"My top 3 reasons for dancers to strength train are to correct muscle imbalances, to gain full body strength, and to improve technical execution."
~Monika Volkmar, Dance Personal trainer

Over the holidays I hired a personal trainer to help me with my Irish dance diet. I want to do this right, and balance good eating with strength training and cardio health. It's going great. I feel good, I'm losing fat and I'm strengthening my body. I'm going to be a better Irish dancer!

Month 2
Weight: 150
Weight lost: 5 pounds
Muscle gained: 4 pounds
Total fat loss: 9 pounds

I just finished throwing out all of the rest of the Christmas goodies that were still lurking around my house. You know exactly what I mean don't you? I think that as my family has grown, and I spend much of my time planning, cooking, storing food and the junk food makes its way into my house (how does it do that?), and that I have a harder time resisting food.  Strength training is a great way to increase my metabolism, and counter those extra foods. 

As I've been getting into personal training, I ran into Monika Volkmar, a personal trainer who specializes in dancers. I've asked her to answer some questions for us Irish dancers. She's very enthusiastic and I think you'll enjoy her advice. 

Christy:  Why is strength training an important part of a dancer's health?

Monika:  Making a dancer stronger requires a more wholistic approach, taking the mind and body into consideration.  And though there are many, many reasons for dancers to strength train, my top 3 reasons are:  t o correct muscle imbalances, to gain full body strength, and to improve technical execution .  By becoming stronger, dancers can also improve elements of their technique, such as jumps, leg height, upper body carriage, turns and balance.  

It is imperative however, to strength train in an intelligent way. Make sure you have a well-designed program to address your specific needs, and that you have a coach or partner to make sure your form is perfect.

Christy: Can you recommend some strength training exercises that may be helpful for Irish dancers?

Monika:  I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on training Irish dancers(my training being mostly in ballet, modern and jazz dance). I can say that Irish dancers would benefit from strengthening the anterior core, hip extensors, and upper back, while working on ankle mobility.

Core strength is necessary to hold the trunk strong and prevent lower back injuries.

Upper back strength will help to maintain the upright posture of the shoulders. Developing a strong pair of glutes to extend the hips is of utmost importance. Your hips are where your power comes from so you must learn to use them!

I also understand that the posterior calf becomes quite shortened, and tight due to the fact that you’re constantly on your toes. It is, therefore, important to maintain mobility of the ankle to prevent things like shin splints, ankle sprains, Achilles tendinitis, and knee issues. Using a lacrosse ball to massage the calves, simple ankle mobility drills, and strengthening the tibialis anterior should be part of every Irish dancer’s self-care routine.

Here are some of my favourite strengthening exercises:

  • Squats: core, glutes, quads, upper back.
  • Deadlifts: (my favourite): core, glutes, hamstrings, upper back
  • Single leg Romanian deadlifts: single leg hip stability, core strength, glute and hamstring strength
  • Row variations: Upper back.
  • YWT: Lower/middle traps, external shoulder rotators, scapular stability
  • Plank: Core strength

Note: Monika has videos for all of the above exercises on her YouTube Channel, including the one above.

Christy:  What suggestions do you have for adult dancers?

Monika:  As you age, you begin to lose muscle and strength, and joints become compromised, making you more at risk for injury. My advice:  if you don’t already strength train, start now! Try to maintain mobility at the ankles, hips, and shoulders, and constantly work on stability of the knee, scapulae, and core. The older you get, recovery from injuries becomes more and more timely, so prevention is your best bet.

In all likelihood, you will get injured at some point. The stronger you are, and the better your nutrition is, the quicker you will bounce back!

Most importantly, pay attention to your posture outside dance class and the gym.

And keep dancing! It’s good exercise for the heart, and keeps your brain sharp. Oh, and it’s fun too.

Christy: Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us, Monika. 

To find out more information about Monika's dance strength training program, visit The Dance Training Project website.

Readers: Are you an adult Irish dancer or a dance school, competitive or not, with a story to share? Would you like to inspire others to feel your passion for Irish dancing and culture? Do you have a question about Irish dancing? Please visit www.christydorrity.com.