knee and ankle pain management and prevention for dancers

A Dancer’s Guide to Managing and Preventing Knee and Ankle Pain

Knee and ankle pain can be worrisome for dancers (or any athlete!) 

As dancers it’s important to know that we ask a lot of our knees and ankles. Giving them the attention they need will go a long way in preventing knee and ankle pain from starting. 

Now, listen. I want to stress that if you’re experiencing knee or ankle pain, you have not failed and you are not doomed!

But there are a few things you should know about managing and preventing knee and ankle pain as a dancer. 

 

When To See a Doc and When to Self-Manage

There are number of things that could cause knee and ankle pain in dancers. 

From sprains and strains to muscle imbalances and more, the reasons you might experience knee or ankle pain are numerous. 

But before we dive into how to prevent and manage pain when it arises, I want to stress that there are signs for when it’s time to see a doctor. 

Generally speaking, if you hear a pop at the time of injury, if your knee or ankle swells suddenly, or if they are red or warm, those are indicators that it’s time to see a doctor. 

If you heard a pop and you can’t bear weight, it’s a good idea to seek urgent medical attention

However, if you’re experiencing knee or ankle pain with mild swelling or none of the above symptoms, there are a few things you can do to manage the pain – or prevent it from happening in the first place. 

Please note that if any of these exercises increase your pain, stop doing them right away and talk to a physical therapist or your doctor. 

 

Strengthen the Hips

If you’ve ever been to the physical therapist, you might know that where the pain is isn’t always the place that needs to be worked on. 

Strengthening your hips (abductors, adductors, psoas, and range of motion) has been shown in clinical trials to quickly reduce knee pain. In fact, athletes who focused on hip strengthening saw a resolution in their pain faster than athletes who didn’t!

And this makes sense because more studies have shown that weak hips are strongly correlated with knee pain.

Exercises like clamshells, lateral band walks, single-leg hip bridges, and single-leg deadlifts are all great for strengthening your hips. 

And don’t forget to add in some hip mobility exercises like these,  or these, from Coach Amber to bullet proof your training!

Check this video from Coach Mel for more hip strengthening inspiration!

 

Strengthen the Posterior

A strong posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and calves) helps you perform activities like, running, jumping, and changing directions. 

Many knee injuries occur during these types of activities. So, having a strong posterior chain is a fantastic way to prevent and manage knee pain. 

Deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, squats, glute bridges, hip thrusts, and roman chair extensions, are fantastic at kicking on those glutes and hammies!

 

Strengthen the Quads

Strengthening the quads has been shown to decrease knee pain. 

So get those quads working with heel elevated squats, leg extensions, lying leg lifts, and terminal knee extensions (TKEs). 

Check out this video of Coach Amber doing her favorite “Happy Knees” exercises for inspo!

Notice how she incorporates both strength and mobility for a well rounded approach to knee health. 

 

 

Free 5 Day Turn Course dance workout

 

 

Strengthen the Calves

As mentioned earlier, the calves are part of your posterior chain. But when discussing knee and ankle pain the calves pull double duty. 

Strong and flexible calves support both healthy knees and healthy ankles and are a fantastic way to prevent and manage knee and ankle pain.

Now, as a dancer, you likely have spent most of your life doing heel raises.

So, to increase the intensity and benefit to your ankles and knees, I recommend that you do these heel raises rom a negative position. 

What does this mean? It means you’ll set up the balls of your feet on the edge of a stair or yoga block, and let your heels hang down. 

Make sure you keep your knees straight throughout this entire exercise without pushing into your hyper extension. (Harder than it sounds!)

This should give you a nice calf stretch. Then, from this extended position, perform your heel raises. 

This extended range of motion will increase the intensity of your heel raises and help strengthen the entire range of motion of your ankles. 

 

Practice Perfectly

One of the best ways to prevent knee and ankle pain is to ensure that you practice perfect practice. 

Say what?

Just like when you are dancing, when you are lifting or exercising, it’s important to ensure that you are practicing perfect form. 

