• Nico Kolokythas

It’s not about bodybuilding, it’s about building your body.

Updated: Apr 30

This article was published in the magazine from One Dance UK.


Foundation strength

As we discussed in the previous article on strength training in dance, foundation training does not demand specificity; in fact, it is important to stay away from dance specific moves. Dancers need to develop competency in fundamental movements (squats, lunges, push ups) that will prepare them to advance in strength training in a safe and efficient way. The focus should be on these big movements and not on individual muscles. Depending on the current conditioning status of the dancer, chronological and training age, foundation training can take anything from four weeks to eight weeks before you can move on to the next phase.

Even though the choice of exercises is limitless, promotion of muscle balance across joints and between opposing muscles groups (e.g. quadriceps and hamstrings, gastrocnemius and tibialis anterior). Multi-joint structural movements and exercises such as squats, lunges, single leg squats, hamstring raises, single-leg Romanian deadlifts for the lower body and press ups (or downs), inverted pulls for the upper body may be introduced based on individual competences. Progression in training is important for the body to be keep getting challenged, however, regression is also necessary, in cases of injury or long time of inactivity. Training age can help in determining the level, but it is advisable to progress slowly and methodically. Just as you can’t skip steps in your dance training, so you can’t in strength training. You need to feel comfortable and safe to perform an exercise before you increase the load or the level of difficulty. An example on how exercises can be progressed or regressed can be found in the table below. The coloured boxes refer to some of the exercises that Jade Wallace was doing in “Up The Spiral” (click on the pic for video)



Exercise specialists should refrain from prescribing the weight that the individual should be lifting according to their estimated 1 repetition maximum (1RM), as maximal efforts are not the ultimate aim of resistance training in dance. The rule of thumb is simple; the last two repetitions (reps) need to feelharder than the first two. If they don’t, the weight is too light. If the dancer can’t complete the desired number of repetitions then the weight is too much. Jade Wallace, dancer in Up The Spiral film explains “I started doing Single Leg squats with two dumbbells of 1kg. Nico used to tell me that this is simply two packets of sugar but I was afraid to increase the weight in case my thighs went bigger. It was during the first few weeks that I understood the meaning of load and overload”. This promotes individualisation and ownership of the prescribed program.


Rest period between sets should be kept between 30-90 seconds, depending on the perceived difficulty of the exercise by the dancer. The dancer may experience muscle pain in the following couple of days, this is referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). This is the result of overloading the muscle and should not be feared or should not be confused with an injury. This type of pain, depending on the conditioning of the dancer may start 24 to 72 hours after a training session and may last up to 72 hours. Resistance should be increased gradually and carefully as strength levels increase, in order to minimise the risk of DOMS. A 5 to 10% overall load increase is appropriate for youth and beginners in general. Careful and competent instruction, together with correct cueing for alignment and posture make supervision essential at the start. Keep in mind repetition does not make perfect, but permanent; correct repetition creates perfection.


Resistance should be increased gradually and carefully as strength levels increase, in order to minimise the risk of DOMS. A 5 to 10% overall load increase is appropriate for youth and beginners in general. Careful and competent instruction, together with correct cueing for alignment and posture make supervision essential at the start. Repetition does not make perfect, but permanent; correct repetition creates perfection. An example of how the sets and reps could be progressed can be found below:



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