You want a strong and lean body. Therefore you may have started running, cycling, aerobic or Pilates. Male and female dancers alike can benefit from conditioning to supplement their ballet training. If you are reading, you already know that.

But you may not know that there is something more to all the tiring and exhausting cardio sessions that you’re planning to do to achieve the body you want.

Weight lifting is excellent for you. “What? Weight lifting? It will make me bulk up!!!”. MYTH. It’s very unlikely that you’ll develop bulky shoulders if you lift a 6kgs dumbbell everyday. Bulking up is a lot harder than you think.

If you do not want Dwayne Johnson’s body, learn how he developed it and do NOT do the same. If you do not want to gain fat, understand in which circumstances your body stores fat and do NOT do it 🙂 Who said everything in life is complicated?

How to grow bigger muscles (“to bulk”)?

We have simplified the process, but this is the recipe to bodybuilding:

  1. Eat MORE calories than you body burns in a day (in fitness terms: your Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE),

  2. Eat protein for approx. 1,5 times your weight in kgs.

  3. Lift heavy 4 times a week. Heavy means that you can only do 6 to 8 repetitions in one set, you REALLY cannot do that 9th repetition, it’s not just a little difficult.

I don’t eat much but I store fat

Eat too little and your body will store fat like there’s no tomorrow. We may surprise you with this, but we want to make it clear: you’ll gain or store fat if you eat way less calories than what your metabolism needs to sustain its basic function and your level of activity (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). You might lose weight by eating around 200 calories less than expended, but, as an athlete, any less than this baseline and you run the risk of storing fat instead of losing weight.

It is extremely important for dancers to understand this principle. As an athlete, your body and brain do not react the same to the amount of calories you eat than the general population. If you don’t consume enough calories, your body will make sure to provide nutrients in priority to your vital organs and functions, and to try to sustain your most intense activities, it will break down muscles for amino acids, convert it into glucose AND store fat hoping for better days. This is oversimplified, there’s a lot of hormonal and chemical reactions involved here.

We have seen many dancers discouraged because their diet did not seem to bring any results. But they were actually not eating enough and locked up in this vicious circle. Once they increased their calorie intakes, they eventually managed to burn that fat, sustain their muscle mass, and eventually get a more shredded body. It may seem counterproductive at first, but remember that your body is a well-oiled system designed to survive.

We dug deep into this topic with Dr. Stephanie Potreck and Dr. Nicky Keay in our “Health and nutrition for dancers” webinar. Check it out to learn the fundamentals of nutrition for dancers.

The bottom line is that it is important for a dancer, as any other athlete, to know how many calories they really need to sustain their daily activities (your Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE). We strongly encourage you to talk to a nutritionist specialized in athletes who can make this calculation for you. Alternatively there are a couple of calculators online, mainly on bodybuildings websites. This one is easy to use but we still recommend you see a specialist as there’s no “one-size-fits-all”.

How to get a stronger and leaner body?

Fuel yourself

Eat AS MUCH AS your metabolism needs (basic functions + activity level).

Lift weights

Weight training has proven to be effective to improve bone density so what are you waiting for? Head to the nearest gym and include diversity in your preparation.

Lift 3 times a week at a “standard” weight where you can do 15 repetitions. That should be for a beginner bicep curls approx. 3-4kgs for ladies and 8kgs for men. But that is just a rough estimate dependent on your fitness level. The message is that we are NOT talking about a 1-2kgs dumbbell which is cute but not heavy enough for this purpose.

Enrich your conditioning

Focus on movement where your muscles contract and lengthen (eccentric contraction) or remains at a given length (isometric contraction). Contrology (nowadays called Pilates) is a perfect fit. Try one of our conditioning programs specifically designed for dancers to feel the benefits for yourself.