Working Out vs. Training

Dear dancer, that dance-themed workout is not for you.

I’m going to ruffle some feathers here, but oh well this is important.

Many dancers understand that at a certain point, just dancing is not enough to keep them in their best shape and injury free.

Often times we jump when we hear “barre”, “dancer”, “long and lean”, “tighten and tone”, and “ballet-body”; words we have associated ourselves with for most of our lives. We are then drawn to these forms of exercise thinking, as the marketing suggests, that these workouts will further their dance skills.

I’m here to burst that bubble and say, unfortunately, these dance-style workouts are not designed for dancers.

Rather, they are designed for individuals who wish to have a “dancer’s body”.

Let me elaborate. 

You, an accomplished dancer, have been executing barre skills since you were 6 years old; at this point these movements now serve as your class warm-up and gentle conditioning because you’re stronger now than you were when these movements were new, ya know, when you were 6.

The average office-job Jane, is going to a barre class and performing plies and releves for the first time, maybe ever.

10 minutes of lifting and lowering your heels off the ground will not have the same effect on your professionally trained dancer muscles as it will on Jane’s office-job muscles.

Similarly, jumping around and twerking in your favorite dance-cardio class will feel good and fun, it will get you moving, and thusly burn more calories than watching the new season of Orange is the New Black, but again, your body is used to intense bouts of unresisted movement.

Office-job Jane, grooving beside you in the dance-cardio class, spends most of her time sitting. By simply moving more, she will see a greater impact on her physique and health than you will.

FYI, the dancer’s body, your body, is the average woman’s ideal.

Regardless of what you think, you are undoubtedly in better shape than the average person.

Which means, you should not be training alongside the average person.

I’m not saying don’t go to group fitness classes, barre classes, or dance-cardio scenes. If you enjoy that atmosphere absolutely go, but you cannot expect the same results as the woman working out alongside you.

Furthermore, there is a great difference between working out and training. 

As an elite level athlete, a professional dancer, simply working out, or moving your body in an unspecified manner, MAY better your physique but it will not improve your dancing or help you become a better, stronger athlete.

Training takes skill, precision, and focus.

Working out is a broad, vague, cover-all term. You must realize that what you do for a living, what you do every single day, is extreme “working out” for most people.

Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, even Misty Copeland, spend time every day practicing and perfecting their crafts, however, they then further their skills by training.

As fun as it may be, Misty Copeland is not going to a dance-cardio classes to get in better shape and stay injury free for her season with ABT. She’s in the gym, lifting weights, working through imbalances, preventing injuries, and performing resistance-based skills that will help her sustain her career.

But not all athletes are created equal.

As a street dancer you do not need to be training the same way Michael Phelps trains. Even as a modern dancer you won’t be training the same way the ‘trina beside you is training.

You must understand that your craft is just that, it’s a craft. An art form specific to you. Why would your training not be?

So what should you be doing?

Resistance training. Moving your body against progressively heavier resistance and/or more difficult movements. Taking 45-60 minutes a few times a week will drastically impact the way you look, feel, and move.

So here are a few ways to make sure you’re actually training and not just working out.

1. Have a plan. No one likes the “lost bird syndrome”. That feeling where you wander around the gym. Oftentimes a person with LBS can be found aimlessly hopping from one machine to the other not really sure which muscle is working, or why, or how it will improve your dancing.

In order to avoid LBS, start with a realistic goal and find a program designed to illicit that response.This is the initiation of training. Next, stick with that program all the way through. Even if it’s not the world’s most perfect training system, by the end of it you’ll have a better idea of what you’re good at, bad at, and need to get better at.

2.  Have smaller, manageable goals. Maybe the overarching goal is to lose 10lbs before audition season or finally get your grande jete to a photographable height. These goals will only be achieved by passing smaller markers along the way.

When you train, sessions have specific goals relative to the overall goals of a program. The activities, loads, and frequencies are important. You do what you need to do in order to improve your dancing, not just what you want to do.

3. Focus on your weak points and get great at the basics… with some help. No one woke up and said, “I’m going to be a dancer today”, cupped their hands, and walked on stage with the Graham company. It takes a long time to master the basics, become proficient in the language of the movement before you ever put on a costume or step on stage.

The same holds true in the gym.

But who tells you the basics? How do you know which moves are correct, that the alignment is right, that the intention behind the move is coming from the right place?

The instructor.

You have an instructor. For every form of dance you’ve ever studied, you have an instructor. Why?

  • Because they have knowledge, experience, and can provide an unbiased set of eyes and,
  • They will get you to do things you wouldn’t do otherwise.

The same holds true with having a coach in the weight room. Lifting, training, is another form of movement for you to study. Having a reputable, knowledgeable coach is invaluable.

A coach will make you do the things you find tedious, uncomfortable, or downright miserable (hello, cardio!), because they know the larger purpose those things serve.

A good coach can also recognize deficiencies, imbalances, or where you’ve been your own worst enemy. This is why training is generally uncomfortable: The focus ends up being on weak points.

4. Train to the point(e). Surely you have you finished a workout and thought “what TF did I just do?” unsure of the actual benefit, specifically to your dancing. If you look at any particular element in your workout and you can’t explain how it will aid in your primary goals, or worse, your coach can’t answer that, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

Training cuts out the BS and saves you time and energy, with a great training program, you’ll see its results and benefits within a matter of weeks.

5. Replace your bias with the facts. Workouts are for simple minded. #SorryNotSorry

You show up, do some stuff and leave.

But what makes a good or bad workout? It’s usually dictated by how you feel. Feeling tired or feeling sore does not necessarily mean it was productive workout. Feels vary.

Unlike with training, where stats don’t lie. I recommend, alright, I require, all of the #DancersWhoLift to track the weights they use during their sessions. At the end their program they then have the data to reflect upon and say “Wow! I have gotten stronger!” There’s no feeling like you’re not going anywhere, there’s hard data right in front of you telling you if you’re progressing or if you need to refocus your energy.


My dear dancer, working out is not for you. Frankly, you’re above it. You’ve made it this far in your career but training in the studio, now take your dancing to the next level and focus your energy in the gym.

Yes, lengthening, toning, and strengthening feels good as you do it. It even has benefits like improving posture and core strength, but at the end of the day, it’s just a workout. Jogging on the treadmill, while watching the evening news feels good and is good for you, I’m not negating that. In fact, moving your body in ways outside of dancing is fabulous, and I guarantee your confidence will soar as you shine in any dance-themed workout.

But in order to shine on stage, and continue to improve in the studio, you’ll need to switch your mindset from working out to training. In doing so, you’ll see remarkable, and faster, results.

As it would happen, I have spaces currently available for a few dancers interested in online training with a coach.

Reach out if you need a coach or have questions and comments!

xox

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