“Dancers shouldn’t cross-train.”
“To get better at dancing, you should only train by dancing.”
“Swimming is useless for dancers.”
“Dance and swimming have nothing in common. What’s the point?”
These are just some of the misconceptions many people have about dancers participating in other sports, and vice versa. Cross-training is the action of performing or participating in multiple forms of physical activity with the intention of improving performance in one or more main sport(s). Participating in multiple forms of physical activity is a great way to reduce the risk of overuse injuries; it allows the body to use and strengthen different muscles from the ones primarily used in one’s main sport. For example, ballet dancers engage their quadriceps repeatedly within the class. This may lead to overuse of the quadriceps muscles, and overuse most often leads to chronic injury. Swimming may decrease the risk of this overuse injury by using an opposite part of their leg, the hamstrings. Swimmers use their hamstrings to quickly and powerfully kick their legs. Giving the body this time to focus on other muscles can save any athlete from a career-ending injury.
Unfortunately, there is little to no research done on the benefits of participating in these activities simultaneously, however, TLFCB has multiple students who participate in both classical ballet AND swimming and it is important to understand how these activities may affect each other and whether we should all consider implementing a little more of ballet and swimming into our lives.
Ballet and swimming both have many physical and mental benefits:
- Muscular and skeletal strengthening
- Improved flexibility
- Enhanced self-awareness
- Improved self-esteem
- Improved cardiovascular fitness (that’s a fancy word for “heart-healthy”)
- Improved coordination and balance
- Enhanced mind-muscle connection (this is the ability to know which muscles you are engaging and the skill of engaging them properly)
- Emotional and mental release
- Improved cardiovascular fitness
- Core and back specific strengthening
- Low-impact (low-impact activities are great for injured, sore, and tired joints. They let the joints “reset” and give them a break from bearing the weight of the body)
- Muscular strength
- Improved flexibility (specifically the shoulders and upper back)
- Emotional and mental release
When performed repeatedly for an extended amount of time (repeated participation for a minimum of 3 consecutive months), the ballet dancer benefits from a decrease of hip and leg injury risk due to the incorporation of high-impact and low-impact activities and a decreased risk of back injury due to an increased core and back strength. The swimmer benefits from an enhanced self-awareness, mind-muscle connection, and muscular control from the immense attention to detail ballet requires. Muscle control is vital for swimmers because of their need to speed up or slow down their arms and feet in the middle of a race. The graceful quality of ballet can give the swimmers a “leg-up” in learning proper swimming technique and increasing stroke length and speed. The strength and flexibility of the shoulders, from swimming, may be most beneficial for male dancers who are required to repeatedly lift, balance, and throw female dancers.
Whether you’re cross-training or you have kids that participate in multiple forms of physical activity, understanding their effects is crucial in gaining insight into the mental and physical stressors affecting yourself or your child. Even though there aren’t many published studies regarding the relationship between ballet dancing and swimming, there is a clear positive relationship between their known benefits.
Some of our own ballerinas are State Level Swimmers and they all have achieved so much in competitive swimming. With their constant training in swimming, they also have been learning ballet with us for many years. As it requires a lot of practice and discipline, they have learnt how to balance both their trainings. Each one of them are a testimony to how great it is to cross train and are examples of how Ballet and Swimming compliment each other and how their techniques are enhanced by doing so. Proud of all of our kids to have achieved so much already at such a young age! 🙂
Toshani Kanive, Our Grade 1 student 🙂
A State Level Swimmer. She has been swimming for 3.5 years and learning ballet for 4 years now. She definitely feels that learning Ballet has helped her become a better swimmer. In fact, in other countries swimming institutes like the American Association of Swimming recommends student to learn ballet so that they can better their technique! Last February, Toshani took part in the Nationals and she won 2nd place in the relay category!
Suhasini Ghosh, Our Grade 1 student 🙂
A State Level Swimmer, she has been learning ballet for the past 4 years and has been training for her competitive swimming for 6 years now. Her main stroke is the “Butterfly Stroke”. Suhasini recently participated in the CBSE Zonal meet where she ranked 3rd position in her main stroke, Butterfly!
Aaradhana Gowda, Our Grade 2 student 🙂
A State Level Swimmer who has been swimming for the past 2 and half years and is learning Ballet from 5 and half years now. She has attended State Meets and her main stroke is the “Breast Stroke”. Her earlier coach, Nisha Millet ( an ex Olympian Trainer) mentioned that since she learns Ballet, her kicks and strokes are very unique! Ballet has really helped her with her competitive training and makes her perform better as a swimmer.
Tanvi Vannur, Our Grade 3 student 🙂
She is a State Level Swimmer who has been into competitive swimming since 1 and half years and is learning Ballet from 8 years as well. Every day she trains for not less than 5 hours! She swims at least 7 kms everyday. Because of her continuous training in Ballet, her coach mentioned that she has very well developed muscles in the lower limb and her muscle memory is excellent! She won a bronze medal in the CBSE zonal level, in the relay category.She stood 4th in the Aquathlon Nationals 2019( 500m + 3k run). Tanvi, recently even completed a 10km non stop swimming challenge!
Jazmine Bhanushali, Our Grade 4 student 🙂
She is studying in The International School of Bangalore. She has been competitively swimming for the past 3 years and learning ballet from 8 years now. She says Ballet has really helped her enhance her techniques during swimming and it also plays a big factor in increasing her muscle memory and hence her performance while swimming is so much better. Her key strokes are the Breast Stroke and Butterfly Stroke. She can complete one lap doing a breast stroke in 20 seconds!
We all should strive to become our best selves. Sometimes, this means getting involved in something you have always been interested in or scared to do. Whether you currently participate in both swimming and ballet or are interested in implementing either one into your life, when done properly, the positive physical and mental benefits are endless!
Lillian Chong, TLFCB Intern
ACSM – Certified Exercise Physiologist
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