Now, I don’t mean you have to be perfect. You are allowed to be a beginner. 

What I mean is, honoring where your body is each day and ensuring that everything you’re doing is being done with proper form and appropriate weight. 

As dancers we love to excel at things right away. But sometimes, to excel at something means to be wise about how you progress. 

Practicing this level of intentionality – even during your HIIT training- will help protect you from injuries that could lead to knee and ankle pain.

So, make sure your knees are tracking in a straight line over your toes (not pushing outward or inward).

Keep your core engaged to support your spine.

Choose an appropriate weight. 

And for Heaven’s sake, WARM UP!

 

Give the Joints a Break (Low Impact is a Friend)

If you are experiencing knee or ankle pain, it might be a good idea to cut back on your high-impact activities. (Just until you get your pain under control!)

Swap your run for a cycling or swimming work out. Trade in your HIIT training for a lifting session. 

Or, and this is really a crazy thought, add another rest day to your week. You might be surprised at how your body responds. 

 

Don’t Forget

The most important thing to remember about knee and ankle pain is: if it persists despite rest, ice, and these suggestions, it’s time to see a doctor. 

Seeing a doctor is not something to be afraid of- especially if your doctor can refer you to a good physical therapist who can help you!

Ultimately, seeing a doctor or PT will help you resolve the issue faster and prevent you from possibly doing more damage by ignoring the pain. 

And I promise, DWL will be here for you as you recover!

Want more from the Dancers Who Lift Blog? Check out these reads selected just for you: 9 Things Physical Therapists Want Dance Athletes to Know, What Not to Do With Plantar Fasciitis: Expert Advice for Dancers, Oh My, Quad! A Quad Workout for Dancers

circuit workout

Workout Wednesday: A Circuit Workout

A circuit workout is a great way to simultaneously build strength and increase your cardiorespiratory fitness.

Circuit workouts are also a great way to pack a lot into one workout as they call for less rest time as you move through your exercises. 

Today we have a killer circuit workout for you. Five exercises, completely scalable, with a 60 second rest time between circuits. 

Grab a water bottle and a towel; this one is bound to be sweaty!

Today’s Circuit Workout

 

 

personal training for dancers

 

 

Pull-ups x10

We are starting this circuit workout off strong with pull-ups.

You can perform these with a band for assistance or use a pull-up machine that offers assistance- whatever is the best option for where you are in your pull-up journey. 

You can perform these with a traditional grip, or, bring your elbows forward and parallel with one another to perform neutral grip pull ups. The choice is completely up to you. 

Engage your core, activate your lats, and with control, perform 10 pull-ups. 

*After your reps, immediately move on to the next exercise.*

 Reverse Lunges x12/side

Grab yourself a challenging weight (either one dumbbell in each hand or a kettlebell in a goblet hold).

Stand with your feet hip width apart. 

Lengthen your spine and brace your core. 

Then, step backward into a lunge. 

To return to standing, drive through your front heel and bring the feet together. 

Switch legs. 

Continue switching until you’ve performed 12 reps per side. 

*Once reps are completed, immediately move on to the next exercise.*

Push-ups x15

Next up in our circuit workout is push-ups. Now, if you’ve always struggled with push-ups, and you often find yourself with very little range of motion, I want you to pause and read this form breakdown

Choose any of the modifications in the above form break down to accomplish these. 

And hey, if halfway through your set you need to make a modification, that’s okay! We want as solid form as possible through this circuit workout.

So choose something challenging but sustainable.

*Once you’ve completed 15 reps, immediately move on to the next exercise.*

Single-leg Hip Thrusts x20/side

We are almost done with our first circuit!

If you don’t have a bench handy, feel free to adapt this by doing single-leg bridges on the floor!

Lean against a bench or block so your sports bra line is on the edge of the bench/block. 

Legs should be around 90 degrees when tush is lifted and engaged. 

Focus your eyes on your belly button and brace your core, by knitting those ribs together. 

Lower your hips toward the ground and place a barbell or dumbbells on your hips. (Choose a challenging weight!) 

