I have a question about abdominal strength or should I say… lack of! I tell my students to pull up the front of their abdominals, but when I place my hand on their stomach I don’t feel anything. I’m not sure if they even know how to engage them. Can you recommend any specific ideas for ballet class?
Excellent question! I want to say that even when dancers do abdominal exercises on a daily basis it doesn’t necessarily mean they will use them efficiently in standing during the dance class. We need to get our students to use their abdominals effectively ALL the time, not just in class!
I’d like to first remind everyone that the only thing a muscle can do is contract. It can do a shortening contraction (concentric), lengthening contraction (eccentric) or isometric contraction, which stays the same length. When you are doing a crunch or sit-up, the abdominals are doing a shortening contraction – in other words – the two ends of the muscles are coming closer together.
If you are lying on your back knees bent and lifted towards your chest, and then slowly drop your toes to touch the ground, doing a leg lowering, you are doing an eccentric contraction. This is the type of contraction dancers need to use to keep their pelvis in neutral as they move their legs. It is also the most challenging of the contractions.
Too many students engage their abdominals so fiercely it is as if they have put an invisible belt around their waists and have cinched it closed. The first time they need to take a deep breath in they lose their abdominal support.
You might try this in class. Take 5 minutes to explore the sensation of the deep core when it’s turned on and working. Start on hands and knees with a flat back and slowly peel off one hand without shifting AT ALL! As they slowly peel off one hand, and placing it back down without shifting they will sense their abdominals supporting and staying flat. It’s not a big sensation. (of course do the other hand too)
I teach my students that if they learn how to engage the abdominals properly in standing and in movement, they won’t need to do umpteen sit-ups as a part of their training. Have your dancers stand easily in first or parallel position. Have them imagine they are lacing up their abdominals as they do their shoes. Have them place one hand below the belly button so they can feel the abdominal wall drawing up and inwards – while their other hand is just below the sternum, which is the area where the ribs come together in front. The area just below the sternum should be relatively soft as they need to continue to breath easily and effortless while they are using their abdominals. This will not feel like a strong contraction! Then walk around the room for at least 2 minutes maintaining the upright, neutral pelvis and long spine. That is how we should walk all the time!
The more they practice having a neutral pelvis through the deep engagement of the abdominals they will transfer that to their dancing, because that has become their normal alignment, whether standing in class or talking with a friend, or sitting in a chair!
To your success,
“Education is the key to injury prevention”