Thera-band exercises for the Dancer
Resistance training has been used as a form of exercise, and more recently injury rehabilitation, since the late eighteen hundreds. The benefits and versatility of resistance training, including it's ability to condition, stretch and strengthen the muscles, as well as it's effectiveness as a gentle alternative to class work when injured has made the thera-band increasingly indispensable as a component of dance training today.
The thera-band is one of the simplest yet most effective training tools a dancer can use to compliment their class work and increase muscular strength and flexibility. In addition, the thera-band is a helpful tool for dancers recovering from injuries, which makes it a valuable inclusion in every dancer's dance bag - from students, to professionals and teachers alike. ...And the icing on the cake is that it’s about the most uncomplicated, inexpensive, portable training tool you could buy. What’s not to love?
Here’s 7 excellent reasons for making a thera-band your dance-bag staple, plus our video stretching demo at the bottom!
1: The Whole package
Perhaps the most uniquely advantageous thing about the thera-band, is that unlike other forms of training equipment, it isn’t limited to targeting one specific area or muscle group in the body. With just a thera-band in hand you can target everything from improving pointe and turnout, strengthening ankles, conditioning the legs and back muscles, improving port de bras, increasing flexibility and stability, height of arabesques, developpes and extensions, as well as targeting specific problem areas and muscle weaknesses – phew! Talk about comprehensive! And even more pleasing for dancers; it doesn’t place any constraints on the way an exercise must be executed, which makes it easy to adapt your execution with specific goals in mind (such as strengthening the arms by moving through all port de bras positions rather than, say, deadlifting weights up and down like a body builder and neglecting many of the arm muscles used in dance).
2: Injury Rehabilitation and Body Conditioning
When recovering from an injury it’s crucial to find safe rehabilitation exercises that won’t put excessive strain or weight on the injured area but still allows for a gradual reintroduction of strength-based movement and exercises. Sound easy enough? …not exactly, but that’s alright, because thera-bands can save the day once more! When utilising a thera-band as part of a comprehensive floor-barre routine (we recommend checking out ‘Beyond the Barre’s page here on floor barre), dancers are able to continue working the muscles in a way that won’t allow technique to completely deteriorate, but that also doesn’t present the strain and risk that a full-on class may have on the injured area. Resistance training also builds stability in the muscles, which is great for injury prevention and keeping you in tip-top shape.
3: Gravity-free resistance
One of the key advantages of thera-bands over other forms of training, is that it does not rely on gravity to provide the 'resistance', unlike free weights and class training. Gravity is a great tool for exercises that work on the vertical plain (ie. Grand Battements – kicking the leg directly upwards), however, if you wanted to strengthen, say, your turnout muscles around the hip joint and upper leg, then a thera-band allows you to tailor very specific resistance exercises in order achieve this - without being inhibited by what movements can create resistance through gravity.
4: Variable Resistance
This refers to the wonderful ability of thera-bands to be able to increase gradually the amount of the resistance during an exercise. This occurs when the amount of tension in the band increases as the ends are stretched further apart. Dumbbells, weights, or your working leg in adage on the other hand, remain the same weight at all times. The benefits of this gradual increase are that variable resistance leads to an increase in the number of muscle fibers being used in the working muscle. This in turn leads to greater adaptations in muscle strength that can be achieved, letting you hold that arabesque up higher, for longer.
5: Adaptable for Multiple Fitness Levels
How many times have you heard the phrase 'How much do you lift?' smugly tossed around by fitness fanatics and gym junkies. It's unfortunate but true that the gym does sometimes attract a certain competitive, 'bigger is best' stigma. However, unlike the – admittedly rather daunting - free weights resting with deceptive ease in any standard gym, no-one will ever raise an eyebrow at you for picking up a particular thera-band. As part of it’s charm, a thera-band has the ability to provide as much or as little resistance as you require from it, so whether you’re strong or frail, male or female, pro or beginner, you can tailor the strength of resistance to your needs by adjusting the exercise, band strength, and ‘slack’ of your thera-band. A lot of standard gym equipment can be a little bit intimidating for dancers (especially if you’re surrounded by a group of Arnold Schwarzenegger wannabes!) because unlike many gym-goers, our main aim isn’t to bulk up or shed kilos, so it can be frustrating adapting yourself to equipment that is designed with a slightly different purpose to your own, luckily for us, thera-bands are endlessly adaptable!
6: Portable, storable and easy to replace
Considering that gym memberships and yoga classes are certainly no bargain, it’s nice to know that not everything that’s good for your has to cost an arm and a leg (which is lucky, seeing as that’s what we’re wanting the training for in the first place!), and the fact that a thera-band is lightweight and travel-friendly (unlike dumbbells, or any of the high-tech equipment you get at a gym) makes it the most dependable training tool for traveling and transporting to and from class, or away with you for holidays/touring/work etc - it can simply be folded and stashed in the smallest of pockets and you’re ready to go!
Yes, we can all appreciate how great gyms are, and how nice it is to have such incredibly fancy, fine-tuned, expensive equipment at our disposal, but the downside to that is often, if you want to make sure you’re really executing everything safely and correctly it’s necessary to have a trainer or spotter on stand-by, and realistically that’s just not possible all the time. What about when you want to train at home, or if you can’t afford PT sessions or gym memberships, or if you’re not lucky enough to have a sibling/partner willing to dutifully hold you down whilst you wrestle with turnout exercises? Ladies and gentleman, may I present - for the final time - your marvellous friend, the thera-band! Aside from the obvious advantage that you don’t need someone to spot you with a simple harmless stretchy band, you can train with a thera-band at any time it benefits you; no need to wait for class, yoga sessions, or for the gym to open. You’re free to work at your own pace and in the way that suits you best.
So there you have it, now that you know what makes thera-bands such a useful tool for dancers, we thought we’d share some exercise examples!
Below you’ll find some basic thera-band exercises that target everything from feet and ankles, turnout, back, arms, and overall strength and flexibility to perfectly compliment your dance training and technique. Remember to always talk with your dance teacher if you're unsure of any exercises or need some advice on which stretches to focus on – Happy stretching and long live the resistance!
Get your own Thera-band here.
By Elly Ford