Lift one leg off the ground and without letting your hips tip, exhale and lift your hips toward the ceiling. Again, keep your focus on your belly button. 

Slowly lower your hips down, keeping your leg lifted.

During this exercise don’t let your hips tip from side to side!

*Perform 20 reps per side, then move on to the final exercise in the circuit.*

Stir the Pot Planks x8/side

You’ve heard of planks, but stir the pot planks bring them to a whole new level!

Put yourself in a plank position on your forearms. Ribcage and hip bones are pulling toward each other, tush is in line with shoulders and engaged, shoulders are pressing down and back.

Now, imagine your hip joint is cemented in this extended position. 

Using your lower abdominals, move your hips in an circle: right, forward, left, and up.

Careful not to arch your lower back or hinge in your hips on the “forward” and “up” portions of the circle!

Instead, think of contracting your lower abdominals to control your hips. And don’t let yourself sink into your shoulders as you get tired!

Each “circle” is one rep. 

*Perform 8 reps in each direction, then take a 60 second rest.*

 

Completing the Workout

To complete today’s circuit workout, perform anywhere between 3-5 rounds dependent on how much time you have. 

I guarantee you this workout will have you a bit wobbly the next day!

Besides, who doesn’t love a workout that gives you cardio benefits without technically doing cardio?!

 

 

Want more workouts? Follow us here for weekly workouts, training tips, and more!

But for now, here are a few reads we think you’ll want right now: Eight Ways to Promote Faster Recovery, No Gym, No Equipment, No BS: The Best Workouts for Dancers That Can Be Done Anywhere, Should I Be Sore After Every Workout?: The Surprising Truth Most Dancers Don’t Know

 

Three pointe row exercise form

Training Tip Tuesday: Three Point Row

The three point row is one of those exercises that looks simple enough, but it’s easy to cheat your form. 

That’s why today’s training tip Tuesday is breaking down exactly how to set up and perform the three point row so you can get the most out of your lifting session. 

Shall we dive in?

Setting Up

For this exercise you’ll need a chair, bench or box that’s low enough to give you a hinge in your hips, but not so low that your shoulders would be lower than your hips.  

Set your weight on the floor next to the bench so you’ll be able to easily pick it up once you’re in position. 

How to Three Point Row

Now that you have your bench, hinge your hips (like you’re about to deadlift) and place your hand on the bench.

Ideally this hand is directly underneath your shoulder, though slightly for ward is okay if needed. Just make sure your hand doesn’t go so far forward that you’re tempted to arch your back!

In this bent over position, abs should be knitted together and supporting a strong stable spine. Your hips should be even  and you should think about lengthening long out of the top of your head. 

Next, pick up your weight. Once the weight is in your hands, roll your shoulder down and back, engaging your lats to stabilize the working side of your body. Don’t let that weight pull your shoulder down and forward- use those back muscles!

Finally, keeping your elbow close to your body, pull your hand back toward your hip to row the weight. You should feel those lats engaging to pull the weight. 

As you row, keep your body completely still.

Just like birddogs, three point rows work your stabilizers as much as the muscle group performing the action. So, don’t let your working shoulder twist your body open, and don’t let those hips get involved!

Remember, it’s okay to go down in weight if you over estimated! Three point rows are challenging when performed with excellent form. Take your time getting stronger!

If you’d like to see a form video, check out this how-to from Coach Kierstin!

And there you have it! Everything you need to know about the three point row! 

 

Looking for more fitness tips, nutrition tricks, and dance focused personal training? Give these quick reads a glance: Workout Wednesday: The Floor Workout,Training Tip Tuesday: Confidence Corner, the Gymitmidation Secret, The Pros and Cons of Creatine: Busting the Myths and Revealing the Facts

the principles of intuitive eating, eating healthy,

Life After Macros: The Principles of Intuitive Eating, Explained

The principles of intuitive eating can be challenging to undertake. Dancers Who Lift has always been committed to ensuring that dancers learn how to adequately fuel their bodies for the demanding lifestyle we lead. 

