Dancing and pilates often go hand in hand and it has become a part of core training for dancers like Darcy Bussel, Marc Cassidy, and the Australian Ballet. Many people do pilates for fitness which is great, but it’s also used for injury recovery and prevention. Dancers are required to have finely tuned muscles and exceptional awareness of their joints in space. Pilates can provide this type of training by using pulleys, straps, and springs to train these areas. Typically when we think about strength training, we think about weights at the gym. While the gym is excellent for muscle gains and cardiovascular training, pilates allows the body to move and be strengthened in asymmetrical ways. Dancers tend to shift more toward this asymmetrical kind of training because it is what they do every day. Very rarely will a dancer be in a symmetrical position so it is important to strengthen the body in more “obscure” positions.
Pilates is also great because it is low impact, meaning it is light on the joints. The reformer is particularly useful as it allows the dancer to move very similarly to how they would when standing, but in a laying down position. It enables the dancer to strengthen muscles with less impact on the joints but with a higher resistance. This is particularly useful in lower limb injuries such as a tendinopathy or ankle sprain or even recovering from surgery.
But is it actually beneficial?
Dance is primarily centred from the pelvis. Without adequate pelvic control, a dancer is unable to move correctly, her balance will be off, her extensions are unable to be executed to the highest potential, her jumps also won’t be as high as they can be and the risk of injury dramatically increases. Dancers must be able to find their natural pelvic alignment to avoid injuries and to achieve ease of execution. A study by (Ahearn, Greene & Lasner, 2018) looked at 20 female dancers aged between 17-22 years of age to examine the effects of pilates training on pelvic alignment, muscle strength and flexibility.
The dancers firstly had their baseline measures assessed. They looked at abdominal strength, quadriceps length, pelvic alignment through a straight leg raise (laying on your back and raising one leg up) and a posture screen. After the tests were completed, the dancers engaged in dance class for 14 weeks without pilates and were screened again. These baseline measures did not change.
The dancers were then asked to do another 14 weeks of training, attend a pelvic alignment workshop as well as attending pilates twice per week with one mat class and one reformer class. At the end of the second round of intervention, it was found that the dancers had better postural alignment compared to no change in alignment in the first 14 weeks. Their forward head posture, knee hyperextension and foot and ankle pronation (rolling inward) decreased significantly after participating in the pilates intervention. Additionally, the dancers’ hamstrings and Iliotibial band (the long piece of tissue on the outside of the thigh) were more flexible and their abdominals were stronger. The dancers also reported they felt stronger, more flexible and had better posture!
Pilates isn’t just for dancers, non dancers can also find these benefits too! Using the reformer means that you will mostly be laying down, so no more excuses! Give it a go!
Ahearn, E., Greene, A., & Lasner, A. (2018). Some Effects of Supplemental Pilates Training on the Posture, Strength, and Flexibility of Dancers 17 to 22 Years of Age. Journal Of Dance Medicine & Science, 22(4), 192-202. doi: 10.12678/1089-313x.22.4.192