By Caitlin Buck, Feis America LLC Contributor

It is not unusual for competitive Irish dancers to excel at other individual and team sports, and cross-training is key to endurance, execution and stamina.  When it comes to cross-training, many different kinds of athletes have chosen ballet over the years. World class divers, gymnasts, and figure skaters are famous for incorporating ballet training in their programs, but here are three examples that just might surprise you.

Several National Football League teams used ballet training during the 1970s.

Lynn Swann from the Pittsburg Steelers, arguably the ‘most graceful receiver’ in NFL history to date, was considered an, “Artist in the world of football.” He attributed his grace and poise to - you guessed it! - ballet training.

Willie Gault, Chicago Bears Super Bowl champion, world-class sprinter and bobsledder was labeled the “Speed merchant” of football and contributes speed and explosive power to his involvement in ballet. Injured National Hockey League goalie Ray Emery from the Anaheim Ducks was told that his playing career was finished due to injury. His rehabilitation after surgery included: ballet, yoga, pilates, and swimming to strengthen the core, hip and thigh muscles. Thanks to his recovery program he returned to his sport.

The benefits of ballet exercises extend to sport after sport, even to running! Researchers from the University of Calgary’s Running Injury Clinic have concluded that runners with knee pain benefit from an intensive hip-strengthening program. You too can cross-train in ballet exercises.

Here are a few suggestions besides enrolling in a studio near you:

Online ballet classes are offered on many websites including Ballet Beautiful. Natalie Portman is reported to have used Ballet Beautiful whist training for her role in the movie Black Swan.

Purchase a ballet DVD workout! I have used the New York City Ballet Workout DVD for five years. It has classic exercises that improve turn out, build leg muscles, abs, and increase your flexibility through a series of floor stretches. If you want to add height to your clicks and kicks, I recommend this one.

Kathryn Morgan is a dancer with the New York City Ballet. She writes posts daily on ballet exercises. For absolutely no cost you can follow her on Facebook and read her notes on fantastic exercises to build great turn out, points, leaps, and flexibility. Thanks to her I was able to get rid of my chronic shin splints, and improve my leaps.

Finally, as Treva Bedinghaus wrote, “The health benefits of taking ballet lessons are endless. Ballet is a form of exercise that requires the dancer to work many of the major muscle groups at once. Ballet lessons also promote strength and flexibility, as many of the traditional steps of ballet require strong, limber bodies. Balance is also a benefit of ballet lessons, as ballet dancers must learn how to properly control every part of their bodies while holding perfect posture.”

How do you cross-train as an Irish dancer? Share your story - you never know how many you will inspire!

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