We find that a lot of dancers are under-fueling themselves, which is why we always start by teaching our dancers about macronutrients and how to track them

Both learning what your body needs and ensuring that you’re giving it what it needs is key in reaching specific physique or strength goals. 

However, tracking macros in an app can be triggering for dancers and athletes who have struggled with body image in the past. 

Luckily, macro tracking is not the only way to ensure you’re getting the nutrition you need! 

For this, we love to recommend the perfect plate method and the hand method as a means for remaining mindful about nutrition without tracking every gram consumed. 

However, for athletes that aren’t focused on specific physique goals or are in a maintenance phase, following the principles of intuitive eating can help them tune-in to the unique needs of their bodies. 

Now, before you raise your eyebrows saying, 

“Wait, but tracking macros is how I know I’ve hit my goals.”

Or

“If I eat intuitively I’ll only chips and salsa and pasta! That’s not optimal for anyone!”

Let me tell you that studies have shown that, overtime, eating intuitively predicts better psychological and behavioral health. 

On top of that, intuitive eating is scientifically associated with lower BMI and improved dietary intake (a.k.a. Intuitive eaters chose more nutrient dense foods). 

 

So, What Exactly Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is the practice of letting go of tracking and tuning-in to your body and what it’s asking for. 

The focus is on learning to listen to your body’s natural hunger cues – eating when physically hungry and stopping when full. 

As humans we are prompted on both what and when to eat via visual, social, emotional, and even through our sense of smell. 

Think about it. We eat without physical hunger cues all the time.

For example:

You show up at your local coffee shop and they’ve just pulled the baked goods out of the oven. Everything smells fresh, warm, and delicious. Suddenly, despite having had a balanced breakfast, all you can think about is eating that muffin. 

Now, there are no rules. You can eat that muffin. But the principles of intuitive eating ask you to recognize why you want to eat the muffin. 

This ensures that you have power and agency in choosing when and what to eat! 

Another example: 

It’s Saturday night and you are attending a birthday dinner at a friends house. You’re not very hungry but it is “time” for dinner and you’re literally at this person’s house for dinner. So, you sit down and eat the meal with everyone, despite not really being very hungry. 

Is this bad? No!

Eating in community with others is anthropologically proven to build relationships and strengthen emotional bonds!  

Besides, there are a lot of reasons (other than having eaten a lot that day) that can lead to a of appetite spanning from being a bit under the weather, where you are in your cycle, or experiencing higher than normal stress levels. 

Again the principles of intuitive eating simply require you to ask yourself,

Why am I being prompted to eat?” Before you make decisions about your food. 

 

 

mindfulness for self-care, mental health support for injury recovery

 

 

Okay, I’m Curious. What Are The Principles of Intuitive Eating?

 

Reject the diet mentality

First things first, in order to practice intuitive eating you must let go of the idea that intuitive eating is a diet. Although you may lose weight with intuitive eating, that is not the goal. 

There are no calorie or macro goals in intuitive eating. Simply learning to honor your body and as a result, learn how to adequately fuel it in a sustainable way.

 

Honor your hunger

Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. So often we push past the point of hunger because of stress, timing, or even a belief that we “shouldn’t be hungry yet.” 

Learning to recognize hunger cues and respond to them is one of the most important principles of intuitive eating. 

Not sure what hunger cues look like?

Check out this chart:

 

Make peace with food

Across the board, there is no such thing as “good” and “bad” foods

Intuitive eating takes this principle very seriously. Eat what your body is asking for.

Will that always be the most nutrient dense choice? No. 

But we eat for so many reasons beyond nutrition. Food is fuel, yes. Some fuels offer protein and high amounts of energy. Others offer comfort and pleasure. 

Both forms of fuel are valuable. 

 

Challenge the ‘food police’

This has nothing to do with others. The principles of intuitive eating are all focused on looking inwardly. 

How many times have you said “Oh, I want to, but I shouldn’t eat that.”

Or, how many times have you said “I should eat this, but I want to eat this.”

