If you're like so many dancers, you wouldn't think of missing class or rehearsal, so you show up even when you're dead tired, fluey, overwhelmed or in pain. On the rare day when nothing hurts and you're well rested and focused, a powerful set of legs will boost your output. You’ll have more power, your movements will be cleaner and you'll feel that awesome sense of control. When you’re running on empty, having strong legs might be what saves you from a crushing injury. If you're thinking "gym" and "fancy equipment," forget about it. Simple body-weight exercises are all you need to beef up your leg strength for dance.
Work your glutes, thighs and calves with a powerful plié squat jump. Stand in turned-out second position. Grip an imaginary basketball with both hands in front of your chest to stabilize your torso. Straighten your back, hold your chin level and tighten your abs. Bend your knees into a deep plié with your knees over your insteps. Hold briefly and then explode upward, extending your legs and feet downward in a “V.” Land in a soft plié and then take off again. Repeat the jump 10 to 15 times or for 30 seconds.
Do forward lunges with an upper-body twist. Stand with your feet together, your abs tight and your arms at your sides. Step forward on your right foot, moving into a long, deep lunge with your arms extended in front of you. Maintain the lunge as you rotate your arms and torso, first to the right and then back to center. Return to an upright position by drawing your left foot forward and placing it alongside your right foot. Repeat with your left leg to finish the rep. Complete 10 to 15 reps, crossing the room as you alternate legs. Keep your spine straight and don’t allow your front knee to bend beyond your toes.
Hit the floor and knock off a set of mountain climbers. Get into a plank position with your body forming a continuous line from the top of your head to your heels. Maintain a tight core and a flat back as you draw your right knee toward your chest. Hold briefly and then lower the foot to its initial position. Repeat with your left knee. Get a good rhythm going and continue alternating for one to two minutes. Keep your spine nice and long and breathe easily throughout the set. Take a short break and then repeat for up to four sets.
Tie the ends of a resistance band together and use the band to work your hips and outer thighs. Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and loop the band around both thighs, near your knees. Hinge your torso backward and rest on your forearms, pressing your shoulders down and slightly back. Exhale and press your legs outward against the band’s resistance. Hold briefly and then relax your legs slightly before pressing outward again. Repeat 10 to 15 times for a total of two to four sets.
Use a set of super-slow wall “V’s” to challenge your inner thighs. Lie on your back with your buttocks pressed against a wall and your legs extended upward. Rotate your legs outward, point your toes and slowly open your legs into a wide “V,” taking five slow counts to open. Rest briefly. Contract your inner thighs, flex your feet and slowly press your legs together. Take five slow counts to close. Rest and repeat 10 to 15 times for a total of two to four sets.
- Harkness Center for Dance Injuries: Knee and Thigh
- Dance Spirit Magazine: The 7 Best Moves for Your Dancer Bod
- Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology; Karen S. Clippinger
- Dance Advantage: How and Why to Strengthen the Inner Thigh
- The Ballet Companion; Eliza Gaynor Minden
- Give your muscles a day to rest and recover between workouts.
- If you're not already taking ballet, find a class taught by a well-trained instructor and attend faithfully. Adding two or three ballet classes to your weekly dance regimen -- and using your legs properly during class -- will boost your leg strength significantly over time.
- If you experience hip, knee, leg or ankle pain when exercising or dancing, stop. Failure to ease up when your body complains could result in a chronic pain condition.
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.