Gym routines for the male dancer

by Henrik on November 16, 2010

Alright, guys, it’s time to lift some weight!

Male dancers need to be in top shape. Regardless if you are a soloist or a member of the corps (don’t get it? Click here!), you need to keep your body fit. A dancer performs lifts, jumps and other “tricks” that requires a lot of strength and agility.

Now, most of that strength you won’t get in the gym. Exercises in the studio are still the main way of practice and strengthening for any dancer, the gym is a supplement. But a very important supplement, nevertheless, especially when it comes to lifts. When done right, most lifts doesn’t require inhuman strength. The right technique helps a lot. (I will post something on partnering later, describing more of that). But you still have to get her up there, you still have to lift.

Usually, I do a gym-program that focuses mostly on shoulders, breast and arm-strength. I am not a big fan of gyms, and try to strengthen my abdomen, back and legs outside it. But increasing upper-body strength is just simply easiest done with a bar and some weights.

bench press inclined drawing - great exercise

Inclined Bench Press - a great exercise

Apart from basic routines like bench- and shoulder-presses, I usually do an exercise that imitates the over-the-head lifts we perform a lot, with a shoulder-wide grip on the bar, and then a press from stomach-height to above the head.

Once in a gym, I also do crouches and abdominal strengthening exercises, but as I said, I try to do that a lot outside the gym, too.

One thing that is really important for the male dancer, is to make sure he doesn’t sway his back when lifting, and especially when lifting above the head. With a sway-back, you add a lot of pressure on the lower spine when lifting heavy above head, pressure that is going to hurt you, if not today, then definitely as time goes. And, more importantly, you are less stable with a sway-back, providing less security for the girl up there. Nobody is perfect (no, not even ballet-dancers), mistakes happens all the time. When lifted above your head, the girl is completely in your hands (pun intended)! It is your responsibility as a man to make sure she stays up there, and gets a smooth and controlled descent, no matter what. If you don’t control your own body, how are you going to take care of hers?

Therefore, strengthen your abdomen and back muscles tirelessly! It will help during lifts, but it will also provide a unique stability while dancing alone. Not to mention a six-pack to flaunt on the beach, which just is a third good reason to keep doing those sit-ups :)

Do you do any supplementary training?

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

David November 17, 2010 at 8:13 pm

There are a few male dancers who are rather muscular but a lot of them are really are quite slender. Yet, still they manage to press that 150 pound sac of potatos (oops! I mean that 115 pound ballerina) :D above the head and hold them there for a round of applause.

Is it momentum followed by locking up the muscles?

I have a question for you. I keep reading blogs about ballet people who make it look effortless for 3 minutes straight of vigorous dancing. But then behind the curtains they are gasping for air like a dying fish and about to puke blood. I actually saw this in the documentary called “Ballerina” concerning 5 russian ballerinas. One of the 17 year old female dancers was rehearsing and after just a few minutes she was bent down, leaning on the barre looking wiped out.

I have always wondered if this was because these dancers weren’t doing certain types of non-dance related cardio or muscle building in the legs … or maybe they weren’t getting enough of a certain mineral or vitamin in their diet. What do you think?? Are there some dancers who get through 3 minutes of vigorous dancing and exit the stage like it has barely even affected them??


Henrik November 17, 2010 at 8:53 pm

True that! It’s hard to build lots of muscles as a dancer, because we move a LOT, so we burn a lot of energy, too…
Other then that, I guess it’s not really an ideal for us either, as the ideal ballet dancer is rather an athletic type..


Mia November 19, 2010 at 2:35 am

hey, I have a gym routine that involves weight lifting! not much, but i still lift them. i also lift them in my cubicle at (real job) work, thus making my co workers think i’m nuttier than they already do. maybe i’ll write a girl-ballet-weight-strengthening blog, since I don’t have to lift male ballet dancers…


Roy December 28, 2010 at 2:10 am

Henrik, Thank you for posting these exercises. I take a partnering class with my 16 year old niece and need all the help I can get. I’m 52 and have been doing the class since September 2009. I enjoy it and have a great respect for the athleticism of dancers. I have been looking for some exercises to do so that I’m better with my lifts. But that is the easy part compared to the timing and learning choreography. Perhaps you will give us a more comprehensive work out in the future.


