Your Best Body: Hang-Time Help

September 24, 2013

When it comes to jumping, dancers could learn a thing or two from athletes. While dancers typically practice their jumps by, well, practicing jumps, high jumpers and hurdlers cross-train with exercises called plyometrics. These drills are specifically designed to fine-tune neuromuscular control and build power, speed and agility to help you catch more air time. In a study by the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Langone Medical Center, a six-week plyometric training program improved both quadricep and hamstring strength in dancers, and helped them travel farther through space.

To get similar results, work these five plyometric exercises into your routine three days a week. Each offers a different benefit to help you get higher, move faster and stay up longer. “Typically a plyometric program is progressive,” says Jenna Marchitello, a physical therapist from Body Dynamics, Inc., in Falls Church, Virginia. “The focus in the beginning should be more on control of landing and alignment. Later, you can work on the height of the jumps.” She and colleague Sonia Deville Cronmiller, a certified health fitness specialist, advise dancers to wear sneakers and warm up with 10 to 15 minutes of cardio beforehand. Click here to watch Ballet Academy East’s Petra Love demonstrate each exercise. 

Improve Your Power and Stamina: Tuck Jumps

Standing with your feet together, bend your knees and jump as high as you can, tucking your knees up to your chest. Land on both feet and immediately repeat, continuing the jumps for 30 seconds. “Tuck jumps help build the endurance dancers need for petit allégro,” says Alison Deleget, an athletic trainer with Harkness. They also improve lower body strength to help you develop explosive power. Deleget recommends two sets.

Improve Your Landing Control: Hop-Hop-Hold

Beginning in parallel, take two hops forward, traveling about a foot each time. After the second hop, hold in a squat landing position for five seconds. Repeat 5 to 10 times in a row. During the hold, focus on maintaining proper hip, knee and ankle alignment. “The hold at the end helps strengthen your glutes, hamstrings and quads for landing control,” says Deleget. Since most injuries occur during landings, proper alignment is vital.

Improve Your Push-Off Strength: Scissor Jumps

Starting in parallel, jump and split the legs, with one foot moving front and the other back. Land in a lunge with your front knee at a 90-degree angle (making sure it doesn’t veer to the inside) and the back knee also bent at 90 degrees, with weight on the ball of the foot. Then, scissor the legs in the air and land in a lunge on the opposite side. Alternate legs for 30 seconds.

Scissor jumps strengthen the quadriceps, which control the push-off and landing. Focus on articulating a toe-ball-heel roll-through as you land, and stretching your knees and pointing your feet in the air. Keep your core engaged, avoiding any tucking or arching of the pelvis.

Improve Your Air Time: Bounding

For the bounding exercise—which looks like an explosive, jumping jog—jump from one foot to the other as though you were running in place. Jump high into the air to create a long, vertical stride, and hike the front knee up as high as possible. Your arms can move in opposition as you alternate the legs. “At first, do this in place for 20 to 30 seconds,” says Marchitello. “In later weeks, you can progress to moving forward.” Bounding helps with catching the air and sustaining your position in jumps like grands jetés.

Improve Your In-Air Alignment: Parallel Sissonnes

Starting with feet together in parallel, sissonne side to side (holding the arms in second). Alternate legs for a total of five repetitions in each direction.

“Start these in parallel,” says Deleget, “and then progress to a more turned-out position.” Working turned-in helps dancers master proper alignment. “If you can find your alignment in parallel, it will help you find it better in turnout.”

The Secrets to Ashley Bouder’s Jump

Ashley Bouder may be New York City Ballet’s resident jumping bean, but that doesn’t mean she takes her natural ability for granted. You’ll often find her in men’s class at the School of American Ballet, which focuses on jumps and uses slower tempos.

Bouder pays particular attention to her turnout muscles when she takes off. “You store a lot of energy in those muscles, so it’s really important to use them to get in the air,” she says. “They also help in landing and deceleration.” She encourages dancers to take a moment mid-air to consider the landing. “A lot of people just think about jumping really high. But when you think about the landing, it gives you that extra second in the air, and the landing becomes so much smoother that it actually looks like you’ve gone higher or further.”

Potassium—Beyond the Banana

Bananas are one of the most popular snacks in the studio. Dancers know they need the fruit’s potassium to help them avoid cramps. But bananas actually aren’t one of the best sources: There are only 422 milligrams of potassium in a medium banana. To hit the USDA recommended 4700 mg, you’d need to eat more than 11 bananas a day! These 10 foods offer much more per serving.

Dried apricots………………………………..1511 mg in one cup

Avocado……………………………………….975 mg in an average avocado

Baked potato with skin……………..926 mg in a medium potato

Cooked spinach………………………….839 mg in one cup

Medjool dates………………………….696 mg in 100 grams

Edamame………………………….676 mg in one cup

Yogurt, plain non-fat…….. 625 mg in one cup

Raisins……………………………..616 mg in half a cup

Sweet potato…………………541 mg in a medium potato

Salmon……………………………534 mg in a 3 oz filet

Bananas………………………….422 mg for a medium banana

Sweet News

Need some extra concentration for that long rehearsal? Try sipping some naturally sweetened lemonade. New research, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that sugar triggers motivational centers in your brain, boosting your levels of self-control and personal investment. This cranks up your focus so you can concentrate on the choreography in front of you. What better excuse for a sweet treat? Just be sure to grab the real stuff—artificial sugar substitutes don’t have the same effect.

Try This: Plank on a Stability Ball

To build core strength, you need to keep your body guessing. Challenge yourself by adding a stability ball to your plank: With your feet on the floor, place your elbows on the ball in front of you, and hold the position like you would a normal plank. To make it even harder, roll the ball forward with your elbows. The farther you move the ball away from your body, the harder it will be to stabilize, and the better the workout you’ll get.