodies more limber also incorporate exercises like yoga. With its use of active stretching -- assuming a stretch and holding with no outside assistance -- and focus on correct alignment, yoga practice helps gently increase a dancer's flexibility. Other dancers may practice methods like Pilates or a blend of yoga, dance and martial arts called Gyrokinesis to make their bodies more supple.
Dancers get regular anaerobic workouts in ballet class but often add aerobic workouts to their regimen. Unlike the short, high-intensity interval workout of a dance class, aerobic activities occur at a lower intensity rate for at least 20 minutes. Regular aerobic workouts help dancers increase their endurance, lose excess weight and improve their cardiovascular systems. Because running and jogging place stress on dancer's already overworked joints, dancers turn to lower impact cardiovascular workouts like swimming, cycling and elliptical machines.
Men don't rely only on their arms to lift and toss ballerinas into the air. The core, a band of muscles surrounding the lower torso, plays an important role in stabilizing and supporting the body during intense activity. Pilates exercises performed either on a mat or with an apparatus like the Reformer help improve this core strength and stability. According to Pilates instructor Tara Hench-Berdo, a stronger core reduces the stress on the lower back, a common area of injury for dancers. Core training also improves the mobility of the limbs and contributes to the development of lean, toned abs.
Sarah Badger is a certified pilates and group fitness instructor, writer and dance teacher. Her work has appeared in "Dance Spirit" magazine and several literary journals. Badger earned her bachelor's degree in English and religious studies from Marymount Manhattan College, and currently owns a dance and fitness studio in upstate New York.