Henrik December 28, 2010 at 9:06 am

Dear Roy! How cool that you take partnering class! I back-read a little on your blog, so cool!!!
I’d love to help you out with partnering. Actually, a post on partnering is something I have been wanted/trying to write for a long time. The problem is – you learn partnering by doing, and it can be hard to explain with words…
Anyway, I’ll give it another go as I get the time!!
Thanks for your comment, glad you enjoyed my post!


Artjom February 9, 2011 at 10:53 pm

I wonder how many reps are good for a male dancer? I mean…doing to few with to heavy weights – doesn’t that make you kinda stiff?


Henrik February 10, 2011 at 8:32 am

yes, too few reps with heavy weights makes you Buff :) which is cool if that’s what you’re aiming for, but for a dancer, it’s not sought after. Usually I do a weightload that is about 70 % of my max, and do 3 x 15 reps, varying a little with different exercises. The only time I go close to my max-weight is when I do squats, because I need to strengthen my quads, and it is the muscle(s) dancers use most extreme.
So, to summarize, you are perfectly correct :-)


Marco August 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Hello Henrik,

I’m 34 years old and i’ve always watted to start dancing, a girl friend said to me why not ballet dance… and know i’ll beging my ballet classes… i’m very excited. I’m at the gym but with this new adventure i started looking for tips in weightlifting for male ballet dancers… i think that your article is good so i can change my gym program with the purpose of strenghning my body for ballet.
Do you think is also necessary to work legs at the gym??? or should i focus in the upper body???
Thank you


Henrik August 16, 2011 at 8:48 am

Hi Marco,
Congratulations on beginning ballet – you’re in for a kick :)
The post focuses maybe a bit more on what a professional dancer will need to do in the gym than someone who just started ballet in terms of strengthening. Lifting girls and partnering probably won’t be the first thing you do. It’s definitely a good idea to work legs as well for ballet, but don’t lift heavy. Do lighter lifts, with several reps, and feel free to do them faster – get that heart pumping! Ballet is a lot about intensive work for short periods, with short breaks.
Also, try to do simple stretches after and during every set – you’ll thank me later :P
Have fun, and please let me know how your balletic experience develops!


mrinava chakraborty September 16, 2011 at 7:45 pm

i do gym as well as dance….bt i face a problem that my body is very stiff…can u suggest me something which can loosen up my body exept leaving gym….bcoz thats wat i don wanna do…so pls do suggest me smthn so that i can balance it out both properly….i do hip hop,cntemprory,jazz,bollywood,break…


jake February 16, 2012 at 1:06 am

Is it okay to squat and do other lower body work in the gym? Wouldn’t this effect work in the studio?


Henrik February 17, 2012 at 8:28 am

I think, for a guy, there’s no negative effect of doing squats and other lower body work in the gym – it’ll make you stronger, which will help your jumps, stability etc. Of course, there’s a limit of what helps ballet, and when that just gets too much, but I think you’d need to go to the gym a lot to actually make the gym training interfere with your ballet.. :) H


dhrruv chande February 23, 2012 at 10:00 am

body and dance info in this sity is very graceful 4 me…….. now i have a good body and dance tooo….tnx 4 this info


Henrik February 23, 2012 at 5:25 pm

You are very welcome :)


Karen July 9, 2012 at 12:11 am

Hi henrik,
My son is 9 and a JA at Royal Ballet and at a great dance school. He has a lovely dance partner and he lifts her in jumps and gets a good height, but he really is fed up of not being as flexible as the girls. Could you suggest a routine to help develop his flexibility please? Also at his age are sit ups the best thing for developing his core strength for lifting?


Jayn March 1, 2013 at 9:05 pm

I like dancing and dance alot at college fests and all but after started going to the gym i have become very stiff and have become less flexible.. I do stretching also after the workouts but i dont think thats helping much.. do you have or anybody has any suggestions for that ??


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