Challenging the food police is all about recognizing that choosing to eat a sweet over chicken breast does not make you weak, and it does not mean you’ve thrown off your entire diet. 

This principle is all about removing the negative and judgmental beliefs you might hold around food choices. 

By giving yourself the foods you desire, you will more easily be able to honor your feelings of fullness

 

Feel your fullness

Learning when you feel full versus stuffed can be challenging – especially if you LOVE the food you’re eating. 

This is even harder if you’ve built a scarcity mindset around that favorite food. 

Studies show that restricting yourself from foods can actually lead you to overeat when they’re around. 

Think about it, if you go on vacation to Paris you’ll likely eat all the chocolate croissants and crepes you can get your hands on because they just aren’t as good here in the USA. 

When you restrict yourself from your favorite foods, you create that same type of “I-can’t-get-this-very-often” mindset. 

So, once you’ve built this trust with yourself, check in periodically throughout your meal and observe how you’re feeling. 

Is your tummy feeling slightly bloated? Are you feeling satisfied? Is your body giving you a cue to sit back away from the table?

Refer to Amber’s Chart for more fullness cues!

 

Discover the satisfaction factor

This principle of intuitive eating is all about pleasure. Take a moment to be grateful for your food, observe it’s texture, temperature, and flavor, the environment in which you’re eating. 

Taking the time to enjoy and experience your meal helps us feel satisfied and satiated. 

 

Cope with your emotions

Remember when I said intuitive eating was all about learning why you’re being prompted to eat? 

Sometimes, if we stop and listen, we learn things like: 

“Every time I get cut from an audition I feel prompted to eat. But I don’t feel that prompt when I feel good about my audition.” 

From this realization you might learn that you’re eating from a place of rejection and sadness rather than a place of celebration or accomplishment. 

Another example of emotional eating looks like,

“I find myself wanting comfort foods when i’ve had a fight with a love one.” 

While food for comfort is real, if food becomes your coping mechanism, it’s time to get curious about that response. 

Learning to cope with our stress, anxiety, rejection, and depression can help us remove food from the emotional healing. 

This allows more freedom of choice when we’re craving certain meals. 

 

Respect your body

Every body is different. If I followed a strict meal plan and lifting program for 6 weeks and you followed the same strict meal plan and lifting program for 6 weeks we’d still come out looking differently. 

No matter what, your body is your body. No amount of dieting will be able to remove a rib or make your femurs grow two inches. 

I know, it sounds silly! But diet culture has us believing that if we cut out this food group or do x,y,z thing, it might *appear* that we have grown 2 inches and lost two ribs!

Accepting the realities of your body brings peace to your mind. A peaceful mind means lower cortisol levels. Low cortisol levels mean less bloating, less anxiety, and better sleep. 

 

Exercise 

When it comes to exercise amidst the principles of intuitive eating it isn’t about tracking your caloric burn on your apple watch. This principle is all about striving to move your body more in search of a healthier life style. 

Exercising with an intuitive mindset means paying attention to when certain moves bring you joy. Then, use that joy to continue the activity. 

There are no rules except the ones we choose to impose upon ourselves! 

And yes, some rules are very very good. But when it comes to how you live your life on the daily? Do what makes your body feel best. 

 

Honor your health

This is where we start to bring in nutrition. Some people call this “gentle nutrition.”

While the principles of intuitive eating stress that you shouldn’t deny yourself of indulgences. 

Honoring your health does require you to recognize that our bodies need fruits, vegetables, proteins, fats, and whole grains to function optimally. 

Practicing intuitive eating with gentle nutrition might look like expanding your meals and snacks to be more nutritionally dense. 

For example: 

You feel a craving for salt and vinegar chips and you also recognize that you’re a little hungry. 

Serve yourself some chips and look at your plate. Ask yourself, how can I make this more nutritionally dense?

Maybe you add a few carrot sticks. 

Maybe you add some cheese slices. 

Or maybe you make yourself a protein shake because now that you think about it, you’re experiencing some brain fog. 

