Weak Muscles?

Thank you for providing such a wealth of information as it pertains to dance and the human body.  I have a daughter, soon to be 12, that has been dancing since around the age of 4. She is quick to learn and quite coordinated.   Ballet class is a challenge for her.  She is not nearly where she needs to be in the areas of strength and endurance.  She is very slender and although has a “dancer’s body” with well defined muscles, her muscles are weak.  Is there anything that can be done outside of dance class to assist with muscle strength and endurance – last year she danced 4 hours per week, this year she will be dancing 6 hours per week. Outside of dance, she doesn’t do anything athletic.

Are there exercises that can be done at home to increase her muscle strength and endurance? Any dietary recommendations that can help with building muscle? She has fallen behind her classmates (in ballet only) and her teachers are very surprised that, despite her years of training, she has not developed the strength and endurance typical of girls her age. 

Thanks for your help!

Great question, Kathleen!

I love it that you are thinking about all the markers of health instead of just the physical ways to go about increasing muscle strength. I have a daughter with Hashimoto disease (a very common form of thyroid problems) that was discovered when she was 12 – and only because I knew something was off in her health. Now, I’m not suggesting that your daughter has a thyroid or another metabolic syndrome, rather I’m encouraging all of us to look at the intricate balance of nutrition and physiological health to our physical strength and health.

Let me give you a few things to ponder. The first possibility that came to mind is that your daughter might be anemic. Anemia can be caused by an iron-deficiency or a vitamin-deficiency or bone marrow or stem cell problems. I found out with my daughter that hypothyroidism goes hand in hand with anemia.

Anemia is diagnosed through a complete blood count. Once identified the challenge is to figure out what’s causing the anemia and that is where an integrative physician or a knowledgeable nutritionist will be of help. There are iron supplements that can be given, although if supplementation is used you want to have some monitoring in place to not go into iron overload, which is detrimental to the body.

There are many iron-rich foods that could be added into the diet – spinach is the one that always comes to mind. (What can I say…Popeye was a favorite cartoon growing up☺) Grass fed meat is another good source. You can easily find lists of iron-rich food online.

The second nutritional possibility is your daughter is not getting enough protein. Protein is essential for growth and the building of new tissue (all tissue – not just muscle tissue) She might try small amounts of good protein every 3-4 hours instead of just with the evening meal. I use a whey protein powder to supplement my and my kids diets. I use the vanilla whey from Defense Nutrition because it is from pasture-raised cows and has no added sugar in it. I don’t get any compensation from the company – I just like their protein powder a lot! Do your own research – it’s important.

Growth spurts can certainly influence strength and flexibility of our students and the preteen years have much of that going on. I would find out from her ballet teachers if it is overall strength that they are commenting on or more specifically in areas such lifting the leg above 90 degrees? If so, some targeted strengthening of the iliopsoas muscle might be in order. Here’s a link to a past newsletter that shows a few ways to do that.

I hope that might give you a few things to ponder for your daughter. Most importantly, don’t give up! Finding out what doesn’t work is just as important as finding out what does although it does make for some frustration at times because as a parent you want nothing more than to fix things quickly for your children.

Hope everyone has a wonderful start to the dance year!

To your success,


“Education is the key to injury prevention”

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