Honoring your health is listening to your body when it says it’s tired of eating [insert favorite food here] and actually wants something different. 

 

But What About My Macros? Do I throw those out?

No!

At Dancers Who Lift, we believe knowledge is power! 

Because you understand macros, have so much knowledge about what type of nutrition fuels your body best!

Use that knowledge to honor your health as you move through your intuitive eating journey. 

Allow yourself to recognize when your body says “I need some more protein” or “I’m craving some healthy avocado fats!”

Mostly, let yourself be free of restriction on this journey and get to know your body. 

You might learn that your body needs more carbohydrates when you’re ovulating. 

You might learn that you’ve only eaten meals because it was the “time to eat that meal.”

But you might also learn that your body knows what you need and it’s trying to tell you, if only you would listen. 

 

Want some more tips about how to honor your body? Give these blog posts a read: Keeping Things Cool: The Benefits of Deliberate Cold Exposure for Dancers, Training Tip Tuesday: Sleeping Positions, Full Body Thirty Minute Workout (aka perfection!)

 

no-equipment workout

Workout Wednesday: The No-Equipment Workout

Listen, sometimes the weight room is absolutely packed. Other times, getting to the gym just isn’t happening. That’s why having a no-equipment workout in your back pocket is handy. 

Whether you’re finding a quiet corner in your gym or unrolling your yoga mat in your living room, this workout is sure to satisfy your need to move. (and you’ll probably get a little sweaty too!)

I must warn you though, just because this is a no-equipment workout does not mean that you’ll be slacking.

No, no. This workout packs quite a punch!

 

The No-Equipment Workout

 

Marching Glute Bridge  (20 reps)

First up in our no-equipment workout is the marching glute bridge!

To perform, lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. 

Take a deep breath to settle yourself, then brace your core by pulling your ribcage together and belly button to spine. Allow the natural curve of your back to maintain it’s position here. The idea is to support your spine, not flatten it!

Next, lift your hips toward the ceiling. Imagine your hips are lengthening toward your knees as you lift! Go as high as you can without arching your back. 

Now that you’re in your glute bridge, maintain that position as you lift one leg up so its shin is parallel to the ceiling. Without dropping your hips, bring that leg back down and repeat on the other side. 

The trick here is maintaining the isometric hold of your glute bridge while shifting the weight from one leg to the other. 

Work to keep your hips level (don’t let them flop to one side or the other!) and continue to contract those abs so your lower back doesn’t arch. 

**Repeat for 20 reps (10 on each leg) then move on to next exercise**

Spiderman Mountain Climbers (20 reps) 

Flip that body over! The next portion of our no-equipment workout requires that you get into a plank position with your weight on your hands. 

Once you’re in your plank position, check in. Is your core tight? Are you hips in line with your shoulders? Are you shoulders relaxed down and back instead of up by your ears?

Good. Now that we’re sorted, instead of pulling your knee to your chest like a traditional mountain climber, you’ll turn out your leg and pull one knee up toward your shoulder. (Imagine how Spiderman looks when he’s climbing up a building!)

Then repeat on the opposite leg!

As you get tired, try not to sink into your shoulders or let those hips float up to the ceiling. This exercise is tough but when practiced often it yields sky high lateral extensions!

**Repeat for 20 reps (10 per side) then move on to the next exercise**

 

 

Free 5 Day Turn Course dance workout

 

 

Skaters (20 reps)

Okay, time to get up onto your feet!

Start by standing with your feet together. 

Then, leap to the side onto one leg, letting the other leg cross behind (like a skater). 

Once you land, immediately leap to the other leg. 

Try to keep your chest up, letting your hips shift back as if you were sitting in a chair.

**Perform 20 reps total, then move on to the next exercise**

Hollow Hold (20 seconds)

Okay, we’ve reached the final exercise in our no-equipment workout. 

Lay back down on your mat with your arms extended above your head, parallel to your ears. Take a deep breath and, on the exhale,  brace your core.

From here, lift your arms up off the ground by lengthening them away from your core. 

Then, without letting your core release, do the same with your legs. 

Core should be scooping back and up, shoulders should be slightly lifted off the ground, and you should be staring at your belly button. 

**Hold this position for 20 seconds, then rest for 30 seconds before repeating the circuit.**

Not Done Yet!

To complete this workout you must complete 5 rounds of these no-equipment exercises. 

Between each round rest for only 30 seconds. 

Should you want to up the ante a bit, you can add resistance to this workout by:

Resting a weight on your hips during the glute bridge

Putting a resistance band around your feet during the Spiderman mountain climbers

Holding a weight in your hands during the hollow hold (though be careful that this does not put strain on your neck/shoulders!)

And there you have it. An efficient, heart racing, no-equipment workout made just for you. 

Will you try it?

 

Want more workouts, fitness tips, and other information dance athletes need to know? Check out these reads: Gym Myths and Misconceptions: The Dancer Edition, Making a Split Decision: Tips and Tricks on How to Get Your Splits, Training Tip Tuesday: Knee Hovers for Core Strengthening

 

breathing techniques for workouts

Training Tip Tuesday: Breathing Techniques for Workouts

There are lots of different breathing techniques for workouts. And while you can choose one and hop right into your workout, why not warm up your breath so you can breathe as efficiently as possible?

Yes, warming up your breath is a thing! Let me tell you why.

You probably know that we use our lungs to breathe but, unless you’re a singer, you might not know that a big part of how we breathe is a dome shaped muscle called the diaphragm.   

Contrary to what your voice teacher may have told you, you cannot “breathe with your diaphragm.” However, you can use your diaphragm to breathe. 

Let me explain.

Your lungs are sacks that fill with air, your diaphragm is a muscle that expands and contracts to create a vacuum in your chest, allowing more air to fill your lungs. 

The breathing techniques for workouts that we are covering today will help you locate and activate that muscle so you can intentionally control your air supply as you lift. 

Warming Up Your Breath

There are two ways we like to warm up our diaphragm for maximum breathing efficiency. 

The first uses the assistance of gravity.

Lay on your back with your feet on the ground, knees bent. 

Take a deep breath in, allowing your stomach to expand. (That expansion is your diaphragm dropping down to create space for more air!)

Once full, blow your air out as if you are blowing through a straw. You will feel your stomach tense and begin to contract as your blow the air out. 

No cheating! Make sure you fully expel all of your air before repeating! This will really get that diaphragm activated and ready to work for you during your workout.

The second warm up works against gravity.

For this breathing technique, get up on all fours, as if you’re about to do a birddog. 

Without arching your spine, take a deep breath in, allowing your stomach to expand down toward the floor. 

Again, as you exhale, pretend you are exhaling through a straw. You might find this a bit harder as your diaphragm is working against gravity to contract and expel the air out of your lungs. 

 

 

personal training for dancers

 

 

Breathing Techniques for Workouts

Now that your warmed up, here’s our favorite breathing technique for workouts. Specifically, here’s how to breathe while lifting weights.

While power lifters and weight lifters might hold their breath during certain lifts, for the types of workouts we engage in we encourage you to breathe, and breathe a lot!

Our favorite breathing technique requires that you breathe in on the eccentric portion of your lift (when the muscle is lengthening) and exhale on the concentric portion of your lift (when the muscle is shortening). 

Another way to think about this is to exhale as you lift the weight, and inhale as you lower the weight. 

Why do we like this breathing technique for workouts?

Think back to our warm ups. When you exhaled, your core tightened, yes? This offers the body more stability and support during the lift. 

If you are unable to breathe while lifting, that might be sign that you need to go down in weight or evaluate your form.

 

Want to hear what Coach Kierstin has to say about breathing techniques for workouts? Check out this video where you can follow along with our breath warm-ups! 

 

Want more tips from Dancers Who Lift? Give these blog favorites a read: Making a Split Decision: Tips and Tricks on How to Get Your Splits, Let’s Talk About Stress, Ba-by! Stress Management For Dancers, Leaping For Joy: A Dancer’s Guide on How to Jump